Arnold Schwarzenegger, in addition to being the candidate my mother voted for in the 2003 California gubernatorial recall election, is a movie star. His latest picture, the action thriller Sabotage, is allegedly a reinvention of the alpha male onscreen persona that made him millions (and, in my mother’s eyes, a viable gubernatorial candidate). According to David Ayer, the film’s director, Arnold chose the role because he “sees it as an opportunity to rebrand himself.”
While I don’t really see how acting in yet another shoot ‘em up qualifies as rebranding (taking on Wallace Shawn’s role in a My Dinner With Andre reboot, on the other hand…), I admittedly know nothing about branding nor the motion picture industry. Hell, I don’t even know anything about journalism. And yet here I am, typing this, and there I was, two weeks ago, attending Sabotage’s press junket at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons.
Dropping off the 2007 Ford Focus my grandparents bought for me, the valet asked if I was checking in. “Oh, God, no,” I replied. After riding up a garishly gilded escalator, I entered the press room, a suite high above the poverty, plebes, and pollution of my Los Angeles.
A group of legitimate members of the press, consuming complimentary branded chocolates, discussed the film amongst themselves. Specifically, they talked about why they viewed the film’s intense, almost pornographic violence as a necessity; according to them, it explained why the picture’s characters were so “fucked up.” It appeared the trio had actually paid attention to (and, in turn, generated opinions about) the film.I, on the other hand, immediately forgot what I had witnessed after attending a screening a few days prior. (Save, of course, the deeply unsettling image of Arnold’s onscreen wife looking into the camera, whispering the line, “I love you, Joe,” then getting brutally shot in the head, which will stick with me for some time.)
Despite such “fucked up” violence, the general consensus among them was that the film was “fun.” They, much like the other pros I encountered at the screening, loved films of all stripes. “Did you see Captain America?” I overheard one ask a colleague at the screening. “It's great! Better than The Avengers!”
Once they tired of lauding the picture, the group in the press room turned to more important matters: Hollywood gossip. Mireille Enos, star of Sabotage, was described as a “great actress” and “fun interview.” They marveled at how “tiny!” she was; the fact that she was married to the guy who played Cameron in Ferris Bueler’s Day Off also impressed them greatly.Further hot goss included an anecdote about how Charo ruined someone's interview by loudly “making all her coochi coochi sounds” nearby. “Ugh, she’s pathetic,” one lamented. After a beat, she asked, “Why would Mick Jagger's girlfriend want to commit suicide? Other than the fact that he's 100 and she's 47.” The group silently, solemnly, nodded.
In the corner, two writers of the fairer sex commiserated over Schwarzenegger’s status as a legendary pussy hound. The joke among them was that, in his presence, being a journalist with two X chromosomes would invariably make you a subject of sexual harassment. One recanted a story about the time she wore a leather miniskirt to an interview. Stroking it, Arnie asked, “Is that real leather?” Upon hearing this, I resented the fact that I wasn’t given the opportunity to interview him. I would have sassed his ass but good.
The primary reason I signed on to attend the junket was because I was told there would be free food. The only sustenance to speak of when I arrived, however, was a desecrated tray of novelty chocolates and dozens of liquids. Evian waters, Red Bulls, San Pellegrinos—thinking they were all I could consume, I chugged as many as my bladder could hold.Mid-chug, a man sat down next to me and artlessly decimated a horrific looking sandwich. I, naturally, was jealous. Where the hell did he get that? I wondered. I immediately worried about how much the valet was going to cost. I guess I should tip, right? But how much? And, I mean, you can't get a receipt for tipping. Over-caffeinated and underfed, my mind (and heart) raced.
Highlights from the film played, on a loop, in the corner. As I joylessly drank another Pellegrino and waited to administer the interviews I was grossly under qualified to give with David and Joe Manganiello, one of the film’s stars, I surveyed my surroundings. Other than the gregarious, gossipy trio, everyone else in the room seemed upset and standoffish.
Filling their mouths with sweets and coffees, they seemed to be running on empty. The TV blared in the background—explosions, screams, audible fear, and endless gunfire acted as a soundtrack to the clicking of MacBook keys. The words “FOR JUSTICE” burst onto the TV’s screen, followed immediately by a shot of a man’s brains exploding.
I was finally called into my first interview with Joe, a modern renaissance man the internet informed me has written a bestselling book about fitness, directed a documentary about male exotic dancers, was voted “Favorite Pop-Culture Werewolf of All Time” by readers of Entertainment Weekly, is active with numerous charities, and has played Stanley Kowalski in a staging of A Streetcar Named Desire.Entering his suite, I was unprepared to encounter a man of such esteem and marketable sexuality. His presence, like his pecs, had weight. I asked if he liked things like this, endless junkets filled with inane questions. “I love it,” he replied. “I live for it.” As he spoke, his pecs jiggled in a manner I found as unnerving as it was unerotic.
Lacking actual (read: professional) questions, I decided to ask ones fans posited during the Sabotage Live Twitter Q&A that had taken place a few hours previously—questions so absurd, I knew the talent’s handlers would never ask. I chose “Does God exist?” due to its inappropriateness. (Who, really, would care whether or not an action star thought God exists?) He took off and ran with it.After a thoughtful sigh, he replied, “I think God does, but I think it's a personal thing. I'm never gonna tell somebody that they're wrong, nor go to war, nor kill somebody over their view on spirituality. I think that goes against spirituality, personally. But it's a personal thing. I pray. I'm not sure what I'm praying to, but I do it. I learned how to Vedic Meditate—years back—and I think there's the force, or life force if you wanna call it, inside of us that can be listened to and heard if you get quiet enough.”
Good God, I thought. This guy is a pro.Days later, I turned the television on and saw him, standing alongside Schwarzenegger and Hulk Hogan, on Monday Night Raw. “I'm really pumped to be here hosting my first Monday Night Raw!” he yelled. “But I’m even more pumped to be in the presence of two icons.”He was, indeed, a pro.
After a few more Pellegrinos (and a flavorless cheese sandwich, which I found languishing under heat lamps in a room adjacent to the press room), I got some face time with David. Writer of the film Training Day, for which Denzel Washington received an Oscar, and director of the critically acclaimed End of Watch, I immediately felt at ease with him.Amiable and low key, he emanated a tired charm. I was no doubt the millionth member of “the press” he had seen that day. Known as an LA-centric director, I asked what his least favorite neighborhood in the city was. “I'm in it,” he laughed. “It's called ‘everything west of Western.’”
“Realistically,” I asked, “what would you be doing if you weren't directing?” “I don't know,” he replied. “Probably in prison. Or, I mean, I used to be a house painter and an electrician, so probably working construction. I'm a high school dropout, so I don't have a fuckin' education to fall back on.” To the query “Does God exist?” he responded, “Which one? 'Cause there's absolutely no way to answer that without offending or alienating somebody. Because somebody could be pantheistic, and now I've infuriated the Hindus. And you could be monotheistic, but obviously that's a very loaded question in today's world. Personally, yeah. But, y'know, politics and religion kill movies. Now the athiests are gonna fuckin' hate me.”I liked him a lot. And I’m sure, had I understood his picture, I would have liked that, too. But that’s not my job.Follow Megan Koester on Twitter.