Thursday, June 22, 2017

A Talk with Nicolas Cage

My short conversation with Nicolas Cage was conducted over the phone, while I was sitting in the Atlanta offices of my school's newspaper. Cage, meanwhile, was in New York City, filming another of his most unusual roles as the bloodthirsty lead of Vampire's Kiss. The Georgia State University Signal published my interview with this newfound star on March 1, 1988, in connection with Norman Jewison's Oscar-winning comedy hit Moonstruck.

Nicolas Cage can color himself lucky on all counts. After all, when an aspiring actor has Oscar-winning director Francis Coppola as an uncle, Oscar-nominated actress Talia Shire as an aunt, and Oscar-winning composer Carmine Coppola as a grandfather, he can do nearly no wrong on the path to success. Knowledge of the twenty-three-year-old actor's family tree conjures up images of Cage as a coattail rider, but that's an insult to his innately unique talent. Even so, Cage still can't keep from admitting that the connections have helped in his progress. As one of Judge Reinhold's co-workers at a fast-food parlor in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Cage was virtually invisible (his part was edited down drastically, he says). And, in spite of trumped-up screen time, his work in a television movie called The Best of Times went totally unnoticed.

It was only in 1982, when Francis Coppola was casting parts for Rumblefish that Nicolas Cage got his first real break. "He gave me a job reading for other actors for the film," Cage says. "As it turned out, I got a large part, but I don't think Francis liked what I did in Rumblefish. Now he does but, at the time, I think he thought I was too stiff as an actor."

Valley Girl is the picture that really opened the industry's eyes as to Cage's onscreen value. As a beach-hopping punk rocker who falls in love with a spoiled San Fernando princess, Cage stole the show. Even now, more than five years after the film's release, Cage recognizes his debt to his first big hit. "Things didn't really start clicking for me until that film. It really surprised me. Going in, I thought it was just going to be another teen exploitation movie. I had no idea it was going to be as poetic a picture as it was. I guess I owe a lot to Valley Girl.''

Indeed, since it grabbed his uncle's attention and respect. "Francis saw it and decided that it was good work, so he agreed to have me continue to work with him." As a result of Valley Girl, Cage has worked with Coppola three additional times, playing Richard Gere's crazed brother in The Cotton Club, Kathleen Turner's doo-wop singing husband-to-be in Peggy Sue Got Married, and a small role in last year's Gardens of Stone.

Given the curvy twists he has given to these roles, as well as to such parts as Sean Penn's insensitive friend in Racing With The Moon, as a love-struck rower in The Boy in Blue, and as a scarred GI in Alan Parker's much-acclaimed Birdy (a role for which Cage pulled out two of his own teeth and wore bandages on his face for five weeks as mental preparation), one has to wonder what attracts the actor to certain scripts. Cage is quite confident when faced with the question. "I'm drawn to anything that's different from the last thing I've done, simply because it keeps me from being bored," he says. "I'm always looking for something new. And then I guess the other factor is whether or not the part seems real to me, if the character reads well on paper or is someone I can really identify with. Reality is the foundation to everything, I think. If I can take that reality and play with it, make it bigger or smaller, then I'm interested. But if it doesn't seem real to me, then I'm gonna be on a tightrope and there isn't gonna be any net under me."

1987 turned out to be an especially lucrative year for Nicolas Cage. After being served with mixed reviews for his wonderfully eccentric performance in 1986's Peggy Sue Got Married, he emerged with Raising Arizona, his most acclaimed work to date. In it, he plays H.L McDonough, a small-time crook who finds it difficult to change his wronging ways when he gets married to a policewoman (played by Conyers native Holly Hunter). When faced with the fact that his wife cannot have children, the couple puts into action a plan to steal a single infant from a set of quintuplets born to  furniture magnate Nathan Arizona. What follows is a side-aching, side-winding, and often strangely touching comedy about the joys and pains of parenthood. Cage himself thinks is perhaps his best work yet, crediting a great deal of the film's quality to brothers Joel and Ethan Coen, who wrote, produced, and directed the film.

"It was a luxury to work with them on that script," Cage says. "They had it thought out the way they wanted it. They really took a lot of care with the plot and the words." Cage also take measure to dispel any image of the Coen brothers as pure technocrats (as their products are so ultimately flawless visually). He says that they go to great lengths to make sure their actors are comfortable but are, at the same time, extremely clear on what they want from a performer. "They're instinctive about directing actors. They give you a two-week rehearsal period and, during that time, they toy with anything they might want to alter. But when they get on the set, they're pretty instinctive. They just go with what they feel, with what makes them laugh."

