Arnold Schwarzenegger appears to be in a hurry. A consummate professional, the former politician is polite but firm as he sits bolt upright in a plush hotel room, while his busy entourage fills the corridor, making phone calls and checking the time.
“We’re ready, let’s go!” he barks, evidently keen to get down to the business of promoting his new revenge thriller Sabotage (in cinemas now), in which he plays the head of the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration).
He and his team (including Sam Worthington as James ‘Monster’ Murray and Joe Manganiello as Joe ‘Grinder’ Phillips) steal a stack of cash while busting a drugs cartel, but one member betrays the others and the money disappears.
As the cartel hunts the bounty down, the suspects are whittled down in a trail of blood and gore.
“I enjoyed doing the movie because it was not a typical action movie, he’s a flawed hero,” explains Schwarzenegger, dwarfing the room with his vast bulk, his huge hands palm down on his muscle-bound legs.
“In most films I play a hero, the good guy who wipes out the bad guy – it’s very clean cut.
“But this one is a much more complex character. It’s someone who starts out as this heroic guy and is the leader of this DEA SWAT team. But as the cartel looks for revenge, they not only whack my own guys but they also wipe out my family. That’s when he decides to cross the line himself and get into this dark world.”
Schwarzenegger is not without his own flaws. In 2011 he was exposed as having fathered a son with his family’s housekeeper 14 years earlier, and he and his wife Maria Shriver (with whom he has four children) separated after 25 years of marriage.
In Sabotage, his character Breacher also has a weakness for the flesh, falling for a tough cop played by British actress Olivia Williams.
“She was fantastic, she’s a very trained actress, she’s really hot,” he says.
While he admits everybody has their weaknesses, physical fitness is not something he is prepared to compromise on, even aged 66.
“The first thing I did when I got here was work out, and the second thing was to have some good British desserts, so I gained the weight back after working out,” he adds, chuckling.
“The key thing is, no matter how old you are, you always have to work out. You always eat, you always sleep, you always do all those things. So therefore you always work out, and try to stay in shape.”
Schwarzenegger is the epitome of the American dream. The Austrian-born star harboured the ambition of moving to the US from the age of 10, and saw bodybuilding as a way in.
After winning his first Mr Universe title in London in 1967, he achieved his dream of moving to America where he continued to work as a professional bodybuilder. It wasn’t long before he’d set his sights on a movie career.
“I was told I’d never get into bodybuilding. I was told I’d never make it in the movie business. They said I was too big, they said it wouldn’t work with my accent. I never listened to them, and I went on to have a successful career. So never take no for an answer,” he says, grinning triumphantly.
His big Hollywood break was in 1982’s Conan The Barbarian, before landing the iconic role of the Terminator in James Cameron’s 1984 sci-fi thriller.
He went on to star in a string of action movies, including The Running Man and Total Recall, and proved himself equally able to carry comedy in hits such as Kindergarten Cop and Junior.
In 2003, he announced he would be standing for governor of California and held the position for two terms.
“My mission was to step out of acting, become governor of California because I feel I’ve better answers in making the state a better state and a better place to live,” he explains.
“I didn’t want to be a career politician after I ran for governor – run for senate or for congress or anything like that. That’s not what my goal was when I was a kid.
“My goal was to be a bodybuilding champion, to get into movies, to play action movies, to be a leading man. Then to give back to the community as much as I can and get involved in the Special Olympics and after-school programmes, which eventually led to becoming governor of California.”
He eased himself back into film with cameos in friend Sylvester Stallone’s franchise The Expendables, and after Sabotage, he has The Expendables 3 and Terminator: Genesis to promote.
“To be a public servant, it was the greatest honour for me, the greatest pleasure, to have the trust of the people and to work on behalf of the people,” he says.
“But I always knew after that I was going to go back to acting and continue my regular job, the thing I enjoy.”
ARNIE IN ACTION
Conan The Barbarian (1982). Arnie was the perfect person to bring the comic book warrior to life.
The Terminator (1984). He made the invincible killer robot, dressed in a leather jacket and dark glasses, a cinema icon. He promised “I’ll be back” and he was, for the sequels.
Twins (1988). Arnie showed he wasn’t a one trick pony when he played Danny DeVito’s long-lost twin brother in this well-loved Eighties comedy.
True Lies (1994). Arnie proved he could be romantic as well as buff in the action romcom co-starring Jamie Lee Curtis.
Jingle All The Way (1996). After winning a legion of younger fans in Kindergarten Cop, he took on this comedy about a father’s fight to get his son a sell-out toy for his stocking.