He took to the stage with the same easy swagger with which he got on to his bike in the cult classic The Terminator, giving the audience a glimpse of the man behind ‘the machine’, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
At the opening session of Day 2 of the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit, Arnie, as he is fondly known, spoke about his passion -- bodybuilding, and how it drove him to success. The former California governor also spoke about his stint in politics and environmental concerns the world faces. Little did the audience know if Schwarzenegger’s parents had their way, The Terminator might never have seen the light of day. The Hollywood star’s family wanted to be like the Von Trapps from the Sound of Music and had no interest in bodybuilding.
Fortunately though, the superstar stuck to his passion of bodybuilding to move to America - “Every set I did, every weight I lifted, gave me joy and got me closer to the title of Mr Universe.” He eventually won the crown at 20 years of age, the youngest to do so.
Talking to Riz Khan, Schwarzenegger said perseverance and self-belief is key to realizing dreams. “The bigger you shoot, the further you go. And I shot big,” said the former California governor, adding that it was always his unrelenting desire to “shoot from the top, to be the best in bodybuilding” that ensured he made it big.
“People always asked me about how I stayed so hungry and driven. It’s because I grew up in Austria when it was poverty all around,” he said, but pointed that bodybuilding was still a passion that he pursued to move to America.
The superstar was repeatedly rejected when he tried his hand at Hollywood first but the ability to stay unfazed by failure and “naysayers” held him in good stead.
“The leading sex symbols were Dustin Hoffman and Woody Allen. ‘They’re 150 pounds and you’re 250! You cannot possibly get any roles!’ they said, but I did.”
"I wanted to get out of there and come to America - the land of opportunity. I had the fire in my belly, I didn't just want to be a bodybuilder, but the best, I did not want to be just another actor in Hollywood but to be up on the ladder with Marlon Brando and others. For me, the biggest possibility in politics was to be a governor (I could not be the President because the constitution doesn't allow that) so I became the governer of the biggest state, the governer of California. I believe, that if you think big, you will be big, the secret is to go all out."
When asked how bodybuilding has changed over the years, he said "Rules in bodybuilding are still the same. One just needs to have a clear vision. Merely exercising everyday doesn't make you a champion. Reg Park was my idol. He was the star of Hercules movies and a bodybuilder. I saw it on a poster 'Mr Universe becomes Hercules star' and it gave me a blueprint on how to be 'another Reg Park'. I would visualise and see thousands cheering and in standing ovation. And soon afterwards, I was standing on the stage of London... at the age of 20, youngest Mr Universe ever."
Former governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger during the session titled " Muscle Beach To Hollywood To Governor of California: A wondrous, surreal trip?" at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit, in New Delhi, India, on Saturday. (Gurinder Osan/HT Photo)
He was also asked by an audience member on how he kept himself focussed on bodybuilding, acting and politics to which he said, "Every 500 pounds that I lifted or every thousand sit ups that I did only brought me joy. I can't seem to understand how so many people do a job and don't enjoy it. One should do what one likes to do. My parents had no interest in bodybuilding. They wanted us to be like the Von Trapp family from Sound of Music... I didnt want that. I think we should listen to our parents for advice but do what we want."
Speaking on the rising levels of obesity, he said, "It is important to educate people on how to eat well and excersise. We should exercise everyday like we sleep, eat and have sex. That's why I am so radiant."
His movie career was marked by incredible dedication -- Schwarzenegger learnt not just to act but to speak the English language, besides attending accent-removal classes.
The same determination later saw him win an unprecedented two terms as governor of California. “Even then, people said I didn’t have a chance because California was 60% Democrat and 40% Republican, and I was a Republican,” he said.
His long friendship with Sylvester Stallone also came up for discussion. When an audience member asked him about the secret behind looking so much younger than Stallone, he said, "I am not going to tell him what you said. We were at war in the '80s. Ever since the '90s, we became friends. We were mature enough to say that we have to stop this and had a great time working together. In fact, I will meet him tonight in Macau."
On the question as why he was never satisfied in life, moving from bodybuilding to acting and finally landing up in politics, he said, "People ask me why I get so hungry for more, I tell them it is because I grew up in Austria after the Second World War. We had no food, we had acute poverty and the condition was worse than it was during the war."
Arnold also spoke on how important America was for him. "Everything that I have achieved in life is because of America. It opened its gates and gave me the opportunity and I worked really hard. It was seven years of hard work and that gave me nothing but joy to serve the people of California."
When a fan asked him for an advice in life, he said, "Don't listen to naysayers. Everyone in Austria said that bodybuilding is an American sport. 'That's crazy', they used to tell me. Then people said 150 pound guys don't make actors. 'You will never make it'. 'And the accent will not work for you either'. 'Don't do it'. I said I am gonna work just as hard as I did on bodybuilding. Conan the Barbarian stood No.1 at the box office. They wanted a muscular body and the makers said 'If we didn't have Arnold, we would have to build one'."
Schwarzenegger’s other passion is the environment, which he believes isn’t a problem for just a few countries.
"We are talking about global climate change, and it doesn't matter which country you are from. 14 billion tons of greenhouse gases were released last year. I am on an 'environmental crusade' to inspire sub national governments (city, states). Federal government said these gases aren't pollutants. It's crazy how people are still in denial on climate change."
He cited Dr Rajendra Pachauri as an example, saying the Nobel laureate didn’t wait for governments to make changes. He took the initiative and ensured changes were made.
The swashbuckling star promised to return to India in February for a climate conference and signed off with his trademark, “I’ll be back.” He didn’t have his shades on, but you don’t doubt the Terminator.
Full Coverage: HT Leadership Summit