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Arnold Schwarzenegger talks serious acting and playing a real human in 'Maggie'

"It’s the most human character that I’ve played," he says. "It’s the most human zombie movie that was ever made."

With “Maggie,” Arnold Schwarzenegger is getting something he’s not used to: acclaim for his serious acting. In the zombie drama — not horror film, but an actual drama — he plays Walt, an unusually buff Midwestern dad watching over his teenage daughter (Abigail Breslin), who has been bitten by one of the undead and is gradually turning herself. It’s a rare case where his muscles and brawn won’t help, and for the onetime “Predator” star that was a real thrill.

Why it’s unusual: “It’s the most human story that I’ve done. It’s the most human character that I’ve played. It’s the most human zombie movie that was ever made. I can’t even [think of a zombie movie] that focused so much on people and the dilemma that this man is in. There is baggage that I bring to the movie, being an action hero and all of a sudden I can’t overcome this challenge and become very volatile as a character. That appealed to me.”

Doing drama: “It is very draining. The brain takes much more energy than the body does. … I remember when I was in the governor’s office, I was totally wiped out in the evening. It was the same here. It’s tough but at the same time you’re having such a great time doing it. You feel so passionate about the character and the movie is so fun to do. But you do get wiped out.”

His character’s reluctance to let his daughter be taken away: “Under normal circumstances she should have been quarantined, but as a father you can’t let that happen. You can’t just send someone to quarantine to get this painful shot and then she dies slowly. I could not let that happen as a dad. Therefore I protect her as much as I could.”

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Low budgets: “’The Terminator’ was a small movie. We only had 6 ½ million dollars. Everyone had to do things way beyond what they do in a big studio movie. There’s a certain camaraderie that comes in, where the people behind the camera are as enthusiastic and passionate as you are in front of the camera.

Working on the fly: “I remember, Henry was shooting a scene by the house he saw the lighting going in a certain way. He felt this would be a great shot out in the field, so he said, ‘Let’s put it in the field.’ What was so fascinating was how we ran to the field, and how quickly the crew did too. No one was screaming, ‘I have to change batteries, I have to go get the cable, this is impossible.’ It was none of that stuff you hear on set. No union rules. Everyone got their stuff together within seconds and we all ran into the field and shot that scene. It’s a spirit you don’t often see on big movies.”

Times change: “I would not have been able to do that 25 years ago. Having been a father for the last 25 years really made it possible for me to understand what it’s like to have that happen.”

The past and the future: “I would not have had the time, because there were so many big projects around then. I was chasing the big money, working my way up to becoming the highest paid actor. Today that doesn’t mean anything to me, because I’ve made a lot of money and I’m in a different place in my life now. When I get involved in ‘Terminator 5,’ I get excited about that. When Universal says they’re almost done writing the script for another Conan movie, I’m excited about that. But I’m also really excited when I read a script like ‘Maggie.’ … Yes, I will be looking for more roles like that, dramatic roles. I’ve gone from action movies to comedies, then all of a sudden I enjoy doing comedies. This is a kind of breakthrough. I will get more scripts like this that are more about quality, more about from an acting point of view.”

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

 
 
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