In Early Works, we talk to artists young and old about the jobs and life experiences that led them to their current moment. Today, it's Arnold Schwarzenegger, who certainly needs no introduction. Late last year, he starred in Killing Gunther, which you can catch now on VOD.
Going to a movie was almost unheard of as kids. We were poor and living in a village where there was no theater. We had to go to the main capital to do so, maybe once a year. The first movie I ever saw—I didn’t know what it was, a John Wayne movie. My brother and I had no idea how the screen worked, so we were really frightened that we were going to get run over by horses and and nailed with arrows. We were ducking and jumping under our seats. It was a frightening experience, but my mother and father were laughing their head off. It was a wild experience.
Austria was too small for me. I felt the opportunities were not there, and that I was in the wrong place. We were occupied by Allied forces, and there was a lot of crime. Every time I saw pictures of America, I thought, That’s where I belong. My big dream was to come to America—the question was just, “How?”
When I stumbled onto bodybuilding, I felt that it was an American sport and a means to the end. My vision was, if I won Mr. Universe and all the titles, America would eventually invite me over. At 21 years old, my vision became a reality. I became Mr. Universe for the second time, and I got this telegram from the publisher of Muscle, Joe Weider. He said, “Arnold, you’re the new sensation. I want to you to come to America. I’ll put you up in Muscle Beach, you’ll train with the champions, you can write for our magazine, and we can get you into the movies. That’s why I’m a big believer in having a vision, no matter how young you are. The more clear you are about your vision, the more clear you can be with the action you can take to turn it into reality.
I’m not an expert in meditation, but I once worked out with someone in the mid 1970s that was an expert in transcendental meditation. He invited me to the center in Brentwood, where they taught me how to meditate. At the time, my life had a lot of pressure. I was bodybuilding, training to compete for Mr. Olympia again, doing construction work for extra money, going to acting classes, and attending college. There was a lot of stuff on my plate, and I needed to find a way to calm down from my anxiety.
Transcendental meditation really helped me. Ever since, I started seeing different goals in my life that I could sort out calmly and emphatically. People always say there’s a lot of Eastern philosophy in me—I don’t know about that, because I’m not an expert, but you can learn a lot from all the different approaches.
Everything I visualized—to become rich and famous—happened. As I pursued those dreams, other things started happening that were not my dream. I had no idea I’d do comedies—I just thought I’d be one of those muscle guys in Hercules movies, but I did comedies, dramas, and I had the most successful movie of the year with Terminator 2: Judgment Day. I didn’t dream that I’d get involved with charitable organizations and help kids, or hang out with presidents. I didn’t dream I’d become governor of California. I had no idea I’d be a crusader for the environment. When you grow up, your vision changes and you dream about other things. It’s part of evolving as a person—growing up, becoming more mature and interested in issues that are bigger than yourself.
I don’t think America’s changed that much since I moved here. When I came here, it was the land of opportunity, and it still is. When I travel around the world, people still want to come to America, California specifically. America was number one, and it still is. Look at how people help each other when there’s fires, floods, and hurricanes, how people help each other. It’s the American spirit, and that’s what I love about this country.
There is, of course, upheaval and confusion. When I came over in ‘68, there was the Democratic convention in Chicago, with the riots. The Vietnam war, with people dying everyday on the battlefield—total chaos. The hippie movement, people smoking dope trying to getting rid of the problems. Patty Hearst getting kidnapped. Watergate. Carter coming in and creating an economic disaster. I’ve seen America go through some very difficult moments, and we’re going through difficult moments now, in a way—but I don’t think anyone should ever confuse it with the deterioration of America.
I’m a person that doesn’t believe in whining—I believe in action. Don’t sit in front of the TV and say, “Something’s wrong.” Go out and solve problems—for after-school kids, the environment, gerrymandering and redistricting. Instead of complaining, let’s do something about it. Some people say, “Love it or leave it.” I say, “Love it or change it.” That’s me.