On Saturday night, a thousand or so action-movie fans (and more than a few aspiring bodybuilders) filed into a low, hot room in London's Lancaster Hotel to see the most quotable star of them all — Arnold Schwarzenegger — chew the fat for 90 minutes with Jonathan Ross. Unsurprisingly, shouts of “I’ll be back” and “Get to the chopper!” filled the air as the crowd, who had each paid at least £126.50 for a ticket, waited for a glimpse of the man who has killed more people on-screen than any other actor (369 and counting).
Finally taking his seat, Arnie’s appearance seemed to embody the American Dream almost as much as his life does (Mr. Universe turned Hollywood icon turned Governor of California, in case you didn’t know). At 67, his tan is golden, his hair thick and brown and his smile white enough to dazzle even those on the back row — oh, and he still looks like he could lift you up with one hand and throw you through the nearest window, if he wanted.
In conversation, the Terminator is less about one-liners and more about carefully honed anecdotes mixed with Hollywood self-affirmation (“If you fail, get back up again! Ignore the naysayers!”) and political rhetoric (an autopilot account of his environmental record is the closest Arnie comes to losing the crowd). But all in all, Arnie is engaging company: funny, self-effacing and honest about one of the most remarkable careers in showbiz. Here are five of the funniest and most surprising revelations from the night.
1 | His mum thought he might be gay
The young Arnold, growing up poor in Austria, decorated his bedroom with his bodybuilding heroes, something his mother in particular struggled to understand.
“She actually asked the doctor to come to our house and look at the walls, asking, 'Where did I go wrong? All Arnold's friends have pictures of girls on their wall, and here are naked men with oil all over their body'. The doctor explained that kids like idols, and she finally relaxed a little about the whole thing,” he remembers.
2 | In real life, he wasn’t much of soldier
If you had to bank on any actor being able to operate military hardwear, Arnie would probably be your man. But a story from his early career in the Austrian army proved otherwise.
"I was 18 years old and, suddenly, I was responsible for this 15-tonne tank,” he said. “I was checking my gauges, and all of a sudden the tank was shaking, and I thought, 'What the hell is going on? This engine isn't running very well'. I totally forgot that the gear was in reverse and the tank was slowly going backwards, through the walls, and pipes were bursting and people were running! So they immediately put me in solitary confinement."
3 | He really did hate Sly Stallone
The famous rivalry between the world’s two biggest action stars — in the years before they kissed and made up in order to launch Planet Hollywood — was genuine to say the least.
"He was like a competitor that I had to go and destroy,” said Arnold. “We were competing on who had less body fat, who was killing more people on-screen, who was killing people in the most unique way, who had the biggest box office, who had better reviews. It was an all-out battle for a decade. People asked me, 'What do you think of Sly's movies?' I'd say, 'They're s**t!'."
4 | He didn’t want to say his most famous catchphrase
On the set of Terminator, Arnie felt “I’ll be back” sounded wrong and wanted to say “I will be back” instead, because he thought it sounded more robotic. He and James Cameron fought about it for half an hour.
“He said, 'Arnold, do I ever tell you how to act?' I said, 'No'. He said, 'Then don't tell me how to write'. We had no idea that it would become the most-quoted line in movie history.”
5 | He was almost in The Rock and Face/Off
A fan asked if Arnie had ever turned down a script he later regretted, prompting a couple of admissions that will make any action fan’s head spin a little.
"They came to me with the movie The Rock, which in the end Nicolas Cage did with Sean Connery. When they came to me with the script, it was only 80 pages with lots of handwritten notes and they hadn't got it quite together yet. They left and rewrote it, but went with Nicolas Cage. He was on the rise at the beginning of his career, and he did a fantastic job. I admit that when I watched the movie I said, 'Damn, I wish I did this movie'.
"Face/Off was another one that Cage did with John Travolta. I couldn't figure out how they would do the switch — because of my body and accent — [so I thought] it would be impossible for the audience to buy into it. So I said, 'Let me think about it', and then those two guys did the movie and the movie was hugely successful. There were movies like that where it went to other people, but I was happy that they turned out well and the guys did a fantastic job. But I was pissed off that I didn't [take the roles myself]."