Arnold tries scaling back his quote and his acting for indie film with “Maggie”

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The world long ago figured out who this Arnold Schwarzenegger fellow is supposed to be on the big screen. And the actor has always been comfortable with this image.
“The most heroic guy in the biggest action movie of the day,” is how he puts it. “In the old days, I’d look for scripts, see how heroic the guy was, how many bad guys he kills, and how he kills them.”
He chuckles.
“That’s my baggage.”
That’s why his turn in the new zombie drama “Maggie” (May 8) is leaving film fans and critics slack-jawed. As Wade, a Midwestern farmer who watches his daughter become infected and go into decline during another screen version of the zombie virus apocalypse, Schwarzenegger is earning his best reviews in decades.
In a film that “may have the smallest budget of any film I’ve ever made,” in a role David D’Arcy in Screen Daily said “isn’t so much a father as a monument,” Schwarzenegger “plays Wade with a deeply earnest passion.”
The Austrian-born body builder turned action star and two-term governor of California turns 68 the day before “Terminator: Genisys” opens at the end of July. He has possible big budget sequels to “Twins” and “Conan the Barbarian” prepping. What else does he have to prove? Maybe that he can handle something more subtle.
“I don’t get offered dramatic roles, even in zombie movies,” he says from the Tribeca Film Festival in New York, where “Maggie” premiered. “It’s something I was more comfortable with today than maybe I would have been twenty, thirty years ago.”
Maybe that’s just spin from an actor at the tail end of his action hero career, though digital effects may give him “Terminator” turns for years to come. Maybe that’s just the born salesman in him talking. The guy didn’t get elected governor of the nation’s largest state on his accent.
Or maybe what his biographer, Ian Halperin, wrote in “The Governator” is true, that he’s “evolved considerably from the arrogant, insensitive bully he once was.” Hard-nosed politics, a trial and conviction by tabloids and the modest box office of his recent action pictures may have humbled him, just a bit. Perhaps he should start to think smaller if he wants to continue working.
“I look at scripts a different way today,” Schwarzenegger admits. “It will give me the chance to get more scripts like this. If people think I can do this, and that I will consider it, then more people will take a shot.”
But indie filmmakers take note. It would help if you have someone like former “Little Miss Sunshine” Abigail Breslin lined up to share the screen with him to get Schwarzenegger to sign on the dotted line.
In “Maggie,” Schwarzenegger pondered what it might be like to lose a child to a wasting illness, and “just acted out what I felt. But it was easy, thanks to Abigail Breslin…She never made me feel like she was acting. This was MY daughter and she was REALLY sick and scared. She made it easy for me to be this father, because she made me upset. Her seeming so totally confused and frightened, looking to me for some comfort, made my performance.”
Schwarzenegger is braced for the coming months of selling audiences on another “Terminator,” hopeful that the planned Hollywood movies on his calendar come to fruition. And if not, there’s always indie cinema.
“I’m not that analytical, but I do know that movies are not a science. Will people be surprised by ‘Maggie’? Will they see it? I don’t know.”
But don’t be surprised if a fellow who has reinvented himself more times than Madonna finds a new niche, even in the twilight of a very long and lucrative his screen career.

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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