Cage also says that it was the broad, physical strokes of comedy that were called for in the Coens' script that attracted him to Raising Arizona. "It's almost like slapstick has become taboo in cinema, that people like Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy have become antiques. But I think there's a lot to be learned from what they did. To make that kind of wild behavior seem real is what I really want to do. I don't want to put any limitations on myself and Raising Arizona gave me the opportunity to be as big as I wanted."

This actor's one-two punch continued in December when Norman Jewison's Moonstruck opened in New York to rave reviews. Since its debut, the film has garnered six Oscar nominations, yet he was passed over in the Best Actor category (he was nominated for the Golden Globe, though), Cage has received glowing notices for his portrayal of Ronny Cammareri, a one-handed Italian baker who falls for his older brother's outspoken fiancee (Best Actress frontrunner Cher). Though he was taken with playwright John Patrick Shanley's well-crafted screenplay, Cage admits he had certain misgivings about playing an Italian in this very ethnic-flavored film. “I am Italian," he says, "and I find that, in American cinema today, there seems to be a stereotype of Italians, with the hand gestures and the thick accents and this whole mobster image. Just one big-cliche. So when I decided to do Ronny, I also decided I wasn't going to get caught up in any of those claptrap images that Hollywood drums from Italians. I really tried to give the character some dignity."

His character in Moonstruck is a passionate but chronically depressed baker whose impending marriage was destroyed when his character's butchering duties were distracted by the dramatics of older brother Danny Aiello, leading to the loss of Ronny's hand in an automatic meat slicer. With this bizarre chain of events, Cage says his character was exceedingly difficult to work out. "I wanted to keep him from seeming too selfish or self-pitying. It's hard to play a character that talks about all the hardship and suffering he's been through without making him into a wimp."

Still, Nicolas Cage got it down pat. Now, he says, he couldn't be happier with the final product. "Hopefully," he says, "the movie will make people want to fall in love again, want to be with each other, want to work it out. It could be a medicine for couples that are falling apart. They would see Moonstruck and say 'See? It's alright to be angry with one another, it's alright to argue.' Love is not just about holding hands, y'know.”

Friday, June 9, 2017

A Talk with Harvey Pekar

I was instantly taken with the irascible, hilarious, and irrepressibly forthright Harvey Pekar upon seeing him, in the fall of 1986, on NBC's Late Night with David Letterman. This streetwise Cleveland comic book author, literary and music critic, and all-around raconteur became, after his rascally debut appearance, a regular visitor to Letterman's show. But, though the late-night icon reliably gobbled up Pekar's aggressive humor, a 1987 guest shot got Harvey temporarily banned (for nearly six years) from the show after he lambasted NBC owners General Electric for being a purveyor of nuclear energy threats and an enemy of the unions (Letterman, I should say, had deeper issues with Harvey's unruly reaction when faced with changing the subject to rants more suitable for a comedy show). But, thankfully, Pekar's dynamic early Late Night appearances led me to his comic book American Splendor, which resolutely changed my worldview in its artful dramatization of his own "ordinary" life. By design, Harvey encouraged all artists, assuring us that lauding sometimes mundane but often profound human existence was a noble intent, especially amongst the hoi polloi. Such illumination is THE ultimate goal in art, and Pekar's work needles us with the notion that. even in a blandly corporatized era, light can still be shed into everyday shadows. 

While working as an editor at the Georgia State University newspaper The Signal, I became determined to get an interview with Pekar, which I landed by simply tapping the Cleveland information line. I cold-called Harvey and he, in his own low-key fashion, was immediately welcoming. From my beginnings as a Pekar fan, I commenced to imagining the big-screen version of his work, and harbored ambitions aimed at being the filmmaker that would complete such a project. That outcome wasn't to be, but I was there in the fall of 2003 as the movie version of American Splendor, after becoming a chief feature at both the Sundance and Cannes film fests, unspooled as the opening night feature for that year's Atlanta Film Festival. I made a hundred copies of my original Georgia State University-published interview and distributed them to the Atlanta screening's attendees. This was a wispy ghost of my original goal, but at least it proved I was way ahead of the curve in appreciating Harvey Pekar's wisdom.

