Arnold Schwarzenegger has killed many people during his illustrious movie career. Onscreen, of course. Many of the choicest offings came during a rich 1980s/1990s action movie run that saw him wielding broadswords, Uzis, grenade-launchers, axes ... in fact, just about every weapon available short of a massive medieval cannon. In an once-in-a-lifetime piece of investigative journalism, Empire tracked down his victims to find out exactly what it was like to be terminated by Arnold.
The Impaled With A Giant Stake Guy
Name: Sven-Ole Thorsen
Film: Conan The Barbarian (1982)
Apart from, obviously, Arnold, no man has been in more Schwarzenegger movies than Sven-Ole Thorsen. And certainly no man has been killed more often by Arnold than Sven-Ole Thorsen. A Danish martial arts expert and power-lifter, Sven and Arnold became fast friends when they met in the late 70s, and their impact on each other’s lives has been huge. Sven brokered the peace between Arnold and Stallone when war threatened to break out in the 1980s; in return, Arnold repaid Sven with a series of what he describes as "sweet deaths". The first came in this, Thorsen's movie debut. He plays Thorgrim, a Viking with a huge hammer, and ends up getting impaled by a Conan booby trap.
"I am no actor, I am just Sven," says Sven of the scene where Thorgrim ends up with a giant spike in his sternum. "John Milius told me what to do and I did what John told me, but I didn’t have any feeling or understanding for it. John gave me a line to say to James Earl Jones, ‘but Master, they didn’t harm you at all’. I could not say that line. I never felt that pressure before in my life."
The Doom Of Doom
Name: James Earl Jones
Character: Thulsa Doom
Film: Conan The Barbarian (1982)
In his autobiography, A Viking In Hollywood, Sven-Ole Thorsen recalls that, for the big scene in Conan The Barbarian where Arnold’s Cromulan warrior bests Thulsa Doom, by hacking his head off in front of a stunned crowd of acolytes, that James Earl Jones had hunks of roast meat shoved inside his costume to a) elicit a nice chopping sound without recourse to foley artists and b) make sure Arnold didn’t chop off Jones’ head. When Empire recounts this to Jones - still very much head intact - he laughs uproariously. "That’s a great story!" wheezes the man who was so memorable as Conan’s serpentine nemesis. "Not true, but oh man, keep perpetuating it. Hunks of roast meat under my costume... that’s the stuff of myth!"
Jones, now 81, has fond memories of his experience on Conan, and of meeting Arnold. "We were all billeted in the same hotel," he says. "He was working out all the time and I was a bit overweight, so he said ‘let me show you a few things you can do’. They were tough - my wife was with me too, huffing and puffing with me."
But it all comes back to Doom’s memorable death sequence, which begins with Doom telling Conan, "I am your father". Stop Darth Vader if you think you’ve heard this one before. "I kept arguing with John Milius," laughs Jones. "I said, I’ve done that already. I said that in another movie! John said, ‘I don’t remember that. You gotta say it.’ I guess he got away with it." Jones is less sure that Milius got away with the shot where Conan throws Doom’s severed noggin down the steps of his palace. "You could hear the head clunking down the stairs because it was made of plastic," says Jones. "I said, ‘don’t you want to hear the sound of a real head going down the stairs?’" Well, they could have always used roast beef.
The 'I’ll Be Back' Guy
Name: Bruce Kerner
Role: Desk Sergeant
Film: The Terminator (1984)
Many have been on the receiving end since, but Bruce Kerner was the first. The first to hear it, the catchphrase that would define Arnold’s career. It comes roughly halfway through The Terminator, when the T-800 walks into an LA police station in search of Sarah Connor, only be to thwarted by a couldn’t-give-a-shit desk cop with a bushy moustache. The Terminator looks around, surveying his surroundings, and leans forward. "I’ll be back," he states. And, seconds later, he’s true to his word, driving a car through the station wall, turning Desk Cop into Splattered Against Wall Cop.
The first time he gave us the I’ll be back line, I remember getting chills.
