‘Arnold’ Docuseries Explained: How Did Arnold Fight Through Adversities In Bodybuilding, Acting, & Politics?


Among its many documentaries about celebrities, Netflix’s Arnold is the latest one that sets out to tell a fairly well-known story. This three-part miniseries presents Arnold Schwarzenegger’s journey from his native Austria to the United States and his successes in the three vastly different fields of bodybuilding, acting, and politics. Although there is nothing new to watch in the series and the matters are presented in a selective manner, Arnold can make for a decent watch for those interested in documentaries and the lives of celeb stars.

Spoilers Alert

What Was The Beginning Of Arnold’s Life Like?

Arnold first sets its basic premise of narration as we are taken to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s sprawling resort in Sun Valley, and he starts to talk about his life’s journey in detail. Arnold grew up in the picturesque village of Thal in the state of Styria in Austria in a very strict family. His father, Gustav, was a policeman who wanted to introduce strict discipline into the boy’s life very early on, and his mother, Aurelia, was very dedicated to cleanliness. Having an elder brother, Meinhard, Arnold spent most of his time with him and would also go to school and to the nearby town of Graz together. From a very young age, the boys were made to compete and have small rivalries in order to learn about life and fit in with their father’s belief that everyone needs to earn their share. The father, Gustav, was quite disillusioned and traumatized after the end of WWII, and the effects of it had remained with him ever since. Out of this trauma induced by the war, Gustav would sometimes have very violent fits where he would drunkenly beat up his children or wife, and this, in turn, started to have an effect on young Arnold.

The boy was instead fascinated by life in the USA, as he found out from films and magazines, and started to sternly believe that he was meant to leave Austria. Arnold even once questioned whether he was the biological child of Gustav and instead wanted to believe that his father was an American soldier. The boy’s first fascination with bodybuilding started after watching Reg Park star as Hercules in the 1963 film “Hercules and the Captive Women.” Arnold also found magazines related to the film, which included information about Reg Park, who was also a renowned bodybuilder. The teenage boy was mesmerized by the routine and diet that Park had followed to become Hercules, and it was now that he decided to follow a similar career. Soon enough, Arnold started working out and also became friends with Austrian bodybuilders, and he was headed toward the profession of bodybuilding.

How Did Arnold Flourish As A Bodybuilder?

After beginning to take part in the world of bodybuilding, Arnold Schwarzenegger became very successful in a very short time, placing in the top four in all the Austrian competitions and even winning the Junior Mr. Austria title. Following this, the young man enlisted in the army to get over with the mandatory military service so that he could get his passport and leave Austria within a few years. But Arnold did not have to wait long, as he was invited to Germany to become the manager of a gym. This new opportunity gave him a lot more exposure and time for bodybuilding, and a series of competition invites soon followed. Arnold headed to London for the Mr. Universe championship, and in his very first year of elite competition, he finished second and showed immense potential to soon become the greatest in the sport.

After this success, his idol, Reg Park, made acquaintance with Arnold and even took him to his house in South Africa to give him training. Finally, with improvements made with the help of Park and his family, Arnold returned to London for the Mr. Universe competition and won it this time. It was now that he finally received a call from the United States, and the young man readily agreed. But he did not get immediate success in the country, as he had now started to expect of himself, and instead, Arnold had to go through the toughest training period yet. It was also this phase that made him realize how much he needed to come to America in order to be the very best. After moving to Venice Beach, California, he started to train at various gyms, including Gold’s Gym, which would later become intricately associated with the public image of Schwarzenegger.

Success did eventually come Arnold’s way, as he went on to win the American version of Mr. Universe and then the Mr. Olympia titles. He admits to having used steroids to reach the top level of the competition, just like every other competitor at the time. It was also during this phase of life that Arnold’s brother and father passed away, the former from a road accident and the latter from health-related issues. But the young man was not too affected by either of the losses and instead focused on his professional career. According to Arnold, his elder brother Meinhard was unable to live with the harsh treatment that they used to receive at home during their childhood. It was this same harshness that had driven Arnold to leave Austria and gain success in bodybuilding, but according to him, Meinhard was too sensitive to make anything positive out of his life. The brother instead got involved with alcohol and drugs, which ultimately resulted in the accident that took his life.

After a series of championship wins and an extremely successful career as a bodybuilder overall, Arnold was no longer interested in continuing with the sport. According to him, he had reached the pinnacle of the sport, a fact that was, indeed, proven by statistics as well, and now he was looking for something else to make his name in when the opportunity to act in front of the camera came his way.

How Did Arnold Adapt To The New Profession Of Acting?