Two years after I talked with Harvey, I met both he and his wife Joyce Brabner at a comic book shop in NYC's East Village. Harvey and I had a genial chat, during which he signed a couple of my comics, and then I met Joyce. I was wearing a military bar on my jacket that day, and Joyce, being an expert on all thing martial (seeing as she was doing her own comic Real War Stories) notified me that this piece I'd purchased at an Atlanta military store as jewelry actually signified that the wearer had fought in a particular Vietnam battle. She sternly informed me I shouldn't be sporting it if I hadn't done the fighting. I was immediately concerned, but not convinced. But, on the way home by way of the NYC subway--and I still cannot comprehend the reality of this stunning coincidence--I was approached by a disheveled homeless man who'd glimpsed the bar I was wearing and mistook me for a Vietnam cohort. "Hey, man, I was at Khe Sahn. Where were you?" Mortified, I let him know I wasn't a military veteran, and I could see the hurt and confusion on his face. I took that tiny but so significant bar off when I got home and never wore one like it again. 

When the film version of American Splendor finally arrived on movie screens in 2003, I was impressed with Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini's adaptation (which earned them a well-deserved Adapted Screenplay Oscar nomination). Their deft blending of documentary, narrative and animated storytelling registered as remarkable to nearly everyone who saw the film. After my first viewing, I recall thinking that, aside from a few minor quibbles, I could have done no better, especially with a brilliant cast that included Paul Giamatti (as Harvey), Hope Davis (as Joyce), Judah Friedlander (as his nerdy co-worker/best friend Toby), and James Urbaniak (as Robert Crumb). Pekar would go on to win a Harvey Award--the Oscars of the comic world--for his 1994 graphic novel Our Cancer Year (about his hard-fought battle with the disease). Now, thirty years later, I can see that Harvey Pekar was THE original blogger, letting the world know what was going on in his churning brain long before the Internet existed as an outlet for us fellow schlubs. As he liked to say "Ordinary life is pretty complex stuff." After achieving his aim of being a distinguished writer and husband obsessed with literature, jazz, comics, and his own far-from-humdrum life, Harvey Pekar died in 2010.

Here is a reprint of my original interview with this lustrous artist, published May 19 1987 as the cover story for Georgia State University's Tuesday Magazine (the particular Pekar comic I used as the cover ended up acting as the script for the film's opening scene): 

The moment I first mentioned to my editors I was going to do an interview with comic book writer Harvey Pekar, I was warned not many people know who he is. Some might recognize him from his admittedly memorable and always funny appearances on Late Night With David Letterman, but that would be about the short extent of the mass audience's recall. Then I thought "Well, so what?” and realized anonymity might be a necessity for Harvey Pekar's proper function.

Not that he lacks ambition. He's got a following of adoring comic book and/or literature aficionados (he reviews books and music for various publications). But one need only to take a look at his comic American Splendor to see how important Harvey Pekar's "humdrum" life is to both the meaning of the work and to the man himself. American Splendor is very probably one of the most original and brilliant uses of pop culture since Andy Warhol started silk-screening portraits of Marilyn Monroe in the 1960s. The 47-year-old Pekar frankly states that, in it, he just does what most writers do anyway: he writes about himself. Only Harvey is lot more blatantly autobiographical than most of his colleagues. (It should be mentioned that Harvey does not draw the comic. He simply writes it. Such renowned underground artists as Robert Crumb, Gerry Shamray, and Gary Dumm, among others, do the fantastic artwork, based on stick-figure drawings provided by Harvey.)

You see, American Splendor is not a bloody war epic or a schlock horror collection, as comics are wont to deliver; it is, quite simply, a chronicle of one lone man's relatively uncomplicated but stressful life. It literally follows Pekar through the streets of Cleveland through the days of his tough youth, and through the everyday routine of his 21 years as a file clerk at a VA hospital, through lunches and dinners and lazy Sunday mornings, even through his sometimes troubled married life (his present wife, Joyce Brabner is, incidentally, also heavily into comics; she is producing a Marvel Comics-style book called Real War Stories, which will be sort of a cross between Platoon and Harvey's work, with real-life veterans relating sometimes dull, sometimes exciting stories about the horrors of Vietnam). American Splendor is a detailed, scathingly sincere examination of a single, very intelligent human surrounded by fellow humans, some smart and some clueless, but all separate and alone. More than that, though, his work is an essential glorification of the Everyman and the typical days they endure, in which nothing special happens and everything special happens simultaneously.

Recently, I shared an hour-long phone conversation with Harvey Pekar. He was watching a televised basketball game at his Cleveland apartment when I called. 

First of all, when did you start writing American Splendor?

