NEW YORK (AP) — Arnold Schwarzenegger followed the familiar script of a politician departing office in some ways, writing a memoir and doing speaking engagements. But, then again, most former governors don’t make three films a year in which they regularly pile up double-digit body counts.
“You can’t put me in the same category at all. I’m in a totally separate category,” says Schwarzenegger. “No one that has the combination of having been successful in sports, having been successful in show business and then having been successful in politics. So everything is off.”
Schwarzenegger, who has a little Donald Trump in his braggadocio, is indeed a category of his own. He’s been a monolithic, much-impersonated pop-culture presence across more than three decades: an Austria-born he-man who came to America to pump us up, to defend us from aliens and to rule our most populous state.
Four years after leaving office, the rekindled movie career of the post-governor Governator has taken shape. It’s been more than the last gasp some expected. Rather, Schwarzenegger has launched a full-scale resurrection of the showbiz career he put on hiatus for seven years — one that wasn’t exactly red hot when it was put on ice.
“You cannot just go and pick it up where you left off. So you have to kind of work your way up because everyone at the studios says, ‘I don’t know if people will really buy in. He’s seven years older and blah blah blah,'” Schwarzenegger said in a recent interview. “I said: OK, let’s just work our way up there again.”
Schwarzenegger’s latest is his most unlikely. In “Maggie,” which opens in theaters May 8 and recently premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, he tries his most dramatic acting yet, playing a father whose teenage daughter (Abigail Breslin) has been infected by a disease that will turn her into a zombie within weeks.
The directorial debut of Henry Hobson, “Maggie” — which despite its apocalyptic backdrop is really a slow-moving drama about parenthood and death — is radically smaller than Schwarzenegger’s usual vehicle. Though the effect is sometimes like seeing a Humvee on a bike path, Schwarzenegger acquits himself reasonably well as a weathered Midwestern patriarch.
He says the adjustment to a $6 million indie was a welcome change of pace from the “machinery” of larger films. There was more time for rehearsal to develop his character. “I like reps,” he says with a smile.
Speaking with Schwarzenegger isn’t as surreal as you’d expect. Dressed in a shirt and jeans, he looks a little like a presidential candidate in a folksy campaign ad. At a suite at the Waldorf Astoria, an assistant sits nearby on a laptop while a security guard stands by the door.
The entourage is a bit like that of a politician, even though Schwarzenegger’s electability took perhaps an unrecoverable hit in 2011 when it was revealed that he had fathered a son with a household employee, Mildred Baena 14 years earlier. Maria Shriver, his wife of 25 years, divorced him. Schwarzenegger dedicated a chapter of his memoir to what he calls a “disastrous situation” and spoke about the scandal on “60 Minutes.”
“It’s me,” he says. “You can’t go and use the people only with your good things and try to sell them things, the movies, and have a certain following, and then not cut them in when you fall.”
His re-ascent on the big screen hasn’t been smooth, but it’s gaining steam. On July 1, he’ll return to perhaps his most famous character in “Terminator: Genisys,” the fifth film in the franchise. The previous film, “Terminator Salvation,” was the lone entry without Schwarzenegger and it was poorly received. With him back in the fold, “Genisys” is one of the summer’s more anticipated films.
Since leaving office, Schwarzenegger has teamed up with Sylvester Stallone for the three “Expendables” movies, and also co-starred with Stallone in 2013’s “Escape Plan.” While those ’80s-style action films have done mostly good business, Schwarzenegger’s solo efforts have faltered. 2013’s “The Last Stand” made only $12 million domestically, and last year’s “Sabotage” didn’t make back a third of its $35 million budget in North America. He’s hoping to make sequels to “Twins” and “Conan the Barbarian.”
“I’m climbing the hill. I’m not there yet. Still a work in progress,” says Schwarzenegger. “It’s always more fun to climb the hill than sit on top of it.”
But Schwarzenegger, at 67, still has some swagger. At CinemaCon last week in Las Vegas, he previewed footage from “Genisys” and promised the crowd “big, big box office.” It will be the biggest test yet for Schwarzenegger’s post-governor phase.
Schwarzenegger says he misses working on policy and remains invested in issues like the environment and California’s water crisis. His Schwarzenegger Institute at the University of Southern California promotes “post-partisanship,” particularly when it comes to global warming.
“For the last 45 years I was on a fitness crusade,” he says. “Now I’m on an environmental crusade.”