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Arnold Schwarzenegger rounded out the Television Critics Association’s two-week confab Friday with a half-hour visit to reflect on his past as Mr. Universe.
The former governor of California will share his past as a budding bodybuilder in the Austrian Army as part of ESPN Films’ 30 for 30 Shorts digital series, an extension of the network’s longform documentary effort that launched in 2009. The four- to 12-minute installments — of which Schwarzenegger’s 10-minute project, Arnold’s Blueprint, airs first — will begin rolling out September 26 on creator Bill Simmons’ Grantland.com.
According to co-director Michael Zimbalist (The Two Escobars), he was struck by the early chapter in Schwarzenegger’s life because it was both “inspirational” and “relatable.” “When Arnold was 18 … he had everyone around him telling him that his aspirations were silly,” says Zimbalist, noting that Schwarzenegger had the determination and wherewithal to turn “lemons into lemonade.”
To hear Schwarzenegger tell it, the ESPN execs latched on to the story of his teen years because it offered a window into his ability to overcome obstacles. “I never saw a no as no; I heard ‘yes,’ ” he says, recalling a time when his father thought that he was overdoing it and his mother was worried. “She saw the pictures on my bedroom wall of naked men oiled up,” he continues to big laughs. “She called the house doctor and said, ‘Is there something wrong? Is my son turning south here?'”
That sense of discipline and perseverance was tested again when he began serving in the military, where there was no equipment with which to train. Within one month of being there, he was invited to compete in Mr. Europe (at the junior level) but was restricted from leaving the base. He found a way to sneak out, get to the competition and ultimately won, which at first landed him in jail and then as someone to be celebrated upon his return.
“You realize you have to continue to pay no attention to naysayers, and it helped me for the rest of my life,” Schwarzenegger says of an early life lesson he learned through sports and has since been able to apply to his life in both Hollywood and politics.
Schwarzenegger acknowledges that he was aided by steroids, arguing it was more experimental at the time. As for today, he sees ridding bodybuilding — and any other sport that trades on strength — of the rampant drug use that goes on as a significant challenge. “The drug industry is so sophisticated that there’s always a way around it,” he says. “But that doesn’t mean we should give up.”
Asked about his newly revived film career, Schwarzenegger regaled critics with the story of him accepting Sylvester Stallone’s invitation — while he was at the hairdresser — to do a small part in 2010’s The Expendables, which went on to gross $224 million at the worldwide box office. “You don’t have to call my agents, I make the decisions,” he recalls saying of a gig he accepted without pay. His stipulation: He’d have to film on Saturdays because he was still holding public office. (On the sequel, which hits theaters Aug. 17, he says he devoted four days instead of four hours.)
Schwarzenegger will join Stallone once again in The Tomb, an action movie slated for release in 2013. “We are in love with each other,” he quips, adding that the pair has been trying to find a way to work together for 20 years but had long struggled to find the right script.
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