Well, it was first published in 1976. But I started writing comic book stories in 1972.

Why did you choose comic books as your artistic outlet? Why not novels or screenplays or something else?

First of all, I think comic books are as good an artistic medium as any that exists. I mean, I have said...they are words and pictures and you can do anything with words and pictures. In fact, you can do anything with words alone. But there's a great deal to be explored in the medium and that excited me.

Why do you focus on non-fictional, everyday events?

Because, um, not enough people have. I think that, you know, like, 99% of your life is involved with so-called everyday events and I think there's a whole lot more drama, a whole lot more funny stuff, that occurs over the course of an ordinary day than people seem to realize. I want people to relate to my work. I want to write about my life and how it parallels their life. I want them to say "Oh, yeah, something like this happened to me," you know.

Does it bother you any that some people may see American Splendor as an act of narcissism?

Not too many have. Because, for one thing, I show myself in an unflattering light a lot. I don't want people to think that I'm just doing this as an ego trip. The most important thing to me is to do good art, not to make myself look like a great guy. Look, I think I make myself look like a worse person than I really am and that's fine.

Is it difficult for you to be so honest in your writing,  to expose so much of yourself? I mean, just to let everybody know about your personal life,  you know--to let people know how your marriages are going and so forth?

See, that's the thing. In order for me to do good work, I have to be honest. It's not only that, though. I think a lot of people can be honest. But I think what's more difficult is to analyze things correctly and to describe accurately your reactions to things. So, to me, the big challenge is to write with accuracy and clarity, not...I mean, the honesty part, there's no problem there.

Are you ever afraid that you'll become so well known that the routine feel that makes the comic appealing will be destroyed?

Yeah, I've thought about that. You know, I wrote that story "A Hypothetical Quandary," and I wondered what would happen if I made a living as a writer and not as a file clerk, how that would affect my writing. Still, I think, in all lives, interesting things happen, things that other people can relate to. I don't think that you necessarily have to come from one social class or one group of people to, know, to write good stories. There are stories about rich people and poor people that are interesting.

Do the people who know you feel the need to watch what they say around you for fear of their remarks ending up in the comic?

Not that I've recognized. In fact, more often, they're buggin' me. "Why didn't you put me in that last issue?" You know, they wanna get in the comic book just like they want to get on TV. It's like "Say anything about me, but spell my name right."

How do you get along with your artists?

By and large, very well.

Do you stand over them as they draw or do you just hand them a few pages and say "Here, go to it?"

Well, it's sort of in between. I mean, obviously, I can't be there when they are doing all the drawing. What I do is I write these scripts and storyboard them, you know, with panels and stick-figures and balloons and I write directions on the stories about what the background should look like and what the characters should look like. Then we discuss know, most of the guys live in Cleveland. Sometimes there will be a disagreement about something and I'll just let it slide. But there are certain things that I will put my foot down on. I think that from what I can tell, I'm not too hard a taskmaster. I try not to be, for one thing, because I don't pay that much. I can't afford it.

Okay, so every bit of this—the art, printing and publishing—is coming out of your pocket. How much profit do you see? 

Well, I haven't made any profit off of the book until...well, if you include the Doubleday advances--I've had two collections of my work published by Doubleday, for which I got advances that I split up with the artists. So, if you throw in the Doubleday advances, last year and this year I did make a profit on the books. All the other years, I didn't.

That must get very tiring. Do you ever sit down and say to yourself "Wby do I do this? I'm losing money, can't find any time." I mean, you must be pretty pressed...

I am now, but that doesn't have so much to do with putting out the book. It has to do with the fact that I'm writing more and more articles. You know, I write literary articles. Also, I've been on TV a lot and, for example, people coming around and. interviewing me. Not that I resent it; I'm flattered and I appreciate it. But as far as writing stories goes, that doesn't take me very long to do. What takes me longer is to cajole the artwork out of the artists.

How often do you publish?

Just once a year. But it's a pretty long book by comic book standards-sixty pages with no ads. That adds up to being, like, a ninety page Marvel comic or something. But it takes that long for the sixty pages to be illustrated. These guys do the work mostly after their regular jobs are over. A lot of them are not full-time illustrators. They have other jobs, they come home and then they do it.

I know that you're still working as a file clerk at the VA Hospital in Cleveland. You seem fairly attached to that job. Why is it that you like it so much?

