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Action icon Arnold Schwarzenegger makes his much-anticipated lead role return to the big screen in Jee-woon Kim’s ‘The Last Stand.’ After leaving his LAPD narcotics post following a bungled operation that left him wracked with remorse and regret, Sheriff Ray Owens (Schwarzenegger) moved out of Los Angeles and settled into a life fighting what little crime takes place in sleepy border town Sommerton Junction. But that peaceful existence is shattered when Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega), the most notorious, wanted drug kingpin in the western hemisphere, makes a deadly yet spectacular escape from an FBI prisoner convoy. Alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger and Eduardo Noriega, the likes of Jaimie Alexander, Zach Gilford, Forest Whitaker, Luis Guzman, Rodrigo Santoro, Johnny Knoxville, Alexander, Peter Stormare, Harry Dean Stanton and Genesis Rodriguez co-star. Look out for ‘The Last Stand’ from January 18th in the US and January 25th in the UK.

After seven years as Governor of California, you planned to make a slow transition back into action movie roles. Yet, I understand that transition sped up when you came across the screenplay for ‘The Last Stand?’

Arnold Schwarzenegger: Yes. I picked this movie because it was a fantastic script. The story was great, it had intensity, it had drama, it had a lot of action – which I love, and which my fans expect me to deliver. And at the same time it had a lot of comic relief, just like a ‘True Lies.’ It was one of those movies where you laugh in the middle of the intense suspense. It’s hilarious and then horrific at times.

Also, I liked that it’s underdog story, it’s a story that could happen anywhere. With movies, we often think that the stories are impossible, that these things can’t happen. But I can tell you, when I was Governor, one of my favourite things to do was give things like the Medal of Valor to people for extraordinary acts. When people did things that were beyond the call of duty. Those stories, when you read those stories, you’d think it was absolutely impossible, people would say, “No human being can do that.” This is how extraordinary those things were. People were rescuing people in shoot-outs, running through the street while people were firing – and they were shot themselves. Then they crawled to someone and rescued them and pulled them back. The kind of things that people do is really amazing. And that puts validity to this story, those people that do those amazing things.

I can imagine you may have felt an affinity with Sheriff Owens, a man who had once been a sort of action hero in his own right, but he’s taken up a very different kind of life? 

Arnold Schwarzenegger: Oh yeah. I really liked that dynamic with Sheriff Owens, my creaking bones could relate (laughs). He’s a Sheriff who’s just come back to his home town, he wants to spend the last few years on the job in his home town and retire. But he’s had all these experiences as part of a Los Angeles S.W.A.T team, a drug squad. He was a fierce fighter, but that time is over – he’s over 60 (laughs). He’s looking forward to retirement and he’s set in his mind that he’s going to have a quiet way out until all of a sudden his town gets hit by these violent criminals. So it becomes this underdog story of how the town finds a way out of this mess.

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You had to jump into full-scale, physically demanding action after a considerable break from it. How was that?

Arnold Schwarzenegger: After the Governorship, I felt I would have to ease myself back into action, one step at a time. But that is not what happened (laughs). I remember visiting a movie set as Governor and seeing one of the actors hanging upside down in a harness. A friend of mine asked me, “Don’t you miss that?” and I said, “No, I’d rather be in Sacramento, surrounded by legislators who are not always on your side and can make things very difficult, but I’d rather do that than hang upside down on a harness. I just can’t see myself ever doing that again.” Well, sure enough, in this movie I hang upside down on a harness (laughs). I was back in a harness and back in a movie where from beginning to end I was battling, climbing, running and driving fast cars. And I thought I was going to ease my way back into action! But it was a lot of fun.

From beginning to end I can imagine it was physically demanding, especially with the chase scenes and driving scenes as well?

Arnold Schwarzenegger: Yeah, from the beginning to the end I was punching, I was shooting, I was running, I was climbing, I was falling, I was kicked, I was beaten, I was in cars, I was in crashes… and it was from beginning to end (laughs). I did a lot of the chase scenes, a lot of the fast driving – I love driving fast. There was one chase scene through a cornfield, I’d never really seen a chase through a cornfield, but let me tell you, it is an experience as a driver (laughs). You’re driving through this cornfield and you have this high corn, maybe 10 feet tall, and you have no idea where you are. The other person is also racing through it and he might be right next to you, 2 feet away, but he can’t see you because of the corn. That was what was happening in this chase scene, we were banging into each other, spinning around, doing all of these different things. It was safe, but you just had to worry about the ditches and the holes, but other than that it was terrific.

How was it for you working with Jee-woon Kim, this highly acclaimed South Korean filmmaker making his English-language debut?

Arnold Schwarzenegger: He’s amazing. Just the way he can take on different genres and just nail it every time. He’s very, very talented. The first movie I saw of his was ‘The Good, the Bad, the Weird,’ which I loved – the size of it all and the action was just incredible. Then I had to watch ‘I Saw the Devil,’ ‘A Bittersweet Life’ and ‘A Tale of Two Sisters’; and with each of his movies, I liked him more and more and more. I thought, “What a wide range of talent this man has.” He is especially good at working with the universal theme of good versus bad. That comes through in each of his movies and in ‘The Last Stand.’