In mid-January, I sat down with Arnold Schwarzenegger to discuss the Arnold Sports Festival for (614)’s new Fit Columbus magazine. Here’s a brief glimpse of our city’s favorite adopted celebrity._
Today appears to be like any other quiet Saturday in the life of the Greater Columbus Convention Center. There are small groups of people touring the building for one reason or another. Some workers are constructing a makeshift wooden pergola in one wing. There’s some sort of design convention full of booths and attendees with clip-on nametags.
Oh, and wandering around here somewhere is a cyborg assassin from the future, but I can’t seem to find him.
Then I see him, the top of his head disappearing as he descends the escalator. Arnold Schwarzenegger is surrounded by an entourage of nine people, 10 once I catch up alongside Brent LaLonde, the communications manager for the Arnold Sports Festival. Also in the troop is Daniel Ketchell, Arnold’s personal assistant, as well as two aging Hollywood producers who want to build a reality show around several of the competitors at this year’s festival. One of them appears to be well into his 130s and looks much like an ancient version of the Reuben Tishkoff character from Ocean’s Eleven, right down to his white-rimmed owl-like glasses and blue-green checkered robe.
A man named Jim Lorimer, driving a yellow GCCC cart, leads the pack on a tour of the facilities. At 87 years young, Lorimer has been Arnold’s business partner since 1975 when they started promoting Mr. Olympia world championships in Columbus. The whole journey began with a handshake between Arnold and Lorimer in a Columbus-area Holiday Inn, and after millions of dollars and nearly 40 years, it’s still the extent of their business contract.
And then there is Arnold. Everything about him still appears solid, his jutting Austrian brow, the squared jaw line, the tree-trunk legs. He has grown old though, at least compared to our Hollywood-polished mental image of him. The creases and lines across his face and neck cut deeper than before, his hair is thinner and dyed darker, but the most clear indication is the way he walks, often stilted and rigid, like he has no ligaments left in his knees.
He’s also under the weather today. He occasionally hunches over and coughs with a hand cupped to his mouth, an unexpected sign of vulnerability from a man known as unbeatable on the bodybuilding stage and unkillable in movies.
The older version of him still gets recognized without fail. A man and a woman wander by and begin making small talk with our group. They want a picture with him, and he and his team oblige. The two giggle, hand over each of their phones, and talk back and forth excitedly while Arnold waits off to the side. Are we going to take the pictures, he asks, or just talk about taking the pictures? Maybe his cold is getting the better of him. Or he knows that this is just one of many slight but persistent interruptions in a day where everyone wants a piece of his time.
But Arnold generally plays along with the attention. He approaches a woman carrying a large landscaping rock as she sets up for a convention and asks her if she knows what she’s doing, smiling and placing his hand on her back to assure her it’s all in good fun.
Arnold and Rick Ricart, of Ricart Automotive, are standing on two Xs made of masking tape in front of a green screen, both smiling, white hot spotlights glaring down onto them. The two trade small talk and small laughs while the camera films segments for TV spots. They gesture back at the green tarp and boast about the action we’ve just seen at the Arnold Sports Festival, some 47 days in the future.
Then on to the solo TV spots Arnold must film in anticipation of festivals in Columbus, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro, and Beijing. They coast through the first few, but he stops when the teleprompter reads “Arnold Classic Brazil.” It’s not Brazil, he informs the crew, it’s South America. He thinks continent-size.
Arnold and Ricart are together again in front of the camera preparing for a final promo spot, this one ad-libbed, no script. He’s rolling now, gesturing more loosely, pointing at the camera, playing off everything Ricart says. This is old hat, and cold or no cold, he’s done it millions of times.
The TV spots are over, and a member of the PR staff asks Arnold to pose for some photos. He rotates 45 degrees and smiles. Click, click, click, click, done. Six television promos and a photo shoot in under 15 minutes. Not bad.
He walks toward the door of GCCC Room 200B, and LaLonde directs him my way. It’s time for our interview, but this room is too hot and too loud. We drag two small chairs into the hallway, and as if on cue, the circus around him dissipates. So tell me everything, he says.
When Arnold is in a group, he can seem distracted or detached, but once he’s been pointed in the direction of the Next Important Thing, he focuses and engages. And when he engages, he is the star you expect him to be, charming and open, and for all the awful faux-Austrian accents at his expense over the years, he’s very well spoken and easy to understand. He listens, considers the questions, and replies with apparent honesty, often getting excited and spinning his answers outward.
I feel a tap on my shoulder after the third question. It’s Ketchell, his assistant. Arnold has other obligations – one or two more questions. I need two, I say, and fire one off, then flip through my notebook. I ask the second question. He answers at length, then winds to a close as he discusses the success of his fitness crusade while insisting he still has work to do to accomplish his greater purpose.
It’s never over, he says, and then he stops, because for us, it is.
One more question?
Ketchell balks, and Arnold smiles, stands up, shakes my hand. Be good, he says. Everyone wants one more piece.
The Arnold Sports Festival runs from Feb. 27 through March 2. Read Chris Gaitten’s full interview with Arnold in our newest edition of FIT Magazine, on stands now and online at www.fit614.com, starting Feb. 7.