Well, for one thing, it' has been real hectic, but now, as long as I keep working at a pretty steady pace, it's okay. It takes me all over the hospital; I'm always moving. I'm not in one place. It's not what people think, that I'm a file clerk all the time...

Where you're JUST sitting and filing things...

Right. I'm always moving around. It's a big hospital. I know a lot of people there, and you can more or less do my job without thinking too much. I mean, you gotta know SOME things to do the gotta be a detective or something to figure out where some files could be, you know. So you just go around and talk to people as you do your job.

And it helps your writing as well?

Yeah, sure. And you know, I like the people at work. I like the patients a lot.

Do you feel lucky to have a job that you feel so good about?

Yeah, I think most people don't have that. I think I'm lucky. But I think that, if you got a kind of crummy job, and you go to work day in and day out for forty years, that's a real heroic thing to do.

You know, when I told people I was going to interview you, a few of them said "Oh yeah, that really rude guy that's been on the Letterman show." But when I talked to your wife, she implied that your rudeness was just sort of an act. Or, at least, on that show, it is.

Well, I'm generally not as rude as I am on Late Night.

Do you like David Letterman?

He seems like an okay guy. Personally, I haven't had much contact with him at all. He helped me over the first time I did the show, he sent me a letter about an article I had written, praising me for it.

You always seem annoyed at his sense of humor, though.

Well, when I was growing up, I was sort of a street comedian and I guess there is a lot of kind of hostility in me that's kind of pushing to get out. You know, I'm kind of bitter about the fact that it's taken me so long to even get this far in comics, that there's a lot of stuff I can do well that I haven't
gotten recognition or enough recognition for. So what I do is I sort of let it run wild on that show and it gets me laughs. And they want me to do it. But I don't have any grudge against Letterman.

You're the only person on the show, and I watch the show faithfully, who really consistently catches him off-guard.

Well, the reason I do that (although I don't want to keep on acting like that, I should mention) is because I'm really down on the cult of celebrity. Now, Letterman is probably more intelligent, a more witty person than most, but he doesn't strike me as being a remarkable person. But people just worship this guy, like he discovered some kind of medicine that would cure the Black Plague or something like that. Letterman's a guy who just found his niche, who was in the right place at the right time. I mean, he bombed on morning television. So, when I mess around with Letterman, I'm just trying to say to people "Hey, look, this guy's an ordinary person just like you and me."

Much of American Splendor is pretty downbeat. You even advertised the first few issues as being "More depressing stories from Harvey Pekar's humdrum life." Are you feeling that same sort of bleakness in your life now or was that just a phase you were going through? 

Yeah, it was a phase I was going through for 47 years. No, things have gradually gotten better for me, actually. I'm still looking for my golden years to pop up. You know, my last marriage is still intact. But, you know, some people think actually, overall, the books are kind of uplifting.

Yeah, I definitely think that, too. They walk a tightrope between optimism and bleakness, but they side more with the former. Do you subscribe to any religious beliefs? 

No. I mean, my background is Jewish, but I'm not religious. I just think that a lot of that stuff is based on bullshit. I don't believe in an absolute moral code. I mean, I believe people should have morals, but I think the golden rule is a pretty good basis for morality. You know, how can I think the world is 6000 years old or that everything is run by some old man in the sky? A lot of people HAVE to believe. I just don't have to.

Okay. Now, you've been married three times?


And you enjoy married life?

Yeah. Better than being single.

Why so?

Because when you're single, you're alone all the time. I don't have much of a support system. I don't have any close family relations or anything like that.

Have you ever considered having children?

No, no...

Why not?

It's funny, the question should be why do people want them. But I guess I'm in the minority with my attitude. Um, I don't know. I like kids okay, like I like other people, but to have somebody off the street and support just seems like such an economic liability or something.

What is your IQ? Have you ever had it tested?

I suppose so, but I don't know what it is. I don't really put a lot of stock in those so-celled intelligence tests anyway.

I know you went to college, but did you finish?

No, I completed about a year and a half.

Why'd you quit?

Oh, well, my mother was never know, neither of my parents were ever really satisfied with anything I did, no matter how good I did it. I always had this burning desire to succeed and I was really pessimistic about doing it. So, after high school I didn't go to college right away. I worked for a while and then went back to school. And I started getting real good grades. I started hanging out with a different kind of crowd to which that kind of thing meant a lot to. You know, then I started putting such pressure on myself to get good grades, to get a hundred on every test, that I freaked out. I became almost catatonic and I couldn't study. So I dropped out of school. It was just too much.

I read that someone made a play out of American Splendor.

