Friday, October 24, 2008


I get a call to work on something called Eraser. At the time, "Erasure" was working, so I thought maybe it was a music video or something.

So I arrived, and got my "call sheet." For those of you outside "the Biz," this is a list of who's working, both cast and crew, on a given day on a production. It also lists where, when, and what's being done, special details, safety notices for everyone, etc.

It was a feature, and a pretty big one, all things considered.

But the call sheet has only two names of cast working that day:
1)Arnold Schwarzenegger
2)Vanessa Williams

I've been in the industry for nearly 2 decades. I went to school with "Jan Brady" (Eve Plumb) and Engineer Scotty's kids.
I don't get starstruck.

It's bad manners, and unprofessional. So I tried to just find a quiet spot to hang out, and await the arrival of Mr. Universe and Miss America, like it happened every day. Sh'yeah, right. As if.

I found my quiet spot on set, and faded into oblivion. I explored the stage a little. Found craft service (munchies!), the bathrooms.

We were on Stage 22/23 IIRC. Our stage had the big sets. The one next door was vacant, for the big wheels and important cast members to hang out nearby, without being in the middle of everything. The "elephant door" connecting the two stages was open.

So I'm standing in the back, chatting with the prop master and the county fire marshall, just shooting the breeze.

I look up.
Through the connecting elephant door to the vacant stage, Arnold Schwarzenegger is walking right at me.
He is not, as his studio bio claims, 6 feet tall. He's 5'11". He's also 5'11" wide. In a suit and tie, and 20+ years after his bodybuilding heydey, he's the size of refrigerator, still. A walk-in refrigerator. As I'm processing this, he reaches out a huge hand, and says, "Hi! How'z eet goingk!"

The left side of my brain, in a split second, says "It's Arnie!" The right side, equally fast, says, "Dont say that, you'll sound like an idiot!" I smile and mumble a discreet "Hi!" as he mercifully doesn't crush my arm into kindling. He moves to shake the hands of the prop master and the fire inspector.

And it is Arnie. (No offense or disrespect to our current multimillionaire superstar governor, but I'm not going to type "Mr. Schwarzenegger" another 50 times here.) No entourage. No handlers. Just...The Man. I later find out he worked all night the night before, then drove himself - in the Beemer, not the Hummer - to be here to shoot the movie trailer, which is what we're doing. And he has to be back at work tonight. So he's not some sugar-coated crybaby primadonna either.

I watch as he moves to each other small knot of people, grips, electricians, etc. and shakes the hand of every person on set. No affectation, he's genuinely warmly interested, but quick, and gradually, after a few minutes, his presence is noted by the folks running today's show.

In that same nearly 20 years in "the Biz," I've met a lot of big names and wonderful and talented actors. I've seen firsthand a total of 2 people who have demonstrably had "IT," - charisma, or whatever "it" is.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is one of those two.

I know this, because I notice also that every eye on set is on him, pretty much incessantly. It's also true because immediately, whatever Arnie says is instantaneously the brightest, bestest, smartest idea anyone's ever heard.

And in a respectfully deferential way, not a sycophantic suck-up way.

For example "Okay, Arnold can relax in his trailer, and let's bring in the stand-in while we light this shot."
Arnie: "Hey, I'm here, let's just light it and shoot it."
"Ah, okay, we'll light Arnold and just shoot it. Make it happen."
And we do.

He does teasers for the movie. He delivers tag lines over and over. He shoots his scenes with Vanessa Williams. She is talented, charming, poised, professional, pleasant, and thoroughly delightful to be within 50 feet of. She also looks like she weighs maybe 80 pounds, and Arnold could break her with a twitch if he were careless.

But he's not; she finishes her work, and we get back to Arnold scenes.
I visit with Arnie's stand-in. At this point, that's Dieter. Dieter is in his late twenties, blond, 6'3" or 6'4" , and looks nothing like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Dieter is also from (then West) Germany. He is thus, in effect, one of Arnie's "homies." Apparently Arnie met Dieter when Dieter was an extra on something, they chatted at crew lunch, he found out Dieter was a German ex-pat trying to make it in show business, and the rest was history. Now Dieter stands in for Arnold, and occasionally wrangles small roles in his movies.

Arnie's entourage has arrived. All one of him. In a town and an industry where 15 butt-kissing celebrity courtiers are nothing, Arnie has one guy. He has only 3 jobs.
1) He carries Arnie's briefcase. In between takes, Arnie has 20 or 30 folders in it, and he's doing deals. Movie deals, promotion deals, production deals, real estate deals. This man was a millionaire before he ever set foot on a movie set.
The briefcase is probably why.
2) He holds Arnie's cell phone. Partly so Arnie can do all those deals between takes. Mainly so Arnie can talk to Maria and the kids and family and friends as well, while he's at work.
3) He holds Arnie's lit stogie. Arnold and his cigar are fairly constant companions. I should point out for those out of the know that there is absolutely no smoking on any sound stage in Hollywood, other than an actor as part of a scene. Seriously. No smoking. We even have a county fire marshall there.

And no one, repeat no one, is telling Arnold Schwarzenegger that he'll have to put out his cigar. Not even the dedicated fire marshall.

It's good to be king. And Arnie is it.

As he finishes his scene, another curious, never-before-witnessed phenomena occurs. On a non-publicized shoot, on a closed set, on a secured lot, there are miraculously 20 or 30 or 40 kids, sons and daughters of crew members on set. And they all have cameras.

Folks, this never happens. Yet there they are. And as Arnie wraps up his stuff, his assistant closes the briefcase, Arnie pockets his phone, and finishes his cigar. And is mobbed by the parents and those aforementioned children. He graciously agrees to a picture. And another. And another. Ad infinitum. When some parent starts to take it, he tells his assistant to take the camera, and tells mom or dad to "C'mon, get in here with your son/daughter, we'll all be in the picture."

Only one time does the tiniest flash of temper show; someone is beyond the circle of light, and snaps a picture from out in the darkness.
"Hey who is that?? Tell them to come over here and ask if they want to take my picture!"

The offender, head down, comes over, and Arnie smiles for another picture. And another. Smiling, warm, and quintessentially gracious throughout.

When the last bunch is finished, he walks himself out, goes to his car, and drives himself home, to await his driver and another 12 or 14 or 16 hour all-night shoot.

That, gentle readers, is the difference between a mere celebrity, and a first-rate movie star.

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