Arnold Schwarzenegger on How His Body Prevented Him From Getting Roles
Arnold Schwarzenegger has made an entire career out of being the most muscular guy in the room, but he recently revealed that his ripped figure actually hindered his acting career early on.
During an interview on West Wing star Rob Lowe‘s Literally! podcast, Schwarzenegger told the host that he encountered some opposition when he transitioned from bodybuilding to acting. When he was trying to break in, many of the leading men were more realistic-looking types like Clint Eastwood, Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro, and Al Pacino. They were “lean,” Schwarzenegger said, in “good shape” but not necessarily “muscular.”
“The funny thing about it is that in the ’70s when I said I wanted to get into movies, all the producers and directors and studio executives and agents were saying to me, ‘It’s never going to happen,’” he said.
Schwarzenegger recalled that stars of the day would work out, but wouldn’t admit to doing so publicly. He detailed an incident in which Eastwood told him the best thing to do was tell people they were “born like that,” to imply their figure required no effort.
“People don’t want to see big muscles,” the Terminator star recalls “naysayers” telling him. “You’re 100 pounds too heavy, forget it.”
Tides began to shift around the release of the 1977 documentary Pumping Iron, which brought Schwarzenegger to global attention and paved the way for myriad imitators.
“All of a sudden, bodybuilding became fashionable,” he marveled. “It became very fashionable that you had to look visually like a hero. So muscles were required. That’s when there was an explosion in the ’80s of people like Stallone, myself, Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, all of those guys became big stars and were leading men in the movies.”
Schwarzenegger continued: “Today, people want to know that a star works out. They want to know what exercises The Rock does, they want to know how many times I go to the gym.”
“You started it,” Lowe told him. “Now you can’t be in a Marvel movie unless you’re ginormous.”
He may have been too successful. Marvel actors like Will Poulter have lamented the body image requirements—and the stress and objectification that goes along with them—for the roles.