TG.com chats with Schwarzenegger
…and his Last Stand co-star Johnny Knoxville. That’s right, Arnie’s Back. Pay attention
I am lightly afraid. Arnold Schwarzenegger has beckoned me into a small room at The Savoy hotel in London. He has requested that I take a seat. Johnny Knoxville is sat beside him and looks concerned. Arnold takes a sip of coffee, and then appears to marshal every ounce of his authority to silently investigate my soul... with his eyes. It's the eyes. For a moment, his glare is so intense that I'm expecting one of his baby blues to start blinking red. I half tense my forehead expecting a kill shot.
But then he smiles, and suddenly all is well with the world. I have no immediate need to go home and rethink my life, just a desire to sit in the company of the former Governor of California; none other than THE TERMINATOR. Johnny appears to lighten up too. Why am I here? Because Arnold Schwarzenegger - one of the most famous faces on our little blue planet - has made his long-awaited return to film; an action film about a baddie with driving gloves in a very powerful Corvette, and a goodie with forearms of steel and some very powerful weaponry.
"It was always clear that when I finished with the Governorship of California, I would go back to movies," he says gently, in that inimitable Austrian drawl of his. "I just, kind of took a little hiatus for seven years, which is like decades in the movie business."
Hiatus? He was running the world's 8th largest economy. But he's right about the movie business. Of course, he's had a couple of cameos acting alongside the holy Hollywood action triumvirate of Bruce Willis and Sylvester Stallone in The Expendables and The Expendables 2, but no lead role since 2003's Terminator 3. "I was very fortunate that I worked with Stallone first, because it gave me a little bit of warm up time, a chance to work with all of those guys and get thrown into the mix. Then I went from that to New Mexico to film this. It's been great".
Johnny nods. In fact, the sole reason he even signed up for this film was to share a set with the former Mr Universe and seven-time winner of Mr Olympia. "Umm, why did I do this movie?" he says, in heightened tones. "Arnold Schwarzenegger, that's why. I mean I signed on based on that. Then I read the script and really loved it."
What's not to love? "It's fun, you know?" Johnny says, offering me a look of content. "You get to shoot machine guns, and drive a car in a cornfield." He points to Arnie. "This guy... I mean he's pedal to the metal."
Arnie fixes a face of determination. It's the only way he works: no rest, no excuses, no mistakes. And ‘pedal to the metal' is probably the most apt description for The Last Stand. In one of the film's key chase sequences, Arnie pilots a Camaro ZL1 in hot pursuit of a baddie in a Corvette ZR1. In a cornfield. "We rehearsed with those cars a lot, because I wanted to know what they could do, how you can make them slide on the road or in the dirt and so on," Arnie regales, matter-of-factly. Honestly, this man could read out the weather report and make it entrancing. "The more time you spend in a car like that, the more comfortable you're going to feel, because it gets quite scary when you're in the middle of a cornfield and you don't know where you're going, and all of a sudden you have this crash scene with another car."
Good thing he's a wheels man. A proper, proper, dyed-in-the-wool petrolhead. The talk naturally turns to cars, and even Johnny Knoxville - owner of a dodgy 1970 Cadillac Eldorado that he loves dearly "because it doesn't run a lot" - takes a back seat. "This man," he says, his eyes wide, pointing to Arnie, "has a tank. A TANK."
Arnie just nods, solemnly. "I have a tank, yes," he says, as if admitting to having an electric toothbrush. "I also have a Hummer that is powered on hydrogen fuel, and another Hummer that is powered by biofuel. I've got a Bentley Continental GTC - which is a nice British car - and I have a Mercedes SLS roadster, which is a lovely little German car. I also have a Dodge Challenger (the new generation) and four motorcyles - Harleys, Indians, stuff like that." Through the years he's also been spotted behind the wheel of various Porsches and Ferraris, and recently took custody of a Mercedes Unimog. A Unimog. Clearly, this man loves his motors.
"I think the Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport - the convertible - is just the sexiest car around. But when it comes to big vehicles, I like big military vehicles." No surprise really, considering his time spent in the Austrian army. And the sheer size of the man's hands.
I probe him to see if his passion for motoring has ever...compromised his still impressive physique: any hairy moments on the road? "All the time," he quips back, immediately. He laughs too, which is a bit disconcerting. "I've broken six ribs in the past, I've nearly wiped out several times on my motorcycles, and have had my fair share of accidents in cars and with my tank."
Johnny chimes in too, as though regaling his weekly shopping list. "I once tore my urethra trying to backflip my motorcycle about three or four years ago, so that was fun."
"I can believe that," Arnie chips in with a wry smile.
No surprise, considering the Jackass star's propensity for ludicrous self-harm in the name of comedy. And it seemed his reputation was a concern for the Austrian Oak, what with Knoxville being a professional prankster. "We've seen all his films and TV," says Arnie, "and my kids were big fans of his, so we were ready for anything on set. We knew he could be launching one of his ‘attacks' or pranks, but he didn't. He was actually well behaved." This in itself is a shocking revelation - a well-behaved Johnny Knoxville. Arnie smiles. "He made an adjustment with his stunts because normally in his movies when his stunts fail, that's when things go well." Johnny laughs as Arnie looks at him square on. "I said to him, ‘we don't have any room for failure in our movies, so just behave."
When The Terminator tells you to behave, you behave. But of course, if you're Johnny Knoxville, things are just destined to go wrong. "We rehearsed the fight scenes in The Last Stand a lot: we worked closely with the weapons experts and stunt coordinators, but many things go wrong with these types of scenes - it's inevitable," Arnie tells us. He gets serious. "Like when Johnny was on the top of the telegraph pole and it broke - it was not planned that he was going to ride it down. Then the whole thing crashed and he landed on top of the truck, and we thought he was going to be dead.
"All of a sudden he emerges and shouts out "I'm fine, I'm fine!" Johnny, no stranger to personal injury, recounts Arnie's on-set wound. "He split his head right open man, I mean, right down the middle," he says, in his Tennessee tones. "We had to beg him to go to the emergency room. They stitched him up proper, and then he was back in an hour to continue filming."
Despite these garish wounds, it hasn't dented their enthusiasm for collaborating in the future. I decide this is a perfect time to pitch a Schwarzenegger/Knoxville buddy movie with a car at the centre; something along the lines of Lethal Weapon. At the mere suggestion of this, Johnny's eyes light up like fireworks. "I would love to pair up like that. It would be an awesome movie."
Arnie, like the consummate, considered gentlemen he has become, just smiles, knowingly. "I think so too." Watch this space, TopGear.commers...