CONVERSATIONS WITH ARNOLD
Posted on 18 December 2013
I’ve been asked many times how I’ve had the luck to in gain access to Arnold Schwarzenegger, one of the world’s most famous and recognized individuals.The first time I saw Arnold was at a 1969 seminar in Doncaster, England, shortly after he won that year’s Mr. Pro Universe title, beating the likes of Dennis Tinerino and Serge Nubret. I was 20, he was 22 but at 240 WIP pounds he was a monster for those times. On that day if someone had told me that decades later I would live and work in Los Angeles and frequently interview the Pro Universe winner, I would have responded, “Yeah, right! There’s as much chance of that happening as Arnold becoming Governor of California.”
He duly called in mid-evening and with the four-minute meter ticking in my head there was no time for casual banter, so straight away I launched into, “What was the highlight of your Olympia career?” Instantly I learnt something that was to become standard over the years. Namely, that when the seven-time Mr. Olympia fields such enquiries he doesn’t merely answer he re-lives the moment. In animated tones he spoke of winning his first Olympia title in 1970 and defeating incumbent Sergio Oliva. With his speech crescendoing into peaks to accentuate the drama the words came tumbling out in rat-a-tat fashion, “We posed and posed. Sergio’d hit a back shot; I’d hit a front lat spread. He’d come back with a thigh shot, I’d fire back with an arm shot – all this stuff was flying around like CRAZEEEEE!” There was more but the preceding onslaught gives an essence of his high-energy delivery. In finishing the anecdote he concluded rather wistfully, “Yeah …… I will always remember that.”My four minutes were up but I decided to press on and -- as is my style at the local bar -- wait for the man in charge to call time. He discussed his Olympia reign, the state of bodybuilding at that time, his relationship with Joe Weider, his movie career and how bodybuilding had given him the will and discipline to survive in Hollywood. He decried other less resilient stars, referring to them as “Girly mans that do the whimpering and complaining because they have to shoot at night and do 16 hour days.”We went on to discuss the upcoming inaugural Masters Olympia, and then with 25 minutes taped he said he had to go. I thanked him for his time and back came his signature closing riposte that I’ve heard countless time since, “You goddit! You goddit!” A four minute sidebar turned into a 25 minute full feature.
- THE FIRST TIME
- Fast forward to July 1995 and now based in LA I’m assembling an Olympia driven feature in which all nine (at that time) Mr. O champs were to select the highlight of their Olympia career. I had eight in the bag with only Arnold, who had been traveling through Europe, outstanding. His people (I’d love to say his peeps told my peeps) said it may be a long shot but when he calls you’ll get about four minutes. I’d never interviewed him before but optimistically figured you could cover a lot of ground in four minutes – just ask Roger Bannister.
The meetings included discussions on subjects such as The Coalition For Education Reform, Hospital Financing Waiver Reform, a legislative update on Flood Control, plus a press conference was scheduled. In addition, that evening I would accompany Arnold to a premiere of Be Cool, starring John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Vince Vaughan, The Rock, Harvey Keitel, Cedric The Entertainer and Christina Milian. Prior to that the former Tinseltown box office king was holding a cocktail reception for the cast – Travolta and Thurman being absentees. Quite a change from my normal day of proofing training articles and deciding if Ten Things To Do With A Cucumber could be misinterpreted?The Governor had promised to give me a 30-minute interview but the meetings were running late and with the reception looming his PR chief told me the interview would be cancelled. However, Arnold, despite Miss PR’s protestations, announced, “We’ll do the interview now”. We go to the special gazebo that had been erected in a courtyard within the Capitol complex solely to enable Arnold to smoke cigars. He lights his preferred stogie and I start at a hectic pace figuring, I’d only got five, or ten minutes at best. After ten minutes Miss PR appears saying the reception has started, Arnold has to go there now. He stalls saying he’ll finish his cigar first. Another ten minutes and she’s back, saying the reception will end in twenty minutes. Arnold responds that he only needs ten minutes to mingle. She gives him a look, he smiles, I make like the Invisible Man. That gazebo was one tense tent. They’ve obviously danced this tango before, but I haven’t. Have you ever gone round to another couple’s home for a “pleasant” evening, and they – as a continuation of some dispute you had not been aware of -- start to bicker in code? Any road up, I get my 30 minutes.
HANGING OUT WITH THE GOVERNOR
McGough flips on the tape as Arnold goes into action
- Since 1995 I’ve had the opportunity to interview our subject regularly and probably the most memorable was in 2005 when, as Governor of California, he invited me to visit him in Sacramento, and sit in on his flurry of official meetings. I even got to fly with him on his private jet from Santa Monica to Sacramento.
A NIGHT AT THE MOVIES
McGough signs (no he didn't put an X) the visitor book at the Capitol Building in Sacramento
- So later that night there’s Arnold Schwarzenegger, seven time Mr. Olympia, Hollywood superstar, and Governor of California sharing his popcorn with, and sitting next to, Peter McGough, St. Hugh’s Junior School Milk Monitor 1955-’58, as we watch Be Cool – how be cool is that? As one of the opening scenes flickered into view the Governor suddenly whispered, “Who’s that?” The object of his curiosity was the rearview image of a gorgeous on screen 30-foot blond wearing only bikini bottoms lying facedown on a sun lounger. I reply, “Uma Thurman ….. I thought you were the Hollywood guy here?” He smiled, a slight raising of the eyebrow indicating perhaps surprise, admiration, alarm or a combination of all three, that I could immediately identify, from that angle, the contours of the actress who puts the Um! in Uma. Later that night he invited myself and others in his official group into his hotel suite for supper to crack jokes and tell tales that will have to wait for another time.
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- IT'S ALL IN THE DELIVERY
- In my experiences of interviewing Arnold he’s always given the time he’s promised. Now it may later than first agreed; or if it’s a telephone interview the call comes as he grabs a quick lunch, or at 10.30 on a Monday night or four on a Sunday afternoon, but it comes. Like a Robin Williams punchline the man always delivers. In fact he delivers so well there’s talk of his image being integrated into the Fed-Ex logo. More Arnold stories in due course.