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Screaming fans. Street closures. It was as if no time had passed for Arnold Schwarzenegger, who enjoyed a welcome return to movie stardom at Lionsgate’s Hollywood premiere of The Last Stand on Monday.
The action movie is the first starring vehicle for the larger-than-life personality since 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (not counting three cameo-style roles in the interim), after which he left the business to serve as California’s governor for two terms.
The big Austrian greeted fans as a conquering hero, and at the Roosevelt Hotel after-party, he compared himself to the Roman emperor Cincinnatus.
“Cincinnatus was a farmer, and he became the emperor of Rome, and then went to farming again, because his time of service was over; that’s exactly how I look at it,” Schwarzenegger told THR.
Huh? He explained: “The idea was always that I would step out of my show-business profession and give seven years of my life to public service and then go back to what I was doing.”
Schwarzenegger said he will still be involved with public policy via his USC Schwarzenegger Institute and will continue to support health and fitness through bodybuilding championships and fitness expos that bear his name, but he’s happy to be back in show business.
Inside the after-party, Schwarzenegger was a magnetic draw, enduring a stream of photo-taking fans and industry admirers, while Hollywood friends such as producers Marc Canton and Avi Lerner looked on.
Last Stand director Kim Jee-woon said he soaked up Schwarzenegger’s movies as a kid, his favorites being Terminator 2, True Lies and, surprisingly, Last Action Hero. The 1993 movie, a big financial and critical flop when it was released at the height of Schwarzenegger’s popularity, centered on an action-movie fan who is drawn into the movie world of his screen idol.
“I was that boy,” said the South Korean director, talking via a translator. “I used to watch his movies as a boy and never thought I would direct him.”
Jee-woon added that he and Schwarzenegger used Last Action Hero as a go-to reference during the production of Last Stand.
Lorenzo di Bonaventura, who produced the movie, recalled that he had lunch in Schwarzenegger’s gubernatorial office a month before he left the job. It was there that di Bonaventura first tried to pull the politician back into movies. “I said, ‘I know you’re not going to want to talk about it, but if you decide to come back to the movies, I want to make a movie with you,’ di Bonaventura told THR. Five months later, he sent him the Last Stand script. Arnold agreed to do it because, di Bonaventura said, it was “Right script, right time.”
The entertainment business has gone through some seismic shifts since Schwarzenegger enjoyed his heyday in the 1980s and 90s. The DVD market, which kept studios in the black, collapsed. Mobile devices became part of the distribution model. Star power has faded. But Arnold is focusing on what he believes hasn’t changed: people want good stories that entertain them.
“That’s the way it was in the 30s, that’s the way it was in the 60s, and that’s the way it is now. Nothing has changed,” he said. “People want good movies. And by good, I mean entertaining, whether it’s a love story or a horror story. If you can’t give them that, then forget about it.”
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