You might think you already know everything about Arnold Schwarzenegger: he’s the greatest bodybuilder of all time, putting this obscure sport on the map. He was the biggest box office star in the world, conquering action and comedy. And who can forget the terminator the passage of the star as governor of California? Then there are those private transgressions, like his affair while married to Maria Shriver.
So when Lesley Chilcott was approached to direct the new Arnold documentary, she first wondered, “What’s not to know? It’s all been there, right?”
But Chilcott tells Yahoo Entertainment that Schwarzenegger’s “absolutely bizarre trajectory” was too “intriguing” to pass up.
“There are all his successes, but there are a lot of personal failures,” she explains. “As a filmmaker, for me, he’s complex, and he has layers and I felt like audiences didn’t know as much about his layers, and that made it a challenge.”
Schwarzenegger discusses many of these personal failures in the final episode of the three-part series. After all, says Chilcott, “part of the deal” in doing this with the actor was that “no subject is on the table.”
“He agreed,” she confirms, “and he went.”
One of the sore topics he brings up is the case. In 2011, Schwarzenegger and Shriver, his wife of 25 years, announced their separation by confirming that he had fathered a child, Joseph Baena, with their housekeeper in 1997. Schwarzenegger publicly apologized to Shriver and their four children: Katherine, Christina, Patrick and Christopher. .
“It’s hard for him to talk about the case because he can’t talk about it without hurting someone’s feelings. It was a pretty serious transgression,” Chilcott notes. “And he has to be careful, because he has a human life outside of that, a great kid of 25 [Joseph]. So there’s not much to say.”
Schwarzenegger reveals in the documentary that he told a “crushed” Shriver the truth about his infidelity and love child during a counseling session. Their therapist asked him a very specific question under the direction of Shriver. (“I thought my heart stopped,” the actor admits. “And then I told the truth.”)
“[Arnold] tells us how sorry he is and that the reason he doesn’t talk about it is because it hurts everyone…Joseph’s family, Maria, all the children, and he doesn’t don’t like it,” says Chilcott. “He knew he had to [talk about the affair], but after talking about it, we couldn’t do much else that day. He was emotionally drained, and I don’t think he has any intention of talking about it any more.”
Joseph is featured in the documentary and has developed a close bond with his father in recent years. But neither Shriver nor the four children she shares with Schwarzenegger participated in Arnold. Chilcott says she spoke with Shriver while making the docuseries.
“We talked, we talked many times,” she explains. Chilcott confirms that she asked Shriver to participate and that she “politely declined”.
As for where Schwarzenegger and Shriver’s relationship stands today, Chilcott says the action star still loves his ex-wife.
“They’re all in touch regularly and they’re all friends. I mean, they spend a lot of their lives together and they always have family events together and they’re really close,” she adds. “You know they can’t be together, but they’re very close and they’re very friendly.”
Aside from the case, the other topic that Chilcott says Schwarzenegger struggled to discuss is his father, Gustav, who served in the Nazi Party during World War II. In ArnoldSchwarzenegger says his father was sometimes an abusive “bully”.
“He had a hard time talking about his father without justifying his father’s behavior,” Chilcott recalled. “Austria was on the losing side of the war, and fighting in the war, [Gustav] is by definition a Nazi, isn’t he?
Chilcott says Schwarzenegger “grew up in a town full of broken men” and that many men “were abused as children.” This is partly how Schwarzenegger tried to justify what he experienced.
“Men of this generation, they set goals, they don’t go to therapy…So Arnold’s instinct is not to think about it. And he would…because I asked him and he would go, but then a few minutes later, it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, but the neighbor was getting abused too…’ to try to justify it. So it’s hard for him to talk about his father.”
However, Schwarzenegger credits his harsh Austrian upbringing with helping him succeed.
“He always says, ‘Thanks to my Austrian sense of discipline and the American opportunities, I was able to do so much.’ I mean, I’ve never met anyone who truly believes in the American dream more than him,” Chilcott shares. The award-winning filmmaker hopes it’s something that sticks with people watching Arnold.
“I think it’s a very simple lesson, but once in a while, you, we need to see a story where someone believed so much that they could be successful, that they did. That they there’s a little piece of that American dream that might still be possible,” says Chilcott.
“You know, when we shot in Arnold’s old house in Austria, it’s a museum. There were young men who came from all over the world…some of them had tears in their eyes. Arnold was [a man who came] from a humble beginning. As great as he is, people see his success as achievable. It’s different from a Nobel Prize winner,” she laughs, “but with Arnold, in a way, people identify with him. It gives them hope, and as flawed as he is as a character – and he’s flawed – it’s nice to see that after all these years he’s not jaded and he still believes in the dream .”
Chilcott believes Schwarzenegger, who turns 76 next month, is “satisfied with large parts of his life”.
“He looks back on everything and he thinks he could have done everything better. I think it’s natural,” she explains.
“I think he’s really proud of all his kids, you know? And he’s really proud of all the friendships he’s had for decades,” she explains. “He’s happy with a lot of things, but he wants to do new things.”
Catch Arnold on Netflix, available now.