Former California Gov. and cheater extraordinaire Arnold Schwarzenegger swooped in and wrapped an audience around his finger last night at a book talk and signing in downtown Washington. His newly published tell-all is aptly called Total Recall.
WaPo and Politics & Prose Bookstore co-sponsored an hour-long interview at the packed Hamilton Restaurant that included audience participation. WaPo‘s national political writer Ned Martel was tasked with interviewing The Terminator. But from the get-go one thing was abundantly clear: Martel was going easy on him. And though this was supposed to be an interview, Schwarzenegger was clearly running the show.
It was impossible not to be charmed. “This is for concentration curls,” he started off in his signature Austrian accent, using his thick book to do reps. There was a temperature shift. No matter that he’s fathered a son with a woman other than his wife and had other dalliances, the crowd warmed to him immediately. Even the swarms of media in the far back were taken, hanging on his every word. From then on, the audience was his to lose.
Part of what was so likeable about him was that no subject, however awkward, was off limits — a good thing since his audience paid $15 a seat to see him. So he addressed it all, including whether he regrets letting the maid reside in his home, if he hopes to reconciling with Maria — he does but he says it’ll take time — and of course, his views on politics.
“Washington is the most frozen place I’ve ever seen,” he declared, quickly insulting the evil ways of the city in which little gets done and Republicans and Democrats rarely come together.
Asked about tonight’s debates, Schwarzenegger remarked, “This is really freakout city when you’re out there.” He explained how nerve-wracking it is to maneuver the teleprompter, and what it’s like to go off script and then try to return to it. Next up: an impersonation of AOL-HuffPost Editor-in-Chief Arianna Huffington so good that he really ought to perform it on stage.
“Arianna played into all my stuff,” he said, recalling a gubernatorial debate against her in 2003 in which she ran as an Independent. “She was whining, ‘Oh you’re making so much money. This is outrageous how you deal with women, schwarzen schnitzle.'”
The audience laughed and laughed.
His best piece of debate advice: “Personality wins over details and throwing around statistics and stuff.”
Martel broached the topic of philandering with all the forcefulness of a baby bird still halfway in its shell. “I know it takes a big man to admit these big mistakes,” he said. Schwarzenegger told him matter-of-factly, “I don’t tell the media what they should ask. You have 640 pages and 10 pages is about the scandal. If they ask questions, you have to answer. Or don’t do the interview.”
(Insert hard questions for Martel here because he doesn’t take this as a cue to ask anything challenging.)
No matter, Schwarzenegger offered his own hot topics. “I don’t want to paint my life as this is a perfect life,” he said. “I’ve got to face up to it. It’s not my style to walk the other way, It was no one else’s fault. It was my fault. …Look, we’re all much smarter in hindsight.”
He says time heals all, at least he hopes so. Asked if he regrets having the maid live with them, he replied,”If it was right or wrong, it’s now too late.” He said he’s working to bring his family back together.
So who is Schwarzenegger? Even he says he’s hard to analyze. On one shoulder is Austrian Arnold, on the other, American Arnold. They’re fighting each other. “Sometimes Austrian Arnold takes over, sometimes the American Arnold takes over and then you marry a Democrat,” he explained. When he first arrived in the United States, he said things were “wild.” He said, “I had no idea America was going through this hippie period. People were singing in the street, there was a funny smell (marijuana) — it’s really far out.”
At the gym he was called “Balloon Belly” and “Chubby,” nicknames that both bothered and inspired him. But he trained and soon began winning competitions. “From then on no one could beat me until I retired from body building,” he said, swelling with pride.