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The actor sits down with PEOPLE ahead of the release of his new book 'Be Useful: Seven Tools for Life'
Arnold Schwarzenegger wakes up at dawn with thunderclap energy, taunts forming like thought clouds over his bed in his Los Angeles home: Oh, Arnold needs a little more sleep, little baby? The animals need me to feed them. The pig is outside, probably grunting already. The dogs are hungry. Come on. Be useful!
“And so I jump out of bed,” he says.
“Be useful” was his mercurial father’s edict while Schwarzenegger, 76, was growing up in the remote Austrian town of Thal, and the record-shattering bodybuilder turned global action star turned “Governator” of California has co-opted it for his new motivational book Be Useful: Seven Tools for Life.
In his latest project, he plucks lessons he’s learned from his remarkable rise to his “fourth act,” in which Schwarzenegger has striven to “make amends, to climb back from the bottom,” he writes, nodding to the affair that “brought my world crashing down on me.”
The father of five — Katherine, 33, Christina, 32, Patrick, 30, and Christopher, 26, with ex Maria Shriver, and Joseph, 26, with Mildred Baena — arrives at a recent breakfast in Santa Monica with his right arm encased in a compression sleeve from nerve surgery the day prior. Is he in pain? Spearing his eggs Benedict with salmon, the silver-bearded star appears almost affronted when asked.
He swiftly delivers the morning’s first certitude: “Pain is temporary, but the progress is permanent.” He hit the gym the morning before the surgery and predicts he’ll be lifting again in “maybe a week or two."
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Slowing down is not in the cards: This year alone he headlined his first live-action series, FUBAR, for Netflix; released Arnold, a docuseries about his life for the streamer; and launched a fitness-infused newsletter and podcast called Arnold’s Pump Club — “not so much to motivate people,” he says of the latter, “but to create a positive corner on the Internet.” Here, Schwarzenegger (or Opa, as his young granddaughters call him) opens up to PEOPLE.
You’ve called this chapter your fourth act. How would you describe your life now? Do you feel a sense of contentment?
I don’t know what you mean by contentment. I’m always content, but I’m always hungry for more. I slept with my first trophy. No one could take it away. But at the same time, the other foot is already out of bed going for the second Mr. Universe title. [He went on to win three more, followed by seven Mr. Olympia titles.] Today I feel good where I am. I’m much wiser now. I’m much smarter. I think more about people. I think more about people’s feelings.
Does this book feel like a kind of closure to a tough childhood with your father, who was at times physically abusive?
I’m not into all this stuff, because I never really blamed my father for anything. I never ran around and said, “It’s my father’s fault.” It’s nobody’s fault. I have fond memories of my dad, and I don’t blame him for anything, simply because he did not know any better.
How did your children feel about being told to “be useful” growing up?
Today they have very humorous stories. Katherine comes over with Lyla [her 3-year-old daughter with her husband, actor Chris Pratt], and she says, “Lyla, I told you already not to put the shoes there. You don’t leave them there by the stand in front of the fireplace, because you know what Daddy did when I left my shoes there twice? The third time, he burned them in front of me, and I cried.” The same as with Patrick. The first story he would tell you is [when he didn’t make his own bed], I opened up the door to the balcony, picked up the mattress and threw it down with the bed- sheets, the pillows, everything. So there were certain moments that I did the discipline. Maria brought in the balance, but she was also very disciplined, especially with school. Funny enough, those kind of things are what they bring up all the time [now] with tremendous laughter and telling other people as a joke.
Outside of their Hollywood endeavors, all of your children are quite entrepreneurial. Did you impart that from an early age?
I always told them, “Look, you can be an actor, that’s great. But until you become an actor that can be self-sufficient, you’ve got to work and you’ve got to make money. You don’t want to wait for the money from the movies. I never waited for the money from the movies. I made my first million dollars from real estate.” And that’s in the ’70s! That’s the equivalent of, today, $20 million.
Are you enjoying being a grandfather? [In addition to Lyla, Katherine has Eloise, age 1.]
It’s a fun thing, because I [didn’t] know how good I would be. But I have the animals, so it’s an easy thing. I teach [Lyla] how to feed the horses. She was scared in the beginning, but she got used to it.
Have you and Maria entered a new chapter in your relationship now that you’re grandparents?
We never left the [first] chapter. Because remember, it’s not like we had a feud. We didn’t have a fight. It’s just my f---up, right? We always made it very clear that the kids should not suffer because of that. And she has her things, her relationship, I have mine, but we always communicate about the kids, about the holidays, about birthday parties and Mother’s Day parties and Christmas. My chapter with Maria will continue on forever. Even though it’s a different relationship, there’s no reason for me to feel anything other than love for her.
You met your girlfriend, physical therapist Heather Milligan, a decade ago following your shoulder surgery in 2012. What is your relationship like?
She’s unbelievable, because we have so many things in common. After my therapy was finished, after I was finished [shooting the 2013 film Escape Plan], I called her and took her out for lunch to say thank you. And then one thing led to the next. Our relationship is fantastic. I think the world of her. I love that she’s into working. She’s clearly independent. She just is driven as hell.
Is there still a role you’d like to play onscreen?
No, I haven’t spent much time, or any time, thinking about what I want to play. Because I was very fortunate to play the ballsiest guys on the screen and, at the same time, the most feminine guy in Junior. So I could be, at any given time, in touch with my feminine side and act that out and then also be in touch with my really hard side and act that out. Not many people are able to do that. Remember, even Dustin Hoffman — who’s a very good friend of mine and [whom] I admire tremendously — has done Tootsie. An extraordinary job. But he could never be f---ing Conan. He could never play the Terminator.
Have any of your costars given you sage advice?
You just observe. Jeff Bridges or Sally Field in Stay Hungry — [it] was absolute heaven to me to watch them perform, how smooth they were and how much I had to grow. [I learned] to be natural, not to act. It’s what made Sally Field start falling into tears and crying and throwing fits. It was really her. [Clint Eastwood] was my idol because he was kind of Mr. Cool. His approach of not being noisy, that he was able to listen, I always loved that. Because I always thought that there’s something to be said about listening.
How is your relationship with Sylvester Stallone these days?
Fantastic. I really admire him. I love him. He’s just a different person than me. He’s much more raw, and he’s much more vulnerable and in touch with his emotions. When he gets mad, he just gets mad. It’s like when you light a fuse — his goes right away. “Boom!” Mine goes, “Shhh.” It takes two days to get to the actual boom. It makes him good in acting, because he feels things immediately.
What’s your ideal way to decompress?
I don’t plan a day off. To go on vacation to Europe or to go on a boat like most of my friends do. ... Sly calls me: “Want to come on the yacht?” What, do you think I’m going to ask, “When can I have dinner?” It’s not going to happen. I can get my own yacht. That’s not my trip. I can’t even relax under those circumstances.
But you do enjoy painting.
That’s what I do for the girls [in my family]. F---ing flowers, right? But it’s true. I love painting flowers. What can I tell you? It's the reality of me.
Be Useful: Seven Tools for Life is out Oct. 10, and available for preorder now on amazon.com.
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