Arnold, as you’ve never seen him before
By Kyle Almond, CNN
Published August 6, 2023
Just before their seaplane landed deep in the Amazon rainforest, James Cameron had a warning for his good friend, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“He says: ‘Arnold, I just want you to know not to get your ego bruised, because there, no one is going to know who you are. That I can promise you,’ “ Schwarzenegger recently recalled.
This was in 2011, 20 years after Cameron directed Schwarzenegger in the second “Terminator” movie. They were in Brazil to meet with Indigenous leaders about environmental issues, and Cameron was sure that the local tribe would not recognize the star actor.
How wrong he was.
“We land there, we get out of the plane and within a minute, people were chanting ‘Arnold, Arnold, Arnold!’ ” Schwarzenegger said. “And then they took me to a hut where they had actually a poster of mine inside.”
It’s hard to find people who don’t know Schwarzenegger, the bodybuilding legend from Austria who became a Hollywood superstar and, later, governor of California. The 76-year-old remains one of the most famous people in the world.
“Someone said recently that I’m more recognizable than the president,” he says in “Arnold,” a new photo book that chronicles his rise to stardom and his career in the public spotlight. “I have no idea; I don’t study this stuff, but no matter where I go in the world — Europe, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, South America, North America, or Australia — people know me.”
“Arnold,” a two-volume limited edition that costs $1,500, packs some serious photographic muscle. It includes vintage bodybuilding images, behind-the-scenes film stills and many personal photos from Schwarzenegger’s private archives. It also has portraits of Schwarzenegger taken over the years by famous photographers such as Richard Avedon, Annie Leibovitz and Andy Warhol.
It’s “a combination of the beloved and familiar and the never-seen,” said Dian Hanson, the book’s editor, who worked with Schwarzenegger on it for the past decade.
Hanson, a senior editor and writer for the publisher Taschen, was very thorough in her research. She estimated that she has seen probably 99% of the photos that have been taken of Schwarzenegger through the years.
“I’ve met beautiful people. I’ve met intelligent people,” she said. “Arnold has more raw charisma than anyone I’ve ever met… Not everyone with charisma is able to project it just through a photograph, just through film, a video. But Arnold has that ability.”
She remembers the first time she visited his home.
“He’s a great storyteller, and he would get up and act out stories. He would move around the house and show how things were done. He’s just full of this joy and energy,” she said.
Hanson interviewed Schwarzenegger extensively for the book, which tells his story in the first person. He details the motivation that got him to where he is today — which all started with his bodybuilding career.
Born in a small village in Austria, Schwarzenegger didn’t grow up with much, but thanks to his intense drive and focus he was able to become a four-time Mr. Universe and a seven-time Mr. Olympia.
To this day, he is still revered by bodybuilding fans and held on a pedestal as the greatest of all time.
“His posters hang in gyms all over the world,” Hanson said. “You get into war zones where they’re working out with a wall falling down on one side of the gym, and they’ve got an Arnold poster up there while they’re lifting weights.”
But Schwarzenegger’s ambition, his vision, was always greater. In the book, he talks about “Hercules” star Reg Park, who was able to carve an acting career out of bodybuilding. He followed Park’s example and got into film.
Success didn’t come overnight. Because of his thick accent, his lines were dubbed over in his first starring role, 1970’s “Hercules in New York” — a film where he was credited as Arnold Strong instead of Schwarzenegger.
Schwarzenegger worked at his craft and eventually became a box-office behemoth in the 1980s and 90s, starring in not only action movies such as “Conan the Barbarian” and “The Terminator” but also comedies such as “Twins” and “Kindergarten Cop.”
His films have grossed more than $4 billion worldwide.
In 2003, Schwarzenegger became governor of California, winning a special recall election after Gov. Gray Davis was removed from office. “The Governator” would serve two terms after being reelected in 2007.
“For Arnold, being governor of California is the most important part of his life,” Hanson said.
Schwarzenegger, once called “Conan the Republican” by President George H.W. Bush, didn’t take a salary while in office.
“There’s no university in the world that can give you the education you get sitting there in the governor’s chair,” he says in the book.
The last chapter of “Arnold” covers Schwarzenegger’s activism, which he has continued after leaving office. In recent years, he has been a champion of clean energy and voting rights, and he has also been outspoken about former President Donald Trump and the 2021 attack on the US Capitol.
“We had thought from the beginning that (the book) would be the three careers — the bodybuilding, the acting and the political career,” Hanson said. “But as we got further out from the political career, Arnold said: ‘Hey, I’m not dead yet! I’m continuing to work every day, and I don’t replace one career with another — I add careers.’ ”
During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, Schwarzenegger started to take on more of an active role on social media, posting videos from home that would often feature his donkey, Lulu, and his miniature horse, Whiskey. He says in the book that part of the reason was because he saw how people were struggling with anxiety, depression and loneliness during lockdowns.
“He loves people,” Hanson said. “Any time you see Arnold with people, he will take the time and speak to people. He will give his all. There’s never a sense that Arnold is doing it because he has to — he’s there because he wants to be. He’s very intelligent. He has a great sense of humor. And it comes across.”
Schwarzenegger continues to work in bodybuilding, hosting the annual Arnold Classic, and he still acts.
He recently starred in “FUBAR,” an action-comedy show on Netflix, and the streaming service premiered a new documentary series — also titled “Arnold” — about Schwarzenegger in June.
In the docuseries, Schwarzenegger acknowledges some of the well-documented “failures” in his life that the book doesn’t get into, including his highly publicized divorce to Maria Shriver, which came after Schwarzenegger had fathered a child with the family’s longtime housekeeper.
Schwarzenegger said he doesn’t like to talk about the affair, because “every time I do, it opens up the wounds again.”
Hanson hopes the book will appeal both to Schwarzenegger’s biggest fans but also to those who may not be as familiar with his life — or have preconceived notions about who he is.
“That is something that they tried to get in the documentary to great effect and that I tried to get in the book — to show that he’s not a robot, he’s not a Terminator, he’s not just an athlete. He really is this very rounded, thoughtful and vulnerable human being,” she said.
Schwarzenegger, looking through the book, says he would not switch the life he’s lived for anyone else’s.
“I’m just filled with gratitude that the odds worked in my favor,” he said. “Through a mixture of vision, hard work, luck and a lot of help, I have lived the greatest life.”