As Arnold Schwarzenegger plots his return to Hollywood, he will in some ways resemble the young Austrian that came to California many years ago: single and detached from politics.
Now 63, he is older and while very fit, not quite as buff as he was in his "Conan the Barbarian" days. Yet Schwarzenegger's impending new chapter recalls the first time the former bodybuilder attempted — and wildly succeeded at — a quixotic transition to Hollywood.
Schwarzenegger finished his seven-year run as California governor in January. On Monday, he and his wife of 25 years, Maria Shriver, announced that they are separating.
Unless there are tawdry details to come, the separation won't have any effect on Schwarzenegger's rebooted career. This is Hollywood, after all, not politics, where winning elections usually means having a supportive companion at the podium.
Simultaneously splitting from both his wife and politics only reinforces that this is a new, late phase for Schwarzenegger. In a statement, he and Shriver called it "a time of great personal and professional transition for each of us."
Already reorienting from Sacramento to Hollywood, Schwarzenegger has found that showbiz is happy to have him back.
He's making an animated TV show, "The Governator," with famed comic book writer Stan Lee. He plans to star as a horse trainer in the drama "Cry Macho" for producer Albert Ruddy ("The Godfather," "Million Dollar Baby"). He's also reportedly interested in starring as a border sheriff in Kim Ji-woon's planned "The Last Stand."
"I am not as eager to run for office," Schwarzenegger said in an interview with The Associated Press last month. "Entertainment is the important thing right now."
Many are surely awaiting Schwarzenegger's return to movies. He remains one of the most popular action film stars ever, a position younger stars have failed to usurp. His movies have grossed more than $1.6 billion domestically.
The last time he starred in a film was 2003's "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines," which most viewed as a lesser installment in the series. A month after it was released, Schwarzenegger announced on "The Tonight Show" that he would run in the 2003 California recall election for governor.
"Being off-screen for so long, I think people are anxious to see what he'll do next on the big screen," says Paul Dergarabedian, box office analyst for Hollywood.com. "He was one of the biggest movie stars in the world. There's no way that he can come back quietly."
The animated "Governator" will likely be the first project that viewers see from Schwarzenegger. In it, he voices a superhero character based on Schwarzenegger's own life. In a sneak-peak teaser, the animated governor inverts his famous line on the state Capitol steps, saying: "I won't be back."
"When you are a governor, you deal with keeping the beaches clean, making sure there's enough funding for the after-school programs and the lunch programs for the kids, and all of those kinds of things," Schwarzenegger said when introducing the show in Cannes. "As an action hero, you just have to save the world — that's it."
The show is to be drawn from Schwarzenegger's personal life so much that the actor had told Entertainment Weekly that Shriver would voice a character. (The project also includes a comic book, a video game and eventually a movie.)
"At the last minute, toward the end, we decided that we wouldn't be using his wife in the story, anyway," says Lee. "So (the couple's breakup) really won't affect anything at all except we can probably have a lot of girls having crushes on our hero as the story goes on — which we probably would have done anyway."
Still, the greater intrigue will likely follow Schwarzenegger on the big screen. Shooting of "Cry Macho" is to begin in September, with Brad Furman ("The Lincoln Lawyer") to direct the script based on the 1975 novel by N. Richard Nash.
Recent box office history suggests the market is quite good for aging action stars. "Red," which starred Bruce Willis and Helen Mirren, earned more than $90 million domestically last year. Sylvester Stallone's "The Expendables" did even better, taking in $103 million domestically and an additional $171 million internationally.
Schwarzenegger made a cameo in "The Expendables," which assembled a cast of action stars in an '80s-style shoot-'em-up. Most of today's action films — which frequently star Jason Statham, Dwayne Johnson or Vin Diesel — tend to be quite different in style than the movies Schwarzenegger used to star in.
"He was in a category all of his own," says Lee. "Nobody really has come along to fill the spot he was in. Even though he's a few years older now, he's still in great shape, he still looks terrific. He looks about the way he looked then. I think he's going to make quite an impact now. It's something he wants to do. He obviously loves acting. I think he'll do really well and I think the public will be eager to see him again."
The actor's most successful films were often sci-fi tales, including "Predator," "The Running Man," "Total Recall" and the "Terminator" movies. There were also comedies ("Twins," "Kindergarten Cop"), disappointments ("Last Action Hero") and missteps better forgotten (Mr. Freeze in "Batman & Robin").
Stallone is working on a sequel to "The Expendables," though Schwarzenegger is not yet attached. In 2009, "Terminator Salvation" continued the series without Schwarzenegger, instead casting Sam Worthington in the futuristic cyborg role. Hollywood trades have reported that Schwarzenegger's agents are shopping a sequel to the franchise, with Schwarzenegger returning to arguably his most famous character.
"The older action stars are still very, very bankable," says Dergarabedian. "As long as Arnold Schwarzenegger wants one, he can once again have a terrific movie career."
For now, Schwarzenegger's website features a photograph of him playing chess with a portentous message: "Stay tuned for my next move."
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