- Arnold Schwarzenegger talked about coming up with one of his most outlandish characters yet in the movie, “Killing Gunther.”
- Schwarzenegger explained why he still makes “Terminator” movies.
- He also shared the movie he’s made in the past that he’ll still watch, though it’s “just so stupid.”
Arnold Schwarzenegger has built a legendary career through iconic action movie roles that will be watched by generations of audiences. So who better to be at the center of a comedy that spoofs the genre?
For “Killing Gunther” (currently streaming, in theaters on Friday), the directorial debut of “Saturday Night Live” alum Taran Killam, Schwarzenegger plays Gunther, the world’s most famous hitman, who is being chased by a group of bumbling assassins (Killam and Bobby Moynihan among them) trying to take him out. Sporting a stylish haircut, red sunglasses, outlandish outfits, and at one point even singing an country music song, Schwarzenegger delivers his most outlandish performance of his career.
Business Insider spoke with Schwarzenegger over the phone about coming up with the character, why he wants to keep making “Terminator” movies, his theory why “Last Action Hero” was his biggest bomb of the ’90s, and the movie he’s sat back and watched with his kids because it’s “just so stupid.”
Jason Guerrasio: What was it that made you say yes to a movie like “Killing Gunther?”
Arnold Schwarzenegger: I was a fan of Taran Killam. I saw him on “Saturday Night Live.” He came to me with the script, I read it, I had a conversation with him, it was his first time directing but he seemed very organized. He had a clear vision of how the movie should be done. I felt the script was hilarious, I thought the whole concept of taking the kind of movies that I’ve have done many times, of playing a killer of some sort, and that this guy was the ultimate number one assassin, I thought that was funny. I had a blast doing the movie. And my character was written exactly for me. It was heaven. It was just so over the top.
Guerrasio: The thing that stands out at first, and you see it in the trailer and the marketing, is your outlandish haircut and clothes for the movie, is that something you and Taran fleshed out together?
Schwarzenegger: No. We didn’t even talk about that. He had it all planned out. I remember coming to the set and the hairdresser started cutting my hair and I was like, “Wow, it’s kind of short on the sides,” and they said, “Yeah, we want to make you really cutting edge,” and I was like ok, for a 70-year-old guy to look cutting edge, not bad. [Laughs.] The flamboyant wardrobe and behavior, it all fit together perfectly.
Guerrasio: So you didn’t pick out the sunglasses or any of the outfits?
Schwarzenegger: We had some decisions, but I made it clear to him that I would rather go with his vision, which made him feel really happy that I wasn’t one of those actors that was second-guessing everything. But you second-guess everything when you have a s—-y director or someone who doesn’t have a clear vision. With him I didn’t feel that way. When he explained to me my character I thought that he had thought through the whole thing so much, all I cared about was that everything fit. I just wanted to make sure there were enough fittings. I think I picked out the sunglasses.
Guerrasio: How about your performance.
Schwarzenegger: I was rehearsing it for months before I got to the set. Doing it my way, the way I interpreted it. And when we did rehearsals a week before we started shooting, Taran liked what I came up with. During shooting he did little tweaks, as he should. But he was wonderful. I said to him, any script that you have where I fit in I would love to work with you again.
Guerrasio: So if he did a sequel to this you would be into playing this character again?
Schwarzenegger: That would be funny.
Guerrasio: I would love to see you do this character again, but I will say it’s a bummer that we have to wait 45 minutes or so into the movie before you show up.
Schwarzenegger: That will be the tagline of the sequel — “Gunther will be in sooner.”
Schwarzenegger: But the way Taran did it, reading the script, it was perfect. But seeing the movie, yeah, it’s too bad we don’t have a scene or two where I could come in sooner.
Guerrasio: You’ve done comedies in the past, but this was more outlandish than anything we’ve ever seen you do before. Were you nervous if you could pull it off?
Schwarzenegger: No, because you have to see some of the commercials I have done for the Japanese.
Guerrasio: Very true. Good point.
Schwarzenegger: They are more outrageous than “Finding Gunther.” There is nothing, for me, that is too outrageous. I mean I can go all the way out there or I can be as subtle as in “Maggie” or “Aftermath.”
Guerrasio: Well, what about doing the country music song? Some nervousness doing that?
Schwarzenegger: Yes. I have to admit that I did really freak out over that. I don’t mind looking foolish but it’s just that I’m so bad in singing. The only time people ask me to sing is if they want the party to stop. If they want everyone to go home. Immediately. So I was worried that if I sang everyone was going to run out the theater. I just don’t have an ear for music. That’s why for “Twins” Ivan Reitman made me sing so people would laugh. So, I get it. It’s embarrassing.
Guerrasio: But you owned it. And Taran putting you singing the song in the end credits, either you’re hypnotized by it that you can’t leave or you run out of the theater.