"The first time he gave us the ‘I’ll be back’ line, I remember getting chills and going ‘oh boy’" remembers Kerner. "I didn’t say this would become an iconic line, but I thought it was an important and powerful moment."
Kerner, now retired and running his own vineyard - Kerner Estates - in New Zealand, was moonlighting somewhat on The Terminator. He was actually the executive in charge of production, "assigned to protect the interests of the bond company" and make sure Jim Cameron toed the line and didn’t overspend wildly. But he’d also started out as an actor and so, when an early production meeting revealed that the guy originally cast as Desk Sergeant had dropped out, Kerner didn’t hesitate. "I had played cops a lot," he says. "I raised my hand and Cameron said, ‘You’re perfect!’ It had been maybe ten years, but once you’re a ham, you’re always a ham."
Kerner also helped out with corralling the crowd of extras for the car crash sequence ("Arnold went over to Gale Anne Hurd and said, ‘This actor takes his role very seriously!"), but wasn’t around for the main stunt. "They shoved a dummy in, and it flows seamlessly," he laughs. "You can’t tell that there’s someone dumber than me in there!"
The ‘You Can’t Do That’ Guy
Name: Dick Miller
Character: Pawn Shop Clerk
Film: The Terminator (1984)
At last count, the legendary Dick Miller, king of the Joe Dante cameo and the cynical one-liner, has 115 films on his CV. In the grand scheme of things, the half day he spent on a movie called The Terminator as a gun store clerk who hands Schwarzenegger’s killer robot the weapons with which he will be killed, may not have seemed like much at the time, but the guy playing The Terminator sure stick in his mind. "There was something about him doing this part," says Miller. "It was something about the body." He cackles, "The minute he dropped his pants, I knew he was going to be a star!"
Miller, a Roger Corman vet, was given the role after meeting with the film’s director, Corman protege James Cameron. "He called me up and wanted to see me for the part," says Miller. "They’d put down that he was a sleazy gun store owner. I didn’t consider myself sleazy, but all acting jobs I think I attack the same way. I think back to what experience I’ve had with a person of this type and go ahead and do it."
The scene itself was child’s play for Miller - "one take of each angle and that was pretty much it" - until it came time for Arnold to load shells into a shotgun and blow Miller away. "I thought I was being shortchanged," he says. "They didn’t squib me or rig me for being shot." Indeed, in the finished film, it cuts away before Miller buys the farm. "Later, when I saw it, it played beautifully."
Now 87, Miller was recently the subject of a documentary, That Guy Dick Miller, but otherwise he’s in semi-retirement. Or, more accurately, "if my wife answers the phone, she says send the script; if I answer it, I say I’m retired!"
The Chopped With A Sword Guy
Name: Sven-Ole Thorsen
Film: Conan The Destroyer (1984)
Sven-Ole Thorsen returned to the Conan franchise as Togra, a brute in a massive helmet who meets his end in a sword fight with Conan. "That was against Richard Fleischer’s wish," says Sven. "I died in the first movie, so he was against putting me in. But we created a new character - I had a beard and a heavy helmet on. But he was happy in the end because the sword fight that Conan and I have is one of the most respected sword fights in the history of movie making." Although it almost came with a heavy price. "We both had bleeding fingers because we were both chopping away. I chopped Arnold’s finger three times with a plastic sword, but he’s a good sport. I didn’t chop them off, but it was close!"
The ‘I Lied’ Guy
Name: David Patrick Kelly
Film: Commando (1985)
Ah, Sully. The sleazy badass in a bad suit who impresses Arnie’s Matrix with his wisecracks so much that he is made a very specific promise. "You're a funny guy, Sully, I like you - that’s why I’m going to kill you last." Only to have that promise recanted in spectacular fashion when Matrix dangles him over a ravine, and drops him with the words, ‘I lied’, ringing in Sully’s ears all the way down to the bottom. "I have to spoil something," says David Patrick Kelly, alum of The Warriors. "Arnold didn’t really hold me by one arm over the canyon there. I was on a long cable on a crane, and it took about six hours to film that." Actually, to spoil things further, if you pause the film just right, you can see the cable, but it doesn’t detract from the impact of Sully’s death. "We shot it at Griffith Park, and I was excited by the fact that this was where James Dean and Dennis Hopper had filmed the knife fight scene in Rebel Without A Cause."