Yeah, there's this guy named Conrad Bishop in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, with a company called The Independent Eye. He dramatized stories of mine.

How heavily were you involved with it?

In terms of staging it, not at all. I mean, he used pretty much my dialogue intact. He just made pretty minor changes here and there.

Were you satisfied with the final outcome?

Yeah, I was. The play...about five people reviewed it and they all gave it good reviews.

Have you ever thought about making a movie out of the comic?

Yeah, I've been contacted by a few people but nothing has ever happened. To tell you the truth, I'd rather do a movie than a play.

It would work better, I would think.

Yeah, you have the changes of scenery and you have the fact that the people don't have to shout the lines to be heard. You know, you can do more subtle things in a movie.

How would you go about it? I mean, would you make it a narrative film or would you do skits or a documentary or what?

Well, one guy contacted me and actually I started on an outline for a treatment. What it involved was my splicing together various stories and writing passages to connect them up. It would've started in the 1960s and then would've ended on an up note with the publication of my first comic.

In the most ideal situation possible, in the best of all possible worlds, what would you be doing or where would you be in your life right now?

What would I like to do? I don't know. I think I'd like to make my living as a writer. I've paid my dues.

What would you like people who read your work to come away with?

I would hope that it has clarified something for them or that they have learned something or that they were amused or entertained. Any of that stuff. That they felt deeply about something that I wrote about, maybe if I wrote about some painful situation that would alleviate their pain. I mean, one of the nicest things is when people write me and say "Well, I thought I was the only person in the world who was going through this stuff and it has really helped me to know that other people are going through it, too," That's always real gratifying.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

A Talk with Arnold Schwarzenegger

In celebration of the 30th anniversary of John McTiernan's sci-fi/action classic Predator, I'm reprinting the interview I conducted with Arnold Schwarzenegger in late May 1987. We met in his suite at the Atlanta Ritz-Carlton. He was dressed casually in a floral shirt, and had his trusty cigar always nearby. Shaking hands with the man was a memorable moment--I don't remember being intimidated by his height, but his width was certainly commanding, and his meathook of a hand crushed my own mitt with gentle confidence. He was kind and low-key, and he later signed my Predator one-sheet while puffing on that cigar. The interview appeared in the June 23 1987 edition of Georgia State University's Tuesday Magazine:

It seems strange to say, but it's the truth: Arnold Schwarzenegger's acting has, on the whole, been getting better and better ever since he first broke into movies back in the mid-1970s. He's may be no Olivier, but he's proven wrong those who once claimed this hulking man was nothing more than the post-1950s version of Steve Reeves, the screen's most famous Hercules. Schwarzenegger admittedly took a little time to bloom, but bloom he did, emerging tall above the star most often cited as his closest rival, Sylvester Stallone. While Sly takes himself and his movies with utmost seriousness, Arnold strikes a humbler stance, realizing what he provides audiences with is entertainment, and not necessarily great art (though, even as mere entertainment, his works approach artfulness often enough).

Schwarzenegger has been primed for success from the beginning, as unlikely as his success once seemed. A native of Austria, he began body-building before he hit age twenty. By the time he retired from the sport in 1974, he'd won the prestigious Mr. Olympia title an astounding and unsurpassed seven times. He was and still is an astonishing example of human construction and precision. But, more importantly, he's a model of determination, dedication, and willpower. "My decisions have always been, with certain things, to say 'Okay, I'm going to start at the beginning, down at the bottom, and I'm going to shoot for the top.' When I shot for the top in body-building, I was thinking of my idol, Reg Park, who was a three-time Mr. Universe. He had done several Hercules movies and opened up a chain of gymnasiums and so forth. I thought 'That's exactly what I want to do'--not just win the title, but use it as a means to an end. Have some fun, maybe get into some movies, get into the business and all those things." In 1970, Schwarzenegger even took up the beloved Hercules mantle in a little-seen B-movie called Hercules in New York, pairing him with nasal comedian Arnold Stang and too cleverly renaming Schwarzenegger as "Arnold Strong." The movie currently resides in the dustiest of video store shelves.

It was during one of the Mr. Olympia competitions that Schwarzenegger saw the materialization of his first shot at cinema greatness. Documentary filmmakers George Butler and Robert Fiore were so taken with the bodybuilder and his pursuit of what would be his final Mr. Olympia title that they decided to film the competition in full (including visitations with Arnold's closest rival, Incredible Hulk star Lou Ferrigno). Once released, the documentary Pumping Iron was a critical and box-office smash, with audiences taking note that Schwarzenegger was no mere muscle-bound freak of nature, but instead a very human being replete with wild charisma, bright humor, and a booming sense of self-confidence--traits that usually translate well to the big screen.

