I’m betting here that the Governator wants an Oscar, and that he’s determined to make that a reality. Let’s say you’re a former Mr. Universe, ripped beyond ripped, so Greek-godly that Hollywood throws you into starring movie roles before you can even speak English. You master the language as you maintain a physique that makes you one of the most recognized movie stars in the world — rich, famous, and suddenly powerful. You graduate from ruling Hollywood to running the entire state of California, and without a chance, under the Constitution, to become President, you retire from politics into a life of relative repose, still rich, still famous, bowed by scandal, and with little left to accomplish. Except, maybe, artistic respect.
What do you do next, in other words, when you’re Arnold Schwarzenegger, you’re 67, you’ve been great at everything you ever set your energies to, and people still associate your acting with the cinematic equivalent of beef jerky? You reach for that gold statuette, is what.
Granted, Schwarzenegger isn’t exactly taking a straight line there. Every project for him is an exercise in vanity, at some level, and he still wants you to know he can make hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office when he sets his mind to it. A little art-house picture called Terminator: Genisys, out next week, is proof of that. A Twins sequel is in the works, and another entry into the Conan franchise will follow. But let’s not look past his terrifically understated performance in this spring’s Maggie, an intimate zombie apocalypse film in which Schwarzenegger plays a desperate father trying to save his daughter from turning into the undead. Schwarzenegger’s performance stood out from an overly somber film. While Maggie itself wasn’t perfect, seeing Arnold dedicate himself to dramatic acting was a revelation, and it seems to have stoked a new fire for the actor. The fact that it even sounds weird to say this shows how far he has come: He was awfully good.
Schwarzenegger has now signed on for 478, a new drama where he plays a man who loses his wife and child in a plane crash and seeks revenge on the air-traffic controller blamed for the crash. While it sounds like it could easily be a straight action film, the report assures us it is anything but. 478 would never have happened for Schwarzenegger pre-Maggie, and although it won’t win him an Oscar, it’s a step toward roles that might, and toward a concept of him as an actor that could push him into those discussions. This process won’t happen overnight. Consider Matthew McConaughey, who was adrift in a sea of flimsy rom-coms in the early 2000s before trying his hand at acting again. He did The Lincoln Lawyer, Magic Mike, Killer Joe, and Mud, improving as a performer and transforming his public perception. The McConaissance culminated with a Best Actor win for Dallas Buyers Club. This sort of transformation is not out of the question for Arnie.
If he’s going to make the shift to more prestige pictures, he can’t dawdle too long; Commando 2 or The Return of The Eraser is out of the question. He realizes this, even with these sequels on the way. It’s not inconceivable that the Conan film, which will likely focus on Conan as an aging king, not as a spry warrior, will fit with this new direction. In a sense, this is all about legacy. His biggest rival in the ‘80s, Sylvester Stallone, was nominated for two Oscars (for acting and writing) for Rocky, which did win Best Picture. Likely the best movie of Schwarzenegger’s career was The Terminator, in which he was literally the stiffest guy on the screen.
In Schwarzenegger you’ve got a dude who fails at nothing, whose ego knows few bounds, and who has a gap in his resume bigger than the one in his smile. Stranger things have happened than Arnie winning an Oscar. Hell, Junior, for one.