Printer Friendly

Arnold Schwarzenegger: no sweat.

Vello," Arnold Schwarzenegger says in a rough Austrian accent, transforming the greeting into a guttural near-threat. "Vello dere."

The voice is a bizarre semi-articulate mangling of vowels and consonants that on-screen wrap themselves around lines of violent passion like boa constrictors and squeeze out strange essences of comedy. "Crush your enemies, see dem drive out before you, and hear de lamentation of dair vermin!" he barks in Conan the Barbarian. Arnold Schwarzenegger's gravelly commands are the stuff of cinematic legend, an accepted American institution like Bogart's lisp, Jimmy Stewart's stuttering frenzies, and Bette Davis' staccato tirades.

Disc jockeys, Johnny Carson, Albert Brooks in Broadcast News-all have imitated Schwarzenegger's Kissinger-like delivery; all have been rewarded with riotous laughter. The voice is funny, you must admit. Not to mention extremely lucrative.

"He's a star because of that voice," the New York magazine film critic David Denby says. "It's what everyone remembers and imitates."

Schwarzenegger could easily have been laughed off and forgotten, His English is German accented, his body cartoon-like-a 57" chest, 23" biceps, and a 31" waist at its body-building prime. His granite jaw, blade-sharp' cheekbones, slightly pug nose remind one of Dick Tracy.

But through savvy, relentless determination, and rejuvenation of form, Schwarzenegger has transformed himself in the course of a decade into America's preeminently popular movie star. His current asking price per film: $10 million. The last laugh, if there is one, truly belongs to Schwarzenegger. Guttural gurgle and all.

Schwarzenegger's transformation culminated in the recent box-office smash Twins. Funny, newly articulate, and surprisingly suave, he has abandoned the loincloth of Conan and the robotic slur of the Terminator to capitalize or! the surprising, self-deprecating charm that has always lurked beneath the thick, tanned skin. In Twins, a new wardrobe, that of a leading man, hugs his still-behemoth frame. It's a good fit,

Ivan Reitman's double-trouble comedy hangs on a purely ridiculous concept. Schwarzenegger plays Juliusthe perfect man-scientifically sired with the sperm of the world's six top geniuses. He inherits all their best qualities-brains, brawn, and beauty-and comes to represent genetics at its best. As with most movie experiments (remember Frankenstein?), this one develops a glitch. Julius' mother births not only him, but also the runty, evil, devious Vincent (Danny DeVito), who runs amuck with all of the geniuses' worst qualities. After years of estrangement, the twins are reunited. Manic adventures rooted in their quest to develop some sort of brotherly love quickly ensue.

Schwarzenegger is loose in this film, minus the hard-edged authority that allowed him to steal the adventurethriller kingdom away from hard-guy Sylvester Stallone a few years back. But even at his violent worst in a slew of mid-'80s films, he still seemed gentle and dependable under the brawnmuch like a German shepherd watchdog that becomes surprisingly sheepish when let indoors.

Schwarzenegger-an actor who once told Rolling Stone magazine"I have no ego for lines . . . I can say what I want on television when I do interviews"-has a sense of humor and a reservoir of sensitivity, both of which show up on the screen. With one wink, he somehow manages to transcend the genre he helped create. Although he has made a career thus far out of playing dumb, or merely mute, he is exceptionally clever.

The route of his Hollywood career supports this thesis. It began in the '70s when Lucille Ball spotted his Teutonic charm on Merv Griffin's show and asked him to guest on a special she was developing.

He accepted, put his roots down in Hollywood, hung his business and international economics degree from the University of Wisconsin on the wall of a swanky flat, and never seemed to falter. In a short time, this one-time immigrant turned American has acquired a fortune ($25 million, according to Forbes magazine), a talented bride with a dowry (Maria Shriver, a member of the Kennedy dynasty), and maybe most surprisingly, a secure film career.

Success for the only Hollywood musclethrob able to laugh at himself, you might say, came easy. "I have this theory," Schwarzenegger says. "The theory says that all the things the audience does not expect from a big guy work ten times better when you do them because they don't expect it. When a big guy has humor and shows emotion, it works better than when a little guy has them. If you are a tough guy and you drop a funny line, people appreciate it much more than if Rodney Dangerfield would have said it."

The big man's theory appears to work wonders. He is walking away from Twins with a pocketful of glowing reviews. The New York Times, USA Today, and a score of national magazines salute his light-comic blossoming.

But don't think that Schwarzenegger is stealing Olivier's thunder in his 12th film. He isn't. There's still something slightly clumsy about his screen presence. He is to be credited, however, for tackling bits of business that another actor with his reputation and following-a Chuck Norris, for instance, a Stallone-would never touch for fear of either embarrassment or obvious failure.

Schwarzenegger succeeds brilliantly in these dark comedic moments, as in Twins when he sings the '5Os classic "Yakety Yak," spouts near-Shakespearean lines of dialogue, and wears a T-shirt emblazoned with a mohawkwearing baby and the message "Born to Be Bad." Largely, it's because his charm is surprising, then contagious.