Once Schwarzenegger decided he'd accomplished everything he could in the world of body building, it was time for a change-up. So, with 1975's Pumping Iron garnering raves, he turned his eyes to acting. At first, no one took him seriously. He showed up in a bit role as a bodyguard in Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye, but was constantly being shrugged off by agents and directors because of his thick Austrian accent, immense size, and formidably long name. But these obstacles didn't sway him, of course; he immediately began to take acting lessons and speech training. In the meantime, he made a few small but significant television appearances--significant because it was one of these assignments that helped net Schwarzenegger a role in a film by acclaimed director Bob Rafelson (Five Easy Pieces, The King of Marvin Gardens). All of the sudden, in Rafelson's Stay Hungry, Schwarzenegger was performing opposite acting heavyweights Sally Field and Jeff Bridges—and, amazingly, Arnold held his own, shining in a smart, well-observed look at the Alabama body-building scene. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association saw such merit in his performance they awarded him a 1977 Golden Globe for Best Newcomer. It's still his most personally insightful role.

The next few years, though, were relatively dry for Schwarzenegger. Demand for an actor with his imposing physical stature was then so low, so he had to stoop to appearing in such disappointing fare as Hal Needham's embarrassingly silly 1979 western spoof The Villain playing the white-suited "good guy" to Kirk Douglas' Wile E. Coyote-like title character (he did get to sport Ann-Margret as his female lead, which he recalls with a toothy smile). He landed a plum dramatic role in the TV-movie version of The Jayne Mansfield Story, cannily well cast opposite Loni Anderson as the blonde superstar's muscle-bound husband Mickey Hargitay. Even by 1982, when he starred in director John Milius' hugely popular adaptation of Robert E. Howard's Conan The Barbarian, it was apparent he hadn't yet found his niche. The film was a gigantic hit, but his performance was rather stiffly mannered in comparison to his earlier work. Still, Schwarzenegger himself can't deny the impact Conan The Barbarian and its sequel, Conan The Destroyer, had on his career. "That gave me the chance to launch an acting career that lifted me above a lot of the other guys and put me in a certain category," he says.

But Schwarzenegger's real big break--the one there was no retreating from once it dropped--came in 1984 when relative newcomer and Roger Corman protege James Cameron cast him in the diabolical title role of The Terminator. The film was an unexpected fall season sleeper--a remarkable combination of non-stop action, fresh characterizations, fast-paced direction, and mindbending science-fiction that owed much of its effectiveness to Arnold Schwarzenegger's frighteningly taciturn performance as an unstoppable killer cyborg from a decimated future. That year, The Terminator adorned many "Ten Best" lists and, with over $100 million in box office grosses, led the National Association of Theater Owners to name Schwarzenegger the International Star of 1985.

Since that film, Schwarzenegger has smartly developed a screen persona that can only be described as decidedly tongue-in-cheek. With movies like Commando and Raw Deal, two of the biggest hits of the past couple of summers, he's successfully blended his comedic, dramatic, and ass-kicking chops to create for himself a natural and engaging image for himself, comparable to the places top stars like Burt Reynolds and Clint Eastwood had secured for themselves decades earlier.

This summer, Schwarzenegger has delivered again. In Predator, he plays Major Dutch Schaefer, the leader of an elite rescue unit whose members, sidetracked on a mission in the South American jungle, are being picked off one by one by a crafty alien hunter. The film is a relentlessly taut science-fiction tale that Schwarzenegger strongly contends is, along with The Terminator, his best to date. "What I liked about this film, specifically," he says, "was that it was a team effort—an ensemble--rather than me coming out right on top, with the first scene establishing me as the lead character. Here, I try to blend in with a team of guys. I mean. I'm the leader of the rescue team, but everyone in the film gets the same amount of screen time until guys start fading away and being killed. Then I emerge as the lead. This is, again, a whole new concept that I'd never dealt with before." The film's director, John McTiernan, is a new name in the film business; his first film, Nomads, was released in 1986 to mild critical notices and less-than-outstanding public recognition. Yet Schwarzenegger maintains McTiernan is very much like Cameron in ability. "When I think about the way they work, the way they move the cameras, the way they visualize ahead of time what a film is going to look like after it's been edited, I am amazed at how incredible the similarities are," he says. "Cameron is a genius and I think McTiernan's a genius, too."

