A weird and wonderful Newport night with Terminator Arnie
When it comes to celebrities they don’t come much bigger – in every sense – than Arnold Schwarzenegger.
But somehow the 6ft 3in muscle man looks surprisingly diminutive as he walks on the stage.
Then again, after posing beside a (naked) 10-inch replica of Arnie just a few minutes earlier, maybe my perspective is skewed.
Not that the 72-year-old Hollywood is anything less than impressive of course, as the huge voice booms “I’ll be back,” and the 1,200-strong crowd break into thunderous applause.
This is just the start of a weird – and wonderful – night with the Terminator actor who is the latest global megastar to hit our shores to treat fans to “an evening with”… for a price, of course.
And at £125 for a basic ticket, £350 for the VIP treatment, and up to £849 for a photo with the star himself, it’s a fairly hefty price.
But that hasn’t stopped the hundreds of – mainly male – super-fans donning black tie in Newport on a sunny Thursday evening.
Even in the queue they excitedly swap favourite Terminator one-liners and pose with lookalikes in Arnie and Predator costumes.
It seems he’s very attractive to men – something his mum thought from the very beginning.
He recalls how, as a child, his bedroom was plastered with posters of his bodybuilding idols.
He says: “My mother called the doctor round to see my bedroom. She said to him, ‘All his friends have girls on their walls – and he has men. Where did I go wrong?’
“I didn’t want to be like every other Austrian and marry a girl with the name of Heidi and have loads of kids like the Von Trapp family,” he says.
“I wanted to be a bodybuilder and an actor and go to America.”
And we all know where that ended up. But, even as he is about to appear on our screens next month in Terminator Dark Fate, the sixth film of his most famous franchise – 35 years since the first – he reveals it might have all been very different. Arnie was first cast as Kyle Reese and the Terminator was OJ Simpson.
He reveals” “I had a lunch with director Jim Cameron and I told him how important I thought the Terminator was to the story and said the actor who plays him really has to behave like a machine. So that’s how OJ Simpson got dropped and I got to play the Terminator.
“I even have one of the original paintings of OJ as the Terminator, but I was painted over him. You could just scratch the surface, and he would appear!”
Before he set foot on the stage the excitement built further with Arnie prize draws, photo opportunities and more ‘art’, signed by their idol, including a portrait of Arnie made from 300 one penny coins.
And even I, while not exactly Arnie’s biggest fan to start with, couldn’t help but get caught up in the whole big, noisy “I’ll be back” extravaganza.
Heartbreaking story flows into hilarious anedcdote as presenter Jenny Powell quizzes the actor on everything from his childhood to political career and of course, his very famous films.
A series of props including a plastic water pistol and a cardboard cut-out of Danny Devito keep things interesting and there’s even – perhaps unwisely – 51-year-old Jenny challenging him to an arm-wrestle.
“My father was a disciplinarian and in the morning I had to do lots of push-ups and sit-ups before breakfast. He had an incredible work ethic and always told me, ‘Be useful’,” he recalls. “And still today, when I sleep in late – like past 5.30am – I just feel I’m not being useful, I’m just lying around here. So his words have stuck with me my whole life and I’m so thankful.”
Paying a moving tribute to his best friend and gym buddy Franco Columbo, the Italian bodybuilder who died last month, he says: “Franco’s a tremendous loss to me.
"He was a wonderful friend of mine and I was godfather to his daughter – we knew each other for 54 years.
“We met when I was 18 years old at a competition in Stuttgart in Germany and became lifelong training partners.
"He was also a bricklayer and when we went to the US, we started our construction company. We had 80 body builders working for us!”
Arriving in the US in 1969 aged just 21, the former Mr Universe and Mr Olympia lived the American dream, becoming a millionaire by the time he was 30.
He recounted how a little boy born in Austria in 1947 became one of the richest movie stars of all time, with an estimated worth of £340million.
“I grew up in poverty after the Second World War and we were occupied by the British” he said. “The men were very pissed off that we’d lost the war,” he reveals to shouts of laughter around the room.
“In 1971 we had an earthquake in California – we worked our asses off and we made a lot of money!
“I became wealthy from real estate before I ever made any money from acting. That enabled me to take movie roles that I wanted rather than forced to take.”
It’s an attitude that’s understandable knowing that Arnie’s first brush with Hollywood was when, despite his lack of English, he was cast as Hercules in the very forgettable 1970 movie.
The audience clap and cheer at Arnie admitting his early mistake. “Oh you’re very kind,” he laughs. “Because when that movie came out, it went right into the toilet.
“I never shy away from failure. But [Hercules] was a good stepping stone for me.
"I needed to work on my acting and work on my English accent,” he says.
“I worked on my accent five hours a day, just like I worked on my body five hours a day,” he adds, before Jenny mentions Sylvester Stallone joked he and Arnie should open a language school together.
Next came Conan The Barbarian, his break-through movie in 1982, before those Terminator blockbusters.
Off screen things have been rather up and down too. He married John F Kennedy’s niece Maria Shriver in 1986 and the couple had four children together, author Katherine, 29, Christina, 27, and 26-year-old actor Patrick.
But his 25-year marriage broke down when it was revealed the family’s housekeeper had fathered Arnie’s lovechild, Joseph, now 21, and also a bodybuilder.
Fans had been able to enter a lottery to ask questions and a single mum got up to ask Arnie’s advice in how to bring up her five children.
Visibly choked, he told her, “I’m a father of five, so I know how tough it is. I’m so proud of you. You need to have a vision of what you want for your children – and just go for it.”
There’s littke doubt Arnie’s vision would have got him to the White House if he hadn’t been born in Austria, but, despite his stint as Givernor of California, his disdain for politicians is palpable.
“Let’s be honest, most politicians are boring,” he cries to thundering applause. “They’re scared of saying the wrong thing and have no sense of humour. I mean have you ever noticed politicians smoking cigars? Never! But they all smoke in secret!”
Clearly even having emergency open heart surgery last year after a planned op for his congenital heart defect went wrong hasn’t put the tough guy off his beloved cigars.
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