Kelly – who more recently starred in the Broadway musical adaptation of Once, where he sang and played mandolin every night – came to Commando through his Warriors/48 Hrs. producers Joel Silver and Lawrence Gordon, who let him craft Sully from the ground up. "There was a lot of improvisation," he admits. And, even though the character is a psychotic scumbag, Sully has his own loyal army. "I had a young fan, who had spina bifida, and he passed away about five years ago," says Kelly. "He came to visit me and he had the entire suit of clothes, and a toy Porsche his father had bought for him. So Sully hangs in there."
The Scalped Guy
Name: Lane Leavitt
Character: Soldier #48
Film: Commando (1985)
It’s Commando’s ultimate rewind moment: when Matrix, trapped in a garden shed by six of Dan Hedaya’s rentagoons, takes them out with handy garden implements. One poor bastard, in particular, is given the short end of a buzz saw which, improbably, takes his scalp clean off. That poor bastard was played by stuntman Lane Leavitt. "I had a receding hairline so they grabbed me and sent me over to the make-up trailer," recalls the now cueball-clean Leavitt. "They brought out this $5000 Max Factor wig that had been made in the 1930s and the hair guy was crying as he cut it up, going ‘I can’t believe I’m destroying a masterpiece of a wig for this shot!’"
Leavitt would go on to work with Schwarzenegger multiple times, including on The Last Stand. "I’ve had Arnold’s life in my hands five or six times," he says of the stunts gags he’s rigged over the years. "I told my crew, if we screw up we’ll be on the front page of every newspaper in the world in the morning’. But he’s just a joy to work with. He loves to brutalise people – when he sits down next to me he says, ‘I see your hair’s waving... waving goodbye!’" Still, beats being scalped.
The Graveyard Goon
Name: Robert Davi
Character: Max Keller
Movie: Raw Deal (1986)
The film’s poster memorably declares that ‘Nobody gives Schwarzenegger a Raw Deal’, but Robert Davi clearly didn’t take any notice. The way Davi paints it, from the moment he and Arnold met on the set of John Irvin’s ponderous, ludicrous action thriller, he dedicated himself to giving Schwarzenegger a raw deal in an escalating series of practical jokes. It began with a coincidence – "The first time I met Arnold," says Davi, "I had a Jean Paul Gaultier overcoat on, maybe a maroon colour. It had a flash to it. So I walk out of my hotel and there’s Arnold, who comes in with the exact same coat – and quickly went up a notch, through boiling hot coffee spoons applied to bare necks at breakfast, Sven-Ole Thorsen firing toothpick darts at Davi in the middle of a scene, and Arnold firing poppers at Davi’s hotel window when he was asleep. "I filled up a garbage pail with soap suds and water and waited for Arnold, who’s under my room, to light up a gorgeous cigar, and then I dump it. Most human beings would flinch, right? He doesn’t even move. He looks up at me, and says, ‘This means war’."
In the war between Arnold and an Arnold Villain, there can be only one winner: Arnold. And Davi got his comeuppance when he’s shot in the chest by Arnold’s Kaminsky during a graveyard showdown. "I knew how I wanted to take the shots," says Davi. "I wanted to do this almost balletic thing, and they slowed it down to capture it because it was such a great death."
But when war was over, friendship began, with Davi appointing himself Schwarzenegger’s unofficial acting coach. "Up until 1996 or so, every movie he did, I would go there and work with him on that character, on the script, on the dialogue. I would do Shakespeare with Arnold a lot, too." Really? Arnold and the Bard? Davi laughs. "I would do a lot of Shakespeare stuff."