Even so, Schwarzenegger says he ran into a little bit of trouble with McTiernan (as he does with all of his directors) when he wanted to add certain elements of humor into Predator's most dire sequences. "For instance," he offers, "I fight with the creature at the end. I improvise on these things. I just go along with my feelings. So I said 'Wait, this thing just took his helmet off and it's fucking ugly!' And I just thought I should say that, that it would amuse the audience in this really tense moment. And John says 'Arnold, come over here. I don't want to make a big scene in front of all these guys but do me a favor: don't do this because you'll really fuck up the momentum of the whole picture.' And I said 'I realize all this, but I think it is more important to throw the humor in there because, by now, they are all very tense in the theater and now we throw in the comic relief and it makes them breathe a sigh of relief.' "

Ultimately, Schwarzenegger's instinct won out--this and a few other carefully-placed jokes were dutifully fit into Predator's final running time, to the delight of the test audiences which whom he's viewed the film; he says each gag is unfailingly greeted with gales of laughter. One may ask "If Arnold Schwarzenegger has such a gift for making people laugh, why doesn't he develop it?" He says he plans to in the near future. "Eventually, I will be doing a straightforward action/comedy. A lot of the time what happens is that ninety percent of the stuff I want to do is rejected by either the director or the writer. They think 'Wait a minute. You can't be in the middle of this battle in this village and have humor. You are there to do this job.'  So I say 'Yes, you're right. But I'm Arnold. People don't mind if it doesn't quite fit in. If Joe Blow does it, then it wouldn't work.' It's like Eddie Murphy in The Golden Child. Any other guy who might have done that film would've played the part as seriously as possible, because it was a serious matter. But he clicked in and bubbled off his stuff and was Eddie Murphy. People laughed. No one said 'That humor didn't quite fit in there.' It was enjoyable. That's why that movie--which was actually pretty crappy--did $70 million at the box office."

Although his movies are popular with audiences, they always spark a certain level of controversy due to radical on-screen violence (Commando, in particular, with its crotch stabbings and buzz-saw attacks hit a new high in this department). For that reason, his films, like Stallone's, constantly spark boycotts from concerned parents and church organizations alike (not to mention they're constantly being looked down upon by more high-brow film artists and moviegoers). Arnold has an assured mental outlook on this harshness, though. "You never worry about what people say because, remember, whatever you do, you will always have a certain percentage of people not liking your stuff and a certain percentage of people loving it. You just have to realize you're not out to win a popularity contest. You're just trying to do your best work possible."

In order to be attracted to a role, Schwarzenegger says the part must highlight a previously untouched aspect to his personality. "Every film I do, I try and reach out and find other things I haven't done yet.” And though his past performances may generally belong in the same ballpark, they indeed do each show us a new side to the actor: from the Bond-like sophistication he displayed in Raw Deal and the paternal instincts he showed off opposite Alyssa Milano in Commando ("Working with a child brings out a whole new you. You have to relate to a kid in your work and in your real life, so your whole personality changes—you become kind of cute”), then to the cog-in-the-machine feel he lent to his roles in Predator and his mechanically emotionless performance as The Terminator. "With each movie," he says, "I want people to go back and look over the entire portfolio I've collected, and feel certain that I've reached out for and hit my different emotional obligations."

Schwarzenegger has a plethora of emotional, artistic, and financial goals to live up to as well. His much-publicized marriage to journalist and Kennedy clan member Maria Schriver has just hit its one-year mark. Later on this summer, he will be seen in an adaptation of Stephen King's short story The Running Man, playing a contestant in a futuristic TV game show (hosted by kissy Family Feud scion Richard Dawson) where the object of the game is simply to survive. And, in the following months, he'll be toiling away on a Terminator sequel, reteaming him with director James Cameron.

As if that weren't enough, he'll continue putting time into his own businesses (he's a renowned real-estate developer, mail-order businessman, and art collector). Still, his first love will be acting, with body-building coming in a close second. When he looks back on his early career as an athlete and compares it to the present stage of his output, he sees very little difference. "I work as hard now as I did then. I did exactly the same things as in bodv-building. To be a good actor, you analyze what you need: you go to acting school, you go to speech training and so on. It's the same thing as having to work more on my deltoids, except now I have to work more on something like my accent. You pick certain things that are your weak points and the harder you work, the faster you grow up and the faster you can make it."