Suggest to Arnold Schwarzenegger that there comes a time when all good action heroes must hang up their weapons, and his eyes narrow, lips pinching in a frown of disapproval. Clearly “retirement” is a dirty word. The 66-year-old former Mr Universe and two-term California governor has completed no less than six movies since his departure from office in January 2011.
“I’m not like a retired person that you see in movies, sitting in the rocking chair with the pipe dozing off every two minutes talking about the good old days. Yeah, sometimes I take a nap when I feel sleepy and I am at home, so then I have the luxury of lying down for a hour,” he says in that famous Austrian accent that not even 40 years of California living can dispel.
“I feel the same as I felt when I was 25 years old, the only thing is that my body doesn’t feel the same. You make certain adjustments and enjoy life exactly the same way, but you are not a machine,” says the man whose most famous role was playing a machine, in three instalments of The Terminator. He is already on location in New Orleans for the prequel Terminator: Genesis, directed by Alan “Game of Thrones” Taylor.
“I don’t even consider retirement because I haven’t heard of any good experiences of people who have done that. I have seen people who retired at the age of 60, being the head of a studio, or people who have retired from politics at the age of 65, and they are lost. For myself, I would get bored, I always like to have a challenge.”
What was his first job offer after leaving politics? “The speaking guru in Washington calls and says, ‘we can get you $100,000 per speech’ and has 18 speeches lined up already. So you do that and you run into all those guys like Bill Clinton, George Bush and Colin Powell in all these places like Nigeria,” says Schwarzenegger.
If there is one thing that has put the skids on Schwarzenegger’s quest for world domination, its that irritating clause in the U.S. constitution that prevents those born on foreign soil from ascending to the highest office: “I would have ran for President in two seconds if they changed the Constitution,” he tells me when we meet in Atlanta shortly after President Obama’s re-election. “It would have been one of those things where my wife would have said, ‘What are you doing?’ Just like the Governorship, when you read my book, you will read all about it - how shocked she was when I said, ‘I’m running for Governor’. So amazingly enough, in the land that gave me everything, I can’t complain about the one thing I can’t get. I think it’s too late for me to get them to change the law,”
So he’s not getting back into politics?
“No, this is it because the ultimate job - which is the presidency - is not available for me so there’s nowhere to go…. its my vision to entertain the world. That’s what bodybuilding is all about and acting is all about. it’s a global way of thinking. Even as governor I tried to do policy that affected the rest of the world so that other states and other congressman would get inspired by that. I think its because I come from overseas and I travel so much that I think of myself as a citizen of the world.”
Married for 25 years to Kennedy blue-blood Maria Shriver, mother of the couple’s four children – Katherine, 24, Christina, 22, Patrick, 20, and Christopher, 16 – their partnership ended just months after he left office amid lurid revelations that he had a child with family maid Mildred Baena. Their divorce remains unresolved as lawyers discuss Schwarzenegger’s estimated $400m fortune. Their eldest child Katherine recently published a book revealing how she moved back home after finishing college to support her mother and siblings, “a step backwards instead of forwards”. Schwarzenegger wrote his own somewhat insensitive biography, Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story. He remains active in his children’s lives: he personally delivered a brand-new Jeep to mark the 16th birthday of his illegitimate look-alike son, Joseph Baena, and mischievously tweeted a picture of himself photo-bombing his eldest son Patrick as he lay knocked out in a hospital bed. He is currently dating a physical therapist, Heather Milligan, 38.
Post-politics, the movie set is where he feels most at home. He has slipped into the role of Trench in Expendables 2 and the upcoming third instalment, and also stars in the action movies The Last Stand and Escape Plan. He was particularly eager to sign up to play a DEA Swat team leader in Sabotage and work with director David Ayer. “Sometimes directors get intimidated when they meet someone like me,” he says, his hands glittering with a chunky silver skull ring and a big silver chain bracelet embellished with stars and stripes. His crocodile-skin cowboy boots are hand-stitched with the word “America”. “But I knew David would push me. He was very clear that he wanted me to train with the rest of the actors and made me go out with real Swat teams.”
The only thing that made him unhappy was when Ayer insisted he take his dyed brown hair back to its natural grey. “It was pitiful. I wore a hat all the time I was off-set.”
Schwarzenegger’s story is truly extraordinary. From humble beginnings in a small Austrian village, with an abusive father, to domination of the body-building world and Hollywood, marriage into the Kennedy clan and politics. He understands he is a tough act to follow.
“Patrick wants to be an actor but he knows there’s no freebies and he has to go audition and do it well and then you get hired. He also works out like a maniac, he has an extraordinary body, he’s better looking than me. He gets his looks from his mother, but he is also studying business and economics. I am very proud of him.”
Of his eldest daughter Katherine, his strongest critic, he says: “She is trying to recreate Maria’s career with a vengeance. This is going to happen, there’s not even a doubt. She gets this determination from her mother.”
He has stern words for working mothers who leave their kids on the streets after school. “One of the things that made me successful was that I had someone there when I was a kid 24 hours a day. My mother was a traditional Hausfrau who stayed at home and took care of us kids.
“But in America – hello! Both parents go and say: ‘Let’s go to work! We want to have a bigger house; we want to have more cars; we want more TV sets’. But what about the kids?” asks Schwarzenegger. “The next thing is they’re drifting on the streets, involved in juvenile crime, drugs and gangs. Kids are like puppies. They need supervision all the time.”
‘Sabotage’ opens on 7 May