At age 69, after a detour into politics to lead the state of California as governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2017 remains a larger-than-life movie star. After a brief stint as host of TV’s Celebrity Apprentice — a gig that led to some well-publicized squabbling with the president of the United States — Schwarzenegger is back on screen this weekend in Aftermath, an inspired-by-real-events saga of grief and revenge. His character loses his wife and daughter in a fatal plane crash, then hunts for the air traffic controller (Scoot McNairy) he holds responsible. It’s a dour dramatic turn for the action icon (watch a clip) that hinges on his still-titanic cinematic presence. Ahead of the film’s theatrical debut, he spoke with us about his newfound dramatic opportunities, getting into the singing-and-joking mood for his upcoming assassin comedy Why We’re Killing Gunther, whether he’ll be appearing in The Predator, and the prospect of new Twins and Conan the Barbarian sequels. Below is an edited version of our conversation.
Aftermath almost feels like a response to some of your past movies, in that it’s about the horrible consequences of violence. Was that part of what drew you to it?
No, not really. I don’t think it’s that deep [laughs]. You have an agency that presents you with projects, and this was one of those projects. I was very familiar with the true story. I’d read about it in the news, and watched various TV reports. It was interesting to me to have someone do a screenplay based on that tragedy, even if it is not exactly like the way it was. I felt that, from a dramatic point of view, it would give me a chance to really do some great acting, if they would give me the time to do that.
I always tell people, in action movies, we never really have the time to develop the character well, or to spend much time on the actual acting. It’s all, “Let’s set up for the next big shot, let’s kill 50 people, let’s blow up this building, now let’s wet down the freeway, we have to do the night shoot.” It’s about the technical aspect of moviemaking, and technology and visual effects, but it’s not about acting. So real stories and dramas like this give you a chance to get in there and do something that you’ve never done before.
Given the heavy subject matter, was it a tough performance to give?
It’s very hard to really put on a label on it. It’s like bodybuilding — is it tough to work out five hours a day? I think it is, if you don’t know where you’re going. If it’s a chore, if it’s a job. However, if you know where you’re going — for me, I had a very clear vision of being the best bodybuilder of all time. To me, it was great joy to go through the grueling five-hour workouts. The same is true with this movie. I had a very clear vision about it, and thought it was a great opportunity to try to be that character, and really show a side of me that people have never seen.
Even though it was tough emotionally, and you had to dig deep down inside, and the director [Elliott Lester] had to be very good to get you there — because it isn’t something you just do by yourself — if you’re open to that idea, and you see the finished product as being a great drama that could also be very entertaining, then you really get in there.
So when I look at it, I didn’t think, “Oh, I was really struggling,” or anything like this. It was tough emotionally, but I found great joy doing those scenes, because I felt like I got where I needed to be, emotionally. That brought certain satisfaction.
‘Aftermath’: Watch an exclusive scene:
Do you sense that, in the past few years — thanks to Aftermath, and 2015’s Maggie — filmmakers and audiences are more interested in seeing you in new, different dramatic lights?
Here’s the thing — I think people remember all the different parts I’ve played, in whatever movies they saw. It’s not that I have to prove something in that area. But it’s really interesting that, because of Maggie or this film, I’ve gotten so many different kinds of offers for films that are dramatic roles I never got before. Never. So I do think they see me differently. I know that, at the different meetings that I have with studios, producers, and directors, they say, “Wow, when I saw that, it gave me a whole different idea for what to do with you.”
So yeah, it totally has opened it up. It’s like Twins or Kindergarten Cop, where people always said they were seeing a different me, and then all of a sudden I was offered more comedies.
I know you’ve been working on a comedy with Saturday Night Live alum Taran Killam — Why We’re Killing Gunther — in which you’ll be singing. Is that true? And were you actively looking to get back into comedy?
I am singing in it, but I made it clear to the director that I will only do that if he keeps it for the end. I normally always sing at a party at my house when I want people to leave, because I’m a horrible singer. I don’t have a lot of voice fluctuation from high to low and all that stuff; I’m kind of like an Isaac Hayes, with the same tone. [laughs] But what happens is — I don’t know if you’ve seen Twins…
Yes, more times than you can probably imagine.
You know the part where I sing, “Take out the papers and the trash,” and I play it like I’m definitely great? That’s how I also play it in this film — that I’m the best singer, and totally causing great competition and worry amongst the best country-western singers. And the fact of the matter is that it sounds totally s—ty [laughs]. That’s what makes it funny, and that’s why when Taran asked me to do it, I said, well, it’s a comedy, people are supposed to laugh, and I know that in real life when I sing, people immediately laugh, because it sounds stupid and hideous. So that’s why it works.
My all-time favorite film of yours is Predator, and Shane Black is now rebooting the franchise with The Predator. Are you involved with it in any way?
They asked me, and I read it, and I didn’t like it — whatever they offered. So I’m not going to do that, no. Except if there’s a chance that they rewrite it, or make it a more significant role. But the way it is now, no, I won’t do that.
You also mentioned Twins, and for years, there have been rumors about a sequel [Triplets] that would pair you and Danny DeVito with Eddie Murphy. Any chance that might happen?
The ones that talked about it were Danny DeVito and me. But the funny thing is that no one believed in it. The studio didn’t believe in it, [director] Ivan [Reitman] didn’t believe in it, no one believed in it. Then all of a sudden, two years ago, there was a changeover in leadership at Universal, and they started believing in it. Then Ivan looked at it again and he started believing in it.
Danny and I always ran around with the idea of Triplets, and that Eddie Murphy should be the triplet, because he is so different than we are — as much as Danny was different from me. When you saw Danny and I together, and you said that only the mother could tell us apart, people laughed. You didn’t really have to say much else. The same is also true with the idea of having Eddie Murphy be a part of the new picture. It’s called Triplets, and people go, wait a minute, how did this black guy get into the picture here? The way it’s explained in the movie is really funny — what happened with that experiment, and how many people’s sperm were used, and the things we didn’t know and only find out about when our mother passes away.
So Danny and Eddie Murphy and I — we believed in it 100%. And then Ivan believed in it 100%. So they’re writing it, and now everyone is enthusiastic about it. It will probably be done in the next month or two, and then hopefully we shoot it by this fall. It’s really exciting.
One last project I have to ask you about is Conan. There’s long been talk about a third entry in the series, possibly with you as an older Conan the Barbarian. Is that still on your radar?
Yes. But those things are always complicated, because all of a sudden the rights are being sold to the “Conan” name, and the Robert E. Howard books. And then the question becomes, what is public domain, and what is not? So there’s all this debate. Two screenplays have been written, which means there are scripts that are available that are really good; they just have to be fine-tuned. As soon as they sort all that out, I think they can go and shoot a movie. But I would love to do another one, yes.
So I guess we can safely assume, from your busy slate, that you’re not returning to politics in the immediate future.
No. What I enjoy about my life is that I’m involved in political stuff, I’m involved in policy stuff, I’m involved in the USC Schwarzenegger Institute, I have the environmental organization where we promote environmental activities on a provincial, state, and city level, and I’m doing the after-school summit this Wednesday here at USC — so I’m involved in a lot of different things. And I’m also running the Arnold Classics Sports and Fitness festivals and bodybuilding championships in six different continents. So I’m really busy and I love my life because it has all of those different layers. Every day, it’s different.
Arnold Schwarzenegger in ‘Aftermath’: Watch a trailer:
Read More from Yahoo Movies: