Interview: Joseph Baena Talks Acting, Recreating Dad Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Famous Role

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ComingSoon had the opportunity to speak with actor Joseph Baena, the son of Arnold Schwarzenegger and star of films such as Chariot, Bully High, and the upcoming Lava. Joseph discussed his budding career, hopes, aspirations, and what stepping into his father’s shoes for this short Terminator 2 reenactment was like.

ComingSoon: What gave you the acting itch?

Joseph Baena: So, it all started when I was a little kid. For me, it’s always been one of my childhood dreams to be an actor. I was raised on my mother’s side of the family – with my mom and all my siblings on my mother’s side. They’re all a lot older than me. And because they’re older than me, they made it a point to culture me with the 80s, 90s, and 2000s movies – all the classics. So, growing up with that and watching all these classic heroes and characters, I was inspired.

I loved that feeling of watching a great movie and feeling like I was on cloud nine or inspired. As a kid, I wanted to give people that feeling, so that’s where it all sparked. I went through school doing plays and learning some of the crafts here and there. I went into college thinking it wasn’t that realistic, but then I thought, screw that mentality. Why can’t I pursue that lifestyle? So, I started going to acting classes and doing student films with some film majors at Pep Ryan and USC, and that’s when I fell in love with the craft. I fell in love with the preparations for the films and reading the scripts. Even on set, it was nerve-wracking at first, but it got more familiar quickly. My confidence in my abilities grew and helped reassure me that this was what I wanted to do.

I’m talking like this happened twenty years ago when it’s just been over the last few years. [Laughs]

What were some of the things you learned in acting class?

It’s just learning to use everything you have to portray the role as realistically as possible. To portray what the director wants to portray through you and putting your personality into the character they’ve written. The main thing is, if actors were to be salesmen, what are they selling? Emotion. People are buying what they sell on screen. I’m an emotional guy, and I’m not afraid to show it on screen. 

The acting classes are helpful because you get to learn how to be aware of yourself and aware of where you are and where you need to be pertaining to the scenes, the role, and the character.

What are some of the things you’ve taken away from your work thus far – Chariot and Bully High?

It’s all a learning process. I will always be learning, even when I’m 40, 50, or 60 years old. Chariot was a fun one because it was my first bigger-budget film. I was going from student films to Chariot. That was more of a learning process in how life on set works. So watching the lead and Thomas Mann, watching him work, is just observation. I can take what I learn into the next film, and I can be more confident in myself because I’ve done it. 

The main thing you take away from each role, at least for me, is the knowledge that I can do it. I can perform, and I know what I’m doing. Because of that, it leads to confidence in myself, and when the more challenging role comes, I have the confidence to take on the challenge with my arms open.

Looking ahead, is there a specific genre you feel more comfortable in – action, drama, comedy?

That’s something I’m figuring out right now. So far, we’ve done films from different aspects. Chariot is a sci-fi thriller; Bully High is a drama. Lava, that’s not out yet, but it’s a horror thriller. But these experiences allow me to explore different aspects of my personality. I wouldn’t say there’s only one I want to do. As an actor, it’s my craft, my art, and I want to play all sorts of roles. And I know that with my body, I have this physique I’ve built for myself; people think action. But I’m ready to take on any role, whether comedy, drama, romance, or horror films. I want to be a multi-faceted actor who can be a chameleon.

How did the T2 recreation come about?

That one was fun. I have a good friend in Bakersfield, Ben Hess, who is a videographer and cinematographer. He’s super talented. He saw a movie scene recreation challenge from one of his favorite YouTube channels. I don’t remember the prize, but he said, “I have this idea of doing the scene from Terminator 2. Who else better to do it and play the Terminator than you?” So I said, “Well, if we do it right, it sounds great.” 

We went for it, and it turned out well. You can tell I still have my freshman-in-college baby face. It got a lot of traction, and many people loved it. So we were happy about it.

So, what was your dad’s reaction to that? And what is his reaction to you wanting to be an actor and follow in his footsteps?

He thought the T2 video was fun! He liked it and thought we did a good job. Regarding acting, he’s really supportive of anything I do. If I wanted to be a clown or do something bizarre, as long as I worked my butt off, remained dedicated to it, and made a living for myself, that’s all that matters. He’s there to give me advice and help push me along the way, as any father would.

What kicked off the bodybuilding aspect of your career?

That’s a little bit of a story. It started when I was in high school and a little overweight. I was really unhappy. I never got into sports and never went to the gym. So, I brought it upon myself to try out for these sports, lose weight, have fun, and train. I got cut from my basketball team and my soccer team freshman year. In sophomore year I tried out for soccer and got cut again because I couldn’t keep up with anyone. A friend convinced me to join the swim team because there were no tryouts. The only obstacle there was being overweight, being a little chubby, and putting a speedo on. By the end of that season, I had lost a lot of fat, and I started seeing some definition in my muscle and a vein in my arm. For a teenage boy, that’s all you care about. I was on cloud nine, seeing little abs and lines I’d never seen before. So, in college, I gained my freshman fifteen, and that’s when I started getting into weights — during my junior and senior years of college. I fell in love with gaining muscle, building the physique, and targeting these different muscle groups. I fell in love with training. 

Now, it’s kind of evolved into less bodybuilding and more weightlifting. I still enjoy doing it, but I’m trying to implement a more athletic physique, whether it’s playing soccer or swimming, doing plyometric work, and trying to keep my joints healthy and not just being a muscle ball.

Does that aid in your acting abilities?

Absolutely, because if the director asks me to take the shirt off — I’m ready! (Laughs) I’ve been training for quite a while, so I know the different strategies, whether I’m trying to gain weight or slim down. I know how to do that. So, in between roles, I can lose weight and cut weight. Maybe I’ll get a superhero role soon with Marvel or DC. I know how to prepare for that because it’s my cup of tea. It all goes hand in hand in a way. 

You have the movie Gunner coming out with Morgan Freeman and Luke Hemsworth. What can audiences expect from that film?

A really fun time. I can’t speak too much about that film, but it’s fun. The script and film are so amazing. I’m really excited about it. Working with Luke and Morgan is a dream come true because these guys have been working for a while, especially Morgan Freeman, whom I’ve looked up to for a long time. I’m excited to show my acting chops and share the screen with these heavy hitters.

Is there a specific project you’re looking at for your dream role?

I grew up on films. There are a lot of movies I’d love to be in, but right now, I’d love to be in 1) a western, 2) a superhero film, or 3) part of the Star Wars galaxy in some way.      

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