We are shocked seeing Arnold sing, shocked when words containing five letters or more slip over his tongue. It's the jolt of the unexpected. Channeling it in strange, compelling ways is Schwarzenegger's forte.

Humor mixed with sensitivity-as he'll tell you over and over again-is what sets his films apart from the works of Norris and Eastwood and Stallone. The latter has been his chief competitor in the crush-'em sweepstakes, which he has not altogether abandoned (a film based on the comic book exploits of Sgt. Rock will follow Total Recall, a recently completed Paul Verhoeven film). Of Stallone, Schwarzenegger simply remarks, "He takes himself far too seriously. I think that will eventually backfire."

Schwarzenegger's involvement in Twins is typical. He endorsed the film's comedy-of-errors concept and inherent dramatic opportunities and committed to the project long before there was even a script. His chameleon capabilities and desire to stretch his talent -have sustained his career. He changes with the times and thus never grows stale.

In the '70s, for instance, when hedonism and total self-involvement defined a generation, Schwarzenegger rode the rail of success via the ultimate narcissistic sport: body-building. Slathered in oil, decked with a bevy of beauties, pontificating on the seeds of introspection and self-involvement from which success springs in films like Stay Hungry and Pumping Iron, Schwarzenegger was the '70s. Then the '80s dawned-the decade of Ronald Reagan. Schwarzenegger threw on some clothes to adjust to the conservatism that had swept over a nation. But not right away.

First came Conan the Barbarian (1982) and Conan the Destroyer (1984), films that more than anything established Schwarzenegger's bankability and set the stage for the prosystem films to come. (Today, the character of Conan, a near-naked slave-turned-gladiator, seems to serve as a metaphor for Schwarzenegger's rags-to-riches success.)

The Terminator (1984), quickly followed by Commando, Raw Deal, The Running Man, and Predator, established him as the perfect Reaganera hero, and in many ways, his portraits were purely Reaganesque. Most of Schwarzenegger's middle-decade film characters served to protect the populace, most of the time with steely-eyed, bicep-rippling violence (Reagan's ideology during these years: strength through defense). All were decidedly nationalistic, all were ruggedly invincible, all were popular-just like President Reagan, who in fact admitted to loving Schwarzenegger's screen bravado. No wonder.

President George Bush, likewise a fan, has been aligned with Schwarzenegger often in the press. Arnold is a diehard Republican, much to the chagrin of his wife, a staunch Democrat, and he campaigned heartily for Mr. Bush during the fall campaign.

Mr. Bush, in turn, showed up at the Kennedy Center premiere of Twins in mid-December. "There are all kinds of courage," said the thenpresident-elect, flanked by Mrs, Bush, DeVito, and Shriver as Arnold looked on and grinned widely. "There is the courage of my friend Arnold Schwarzenegger, who more than once campaigned with me across this country. . . ." A pause, and then the punchline: "And then returned home each time to take the heat from his own in-laws. "

Friends say Schwarzenegger would make a great governor or senator, so great are his organizational skills and ability to inspire others. He seems to indeed have a vested interest in the political arena-as long as it is within his realm of experience. Still supremely fit and looking, at 41, every inch the Mr. Olympia/World/Universe he once was, he chatted with the new administration's transitionpolicy staff last fall. The topic: the President's Council on Physical Fitness. (Schwarzenegger still works out daily, sometimes for hours on end, to maintain his sculpted physique.)

Before a panel of blue suits, Schwarzenegger said he would like to see the council restored to the prominence it enjoyed during the Kennedy administration. He further added that he would "love to do whatever he could do to help." At this writing, rumors are swirling in Washington that "Conan the Republican," as he is affectionately called by Mr. Bush, will be named to head the fitness council in early 1989.

Schwarzenegger's future is clearly mapped out. Foremost on his list are projects that will let him grow as an actor. Now is the time to climb to the plateau of legitimacy, he says. Now is the time to show ever more skill and ever less skin. The warmer, more sensitive Schwarzenegger of the '90s continues his inevitable metamorphosis.

"Things are changing slowly," Schwarzenegger says. "For instance, my wardrobe in Conan cost four dollars, while for Raw Deal I got 20 expensive suits made in Beverly Hills. The bill for the baby oil for that film was very low, while on Conan it was very high. In fact, once during Conan when we shot in California, I had so much baby oil on that I slipped and fell into Nevada."

So what you're telling us here, Arnold, is that the days of flexing for your supper are history?

"You've got it," he says, laughing in that foreign-exchange rumble of his. "Those days are definitely over."
COPYRIGHT 1989 Saturday Evening Post Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Murphy, Ryan P.
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Article Type:Biography
Date:Mar 1, 1989
Previous Article:Lassie come home.
Next Article:What else is new?

Related Articles
Marketing fitness with the President and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
How work-outs may be Arnie's Terminator.
Boxing: Lewis eyes movie role.
Jamie Lee: Arnie's not a serial groper.
Arnold Schwarzenegger's Inner-City Games Foundation Teams Up With America Online, eBay & To Launch First Ever Online Fundraising...

Terms of use | Copyright © 2016 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters