Arnold Schwarzenegger's first order of business on the New Mexico set of The Last Stand in the fall of 2011 was to sit down with the stunt team for a frank talk.
He wanted to make sure that in his return to action films (Stand opens Friday nationwide), every stunt he attempted counted -- he was age 64, and there wasn't going to be an endless supply of physical feats.
"I said, 'Look guys, here's the deal,'" Schwarzenegger says. "'When Carl Lewis did the long jump that won the gold medal, I was there. There was no cameraman that went up to him afterward asking to jump again because he didn't get the (expletive) shot. That's going to be the case here. There's no room for that.'"
Yes, the former bodybuilder who launched an acting career more than 40 years ago and turned the Terminator role into a seemingly indestructible icon in the 1980s and 1990s, is making concessions to aging. Especially after an eight-year detour from Hollywood that led him to the governor's mansion of California for two terms.
But like his Last Stand character -- a small-town sheriff who leads a comical group of deputies to fight off a drug cartel -- Schwarzenegger has come out swinging as he attempts his first leading role since leaving office in 2011. Yes, swinging, even if it's tougher on the joints these days.
"This is not the Terminator," Schwarzenegger, now 65, concedes. "This is a very different character, you know. You get older and wiser."
This also means the one-time box-office champion has moved to another phase in his life. After leaving political office and then enduring a headline-making split from his wife of 25 years, Maria Shriver, in the wake of a paternity scandal, Schwarzenegger is looking to put his movie career back into high gear.
"This is a new chapter, re-winning audiences' affection and loyalty, which he has done many times in his career," says producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura. "This is the beginning. And Arnold wants to win. He has this robustness and energy that's the same as when I met him in 1980. If anything, it's accentuated."
This robustness is on display as Schwarzenegger strides into the members-only Grand Havana Room, his frequent Beverly Hills hangout spot, wearing a custom-made suit, Prada shoes and a large ring with the California governor's seal ring on his wedding ring finger. He's eager to sit down with di Bonaventura to talk about the film, just as long as he has a Davidoff cigar brought to him from his private humidor.
"I smoke much less than I used to," Schwarzenegger says. "But one little cigar at the end of the day isn't bad."
He boasts about the cigar tent he erected next to the governor's office: "Legislators liked to pass anti-smoking laws," he says, flicking open his lighter and bringing the flame to his Davidoff. "And then they would come to the smoking tent."
Arnold felt like 'an ant'
At the end of his final term as governor, Schwarzenegger told his longtime collaborator di Bonaventura, with whom he had worked at Warner Bros. in the 1990s, that he would return to the business. Di Bonaventura immediately sent over a script. Schwarzenegger, who says he was too busy governing in his final days in office, insists he didn't even read the script.
"I felt like an ant, there was so much happening with the (state's) economic decline, people losing jobs, that I wanted to pay full attention and sort of sprint to the finish line," Schwarzenegger says.
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