Arnold Schwarzenegger always had an interest in acting in films and even to become the star attraction in films, right from the time he saw Reg Park as Hercules. By the time he retired from bodybuilding, Arnold had obviously made quite a name for himself, as he had promoted various brands and himself during the time. He had also started investing in real estate and had made quite some wealth by this time, a fact that later helped him weed out bad scripts and small roles to wait for the lead roles to arrive. The first role that Arnold signed also happened to be that of Hercules in 1970, “Hercules in New York,” but he was heavily criticized for his evidently bad acting. Like in his previous career, Arnold had to make adjustments here, too, and started working with acting coaches while also maintaining his physique.

Arnold’s first two major roles on screen came in Stay Hungry, a drama film in which he played the role of a bodybuilder, and then in Pumping Iron, a documentary film about the sport of bodybuilding. As he had started to gain a reputation as a performer in the entertainment field as well, Arnold was soon invited to the RFK Pro-Celebrity Tennis Tournament, where he first met with the Kennedy family. It was also then that he first got acquainted with Maria Shriver, and a romantic relationship between the two started to develop. In his professional life, Arnold then acted in Conan the Barbarian, the success of which got him selected to play T-800 in The Terminator. Both of these films became iconic, and Schwarzenegger was now an established name in the world of cinema as well. A rivalry between the two best action heroes of the time, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, also began, which both actors now cherish. Arnold had truly proved his doubters wrong and made a solid transition from the world of bodily entertainment to that of finer performances. Arnold even dared to venture into films of genres different from the usual action style that generally suited him, like the comedies Twins and Last Action Hero

Around this time, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver married and started their own families. A few years later, the man had to go through surgery due to a heart condition that also later led to his mother’s death. After this surgery, Arnold took a year off from work and had by now started to lose weight. The fact that his health would not last forever and that acting in films was not a very viable occupation in the long term had been coming to Arnold, and he now decided to switch to a different career once again.

How Was Arnold’s Life As A Politician Arguably The Toughest Phase Of His Life?

Once again, like with acting, Arnold had always kept an interest in politics, and the fact that his wife was from the Kennedy family meant that he was always around discussions of political issues. Even in his earlier interviews from his younger days, Arnold stated that it would not be too strange for him to enter the realm of politics. Now that his acting career was not as prolific as it had once been, he decided to give back to the nation of America by becoming a politician. Arnold had been a believer in Republican principles, and he was not deterred by the fact that his wife and her entire family were Democrats. As he claims, even in the conversations taking place in the present, such differences ultimately do not matter in politics, and his entire intention was to do good for the public.

When the erstwhile Governor of California, Gray Davis, was losing public support and was faced with a recall election, Schwarzenegger contested the election and won it. He became the new Governor of California in 2003 and continued to hold the post for the next eight years, winning reelection as well. His tenure as governor was not always the easiest, and controversies regarding certain terminologies he used did have a negative impact on his image. But Arnold always stressed the work that he was trying to do for the state and its people, and he was indeed quite focused on serving the people rather than getting involved in party affairs. In many instances, he went against traditional Republican thoughts and beliefs and even tried working with Democrats on certain matters. It was during his tenure that the state of California committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 25% through stricter environmental laws. This same model was later praised and implemented by President Barack Obama for the whole of the United States.

But Arnold Schwarzenegger’s time as governor was marked by some personal controversies as well, beginning with a string of sexual harassment allegations against him that became public. A number of women had complained of inappropriate behavior by the bodybuilder-turned-actor, and he also responded by accepting them as his past mistakes. Although Arnold did change his tune later on, as the important election for the post of governor was coming up, he ultimately admits at present that he had indeed committed some of the foolish and heinous acts in the past out of ignorance. Another matter later came to light about his extramarital affair with one of the household employees, Mildred Baena, with whom he had even had a son. This matter and the parental origin of the son, Joseph, were kept secret not only from the public but also from Maria and the rest of the family.

Arnold’s role as Governor of California had already apparently wedged a distance between him and his family, as he could hardly give any quality time to them. Arnold presents the entire matter in a way that suggests that he was too busy making the lives of thousands better and was, therefore, not as dedicated to his role as a husband and a father. But the illicit affair with Baena drew a final end to the suffering marriage as Maria and Arnold decided to split. Arnold’s gubernatorial role also ended in 2011, but he continues to be involved in other philanthropic work. The man still keeps an interest in politics and often comments on national and global issues, but he has yet to take any next steps. In his personal life, the 75-year-old still spends time with his family and children on special occasions and also has a good relationship with Joseph Baena, but he also admits that the current scenario is definitely not the same as having a normal family.

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Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya keeps an avid interest in all sorts of films, history, sports, videogames and everything related to New Media. Holding a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies, he is currently working as a teacher of Film Studies at a private school and also remotely as a Research Assistant and Translator on a postdoctoral project at UdK Berlin.

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