The Machine-Gunned Guy
Name: Sven-Ole Thorsen
Character: Bearded Bodyguard
Movie: Raw Deal (1986)
Habitual Arnie victim Sven makes a very brief cameo as Patrovita’s Bearded Bodyguard, gets machine-gunned by Arnold and does the first stunt of his career. "I was told that, being shot, I had to fall forward and reach for the bar and pull the bar down," says Sven. "In my mind, if somebody shoots me, I would fall backwards. It was so odd for me to do something that in the movies looks natural, but is against my natural reaction. Not being trained as a stuntman to do a fall, it was very hard for me. Seven, eight times I had to do it, to everybody’s amusement. I learned the hard way." It paid off, though – Sven started doing stunts more regularly, and not just on Arnold movies. He progressed as an actor as well, perhaps most memorably as the Swedish gunslinger in Sam Raimi’s The Quick And The Dead.
The ‘He Had To Split’ Guy
Name: Gus Rethwisch
Film: The Running Man (1987)
Arguably the most memorable of all the Stalkers offed by Arnie in The Running Man, Gus Rethwisch’s Buzzsaw is a chainsaw-wielding maniac who, ultimately, ends up with his beloved saw stored in a place where it’s ill-advised to store chainsaws. And, it should be said, shrieking like a girl. "That wasn’t my voice," protests Rethwisch, a power-lifter who these days is president of the World Association of Benchers and Deadlifters, "I thought I had a pretty good voice, but they used somebody else."
Everything else about the fight between Buzzsaw and Arnie’s Ben Richards was real including, in a world-class example of what-the-hell-were-they-thinking, the chainsaws. "Chainsaws are no problem," says Rethwisch. "Paul Michael Glaser [director] wanted to have the actual chain to make it look and sound more realistic, so Arnold and I had a system where, if we felt uncomfortable with the blade coming close to our necks, we’d give each other a signal. We were trying to test each other’s strength - I was 352 lbs at the time, but he had a lot of strength." Now, nearly 70 and following open heart surgery, Rethwisch weighs in at just 265 lbs. "Instead of wanting to be the biggest, baddest sonuvabitch on the planet," he says, "I want to be the healthiest."
The ‘Knock, Knock!’ Guy
Name: Sven-Ole Thorsen
Character: Russian Officer
Film: Predator (1987)
In which Arnold says ‘knock knock’, and Sven-Ole Thorsen saves Arnold’s life. As the Russian officer who is on the receiving end of one of Arnold’s classic one-liners - "Knock, knock!" - and a hail of bullets that rips him through a wall, Sven had a tough time on Predator. "Under the circumstances, the stunt was primitive," he says. "It was seven guys standing by the river with a rope on a wheel, and they had to pull me out. I didn’t know when I’d be pulled, so when I look surprised, that’s because I was fucking surprised!" Still, Sven didn’t have it as bad as Arnold on that jungle shoot when a kidney infection threatened to do what countless henchmen couldn’t, and punch Arnold’s ticket. "His kidney stopped," says Sven. "He had doctors flying in from all over the world, and was on drips all week in hospital." Sven’s remedy was a little more homeopathic. "I read for him a lot of Hans Christian Andersen stories. It was soothing for myself, and soothing and healing and saving Arnold’s life." And did Sven submit to this fiendish bug? "I’m a Dane, not an Austrian," he deadpans. "Danes are tough cookies!"
The ‘Screw You’ Guy
Name: Mel Johnson, Jr.
Film: Total Recall (1990)
Oh, Benny, how could you. Total Recall’s lovable mutant cab driver - the guy with three hands and the ‘I’ve got five kids to feed’ catchphrase turns out, of course, to be a traitor all along, getting his just desserts in a memorable sequence as Arnold’s Doug Quaid jams an industrial jackhammer into the cockpit of Benny’s tank. "I had on a metal plate, and we had blood spurting, and guys shooting blood at me," recalls Johnson who, like David Patrick Kelly, has escaped Arnold’s clutches to head to Broadway in the Jekyll & Hyde musical. "Every take took hours to change costumes, and finally the producer goes, ‘let’s just do one where he goes ‘aaaah!’ and dies. That’s the one they used! I asked why, and they said, ‘We figured your death is too bloody’. Too bloody? How in this film can anything be too bloody?"
Johnson, who was chosen to play by Benny by Paul Verhoeven’s daughters after they saw his screen test, initially didn’t want the role after seeing Benny described as a ‘black jivester’