You would think you already know everything about Arnold Schwarzenegger: he is the greatest bodybuilder ever and put the obscure sport on the map. He has been the biggest box office star in the world, conquering action and comedy. And who can terminator star’s stint as governor of California? Then there are those private transgressions, like his affair when he was married to Maria Shriver.
So when Lesley Chilcott was approached to direct Netflix’s 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 to me, he’s complex, and he has layers and I felt like the audience doesn’t know that much about his layers, and that made it challenging.”
Schwarzenegger discusses some of those personal failures in the final installment of the three-part series. After all, Chilcott says that “part of the deal” in making this with the actor was that “no topic is off the table.”
“He agreed,” she confirms, “and he went there.”
One of the painful topics he discusses is the affair. In 2011, Schwarzenegger and Shriver, his wife of 25 years, announced their separation when he confirmed that he fathered a child, Joseph Baena, in 1997 with their housekeeper. Schwarzenegger publicly apologized to Shriver and their four children: Katherine, Christina, Patrick, and Christopher.
“It’s hard for him to talk about the affair because he can’t talk about it without someone feeling hurt. That was a pretty serious offense,” Chilcott notes. “And he has to be careful because he’s made a lifetime of it, a great 25-year-old boy [Joseph]. So there’s only so much you can 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 at Shriver’s direction. (“I thought my heart was stopping,” 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 kids, and he doesn’t enjoy that,” says Chilcott. “He knew he had to [talk about the affair], but after talking about it, there wasn’t much else we could do that day. He was emotionally drained and I don’t think he intends to talk about this subject again.”
Joseph is featured in the documentary and has developed a close relationship with his father over the years. But neither Shriver nor the four children she and Schwarzenegger share participated Arnold. Chilcott says she talked to Shriver while making the docuseries.
“We talked, we talked a few times,” she explains. Chilcott confirms that she asked Shriver to join and she “politely declined.”
As for Schwarzenegger and Shriver’s relationship today, Chilcott says the action star still loves his ex-wife.
“They’re all in regular contact and they’re all friends. I mean, they spend a good part of their lives together and they still do family events together and they’re very close,” she adds. “You know, they can’t be together, but they’re very close and they’re very friendly.”
Aside from the affair, the other topic Chilcott says Schwarzenegger had a hard time discussing was his father, Gustav, who served in the Nazi Party during World War II. In ArnoldSchwarzenegger says his father was an abusive “tyrant” at times.
“He found it difficult to talk about his father without justifying his father’s behavior,” Chilcott recalled. “Austria was on the losing side of the war, and by fighting in the war, [Gustav] is by definition a Nazi, right?”
Chilcott says Schwarzenegger “grew up in a town full of broken men” and that many men were “abused as children”. That’s partly how Schwarzenegger tried to justify what he was going through.
“Men of that generation, they set goals, they don’t go to therapy… So Arnold’s instinct is not to think about it. And he would be… because I asked him and he would go there, but then a few minutes later it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, but the neighbor was also abused…’ to justify it. So it’s hard for him to talk about his dad.”
However, Schwarzenegger credits his harsh Austrian upbringing for helping him succeed.
“He always says: ‘My Austrian sense of discipline and American opportunities have allowed me to do so much.’ I mean, I’ve never met anyone who believes in the American dream more than he does,” Chilcott shares. The award-winning filmmaker hopes this is something viewers will remember Arnold.
“I think it’s a really simple lesson, but every once in a while, you, we have to see a story where someone believed so strongly that they could succeed, that they did. That there’s a little piece of that American dream that maybe are still possible,” Chilcott explains.
“You know, when we filmed Arnold’s old house in Austria, it was a museum. Young men came from all over the world… some of them had tears in their eyes. Arnold was [a man who came] from humble beginnings. As hugely successful as he is, people see his success as achievable. It’s different from a Nobel Prize winner’, she laughs, ‘but with Arnold people somehow identify with him. It gives them hope, and as flawed as he is as a character – and he is flawed – it’s nice to see him not jaded after all these years and still believing 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 that’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 over the decades,” she explains. “He is satisfied with many things, but he wants to do new things.”
Catch Arnold on Netflix, available now. p>