Schwarzenegger: Right. Exactly. As soon as I heard it I ran out.
Guerrasio: Is there a character you’ve played in your career that it still bugs you audiences didn’t get what you tried to do?
Schwarzenegger: There could be 10 of those characters around. [Laughs.] That’s not my style to really dwell on it, and drive around during the day on my bicycle, or working out in the gym, and to worry about what character people didn’t understand. I think that’s just me. And I’m not a person that thinks back in the first place. I think forward. And it’s always been less that people didn’t get the character, but more people being mad that the movie fell short. Or people would say they are glad the movie went in the toilet. And I totally agree with them. I think there are some movies I made that it was a good thing they went into the toilet, because they weren’t good enough. The director f—ed up, or the production was too small, or I screwed up, whatever the reasons are. I’m lucky I’ve made more movies that went through the roof and people liked internationally than movies that didn’t do well.
Guerrasio: For me I still love the Jack Slater character in “Last Action Hero.” I don’t have to tell you, that movie didn’t do well when it opened in 1993, but if I show someone younger than me that movie now they get sucked in.
Schwarzenegger: And don’t forget that the year that movie came out it was the year to beat up on Arnold. There was nothing I could do. It was one of those things where President Clinton was elected and the press somehow made the whole thing kind of political where they thought, “Okay, the ’80s action guys are gone here’s a perfect example,” and they wrote this narrative before anyone saw the movie. And I could see before the movie even came out there were stories coming out about how the movie was still shooting and it’s supposed to come out in two months so why are they still shooting. The action hero era is over, Bill Clinton is in, the highbrow movies are the in thing now, I couldn’t recuperate. It was treated like the biggest failure and when other movies came out that year that did less money they didn’t say that. So yes, I think more people would have seen it if the press treated it differently, but now the good thing is that with streaming, people can go and watch it and many people say exactly what you’re saying. They enjoy it.
Guerrasio: Why continue playing The Terminator? What is it about this character that makes you want to keep playing it?
Schwarzenegger: I love the character. I think the T-800 model is a really interesting character that was developed with a tremendous ability. He’s a machine, can be destructive, can do things human being can’t do, but at the same time when newer technology comes along the character suddenly is vulnerable and that makes him even more interesting. That’s why it plays well in the past movies. I think [James] Cameron and [upcoming Terminator movie director] Tim [Miller] came up with a concept where they can continue on with the T-800, but make the movie a whole new movie. I think the character was stuck in the future and was more like an ordinary guy who suddenly gets activated again.
Guerrasio: What went wrong with “Terminator Genisys?” Too much of the story getting in the weeds about the future and the past?
Schwarzenegger: Remember, all movies, except the one when I was governor so I wasn’t in it, “Terminator” 3 and 5 made over $400 million worldwide, so those are huge grosses. We wish we had made $700 million or $800 million, but I think the key thing now is not to get stuck with the same timeline. I think what they are doing now with this one is basically to just take a few very basic characters, like Linda Hamilton’s character and my character, and dismiss everything else. Just move away from all these rules of the timeline and the other characters. It’s hard to come up with new ideas when you stay within that framework. And I think this time they are going to take the freedom of opening up and not tying themselves down to the timelines and the other characters.
Guerrasio: You’ve been teasing “Triplets,” the sequel to “Twins,” for so long, what’s the latest on that project?
Schwarzenegger: I had a conversation yesterday with my agent and he said that the script will be finished in 14 days. Ivan Reitman is extremely happy with what he’s seen so far, he just wants to make a few tweaks. So that’s music to my ears. I think sometime beginning of next year we can shoot the film.
Guerrasio: Is Eddie Murphy still involved?
Guerrasio: Have you and Danny DeVito and Eddie talked, exchanged messages?
Schwarzenegger: We are in touch with each other all the time. We support each other. Everyone is happy to do this movie.
Guerrasio: What movie of yours will you stop and watch if it’s on TV or someone tells you it’s on?
Schwarzenegger: I’ll tell you, I remember when my kids started understanding that I was in movies and they would be watching television and one of my movies would come on, they’d say “Daddy, this is you!” I would see the scene, I would stop and just watch it with them. One scene or two. Even a movie like “Hercules in New York,” which I always make fun of because it’s so outrageous, and it was my first movie, and they had to dub my voice. My name was “Arnold Strong” in the movie. I was really stupid. But I had to stop and watch it when my kids watched it because it was just so stupid. In one scene it’s me wrestling a bear and you could tell the bear in Central Park was not a bear, it was a guy with this coat thrown over him. But it was done so cheap. The budget on that movie was $300,000. We shot the movie in 1969, everything was so cheap. I hadn’t seen it in so long and my kids got it and put it on, and they saw me wrestling a bear, and I had to stop and watch this entire fight scene with that bear. Just to watch how ludicrous it was.
And now, enjoy Arnold wrestling a bear in “Hercules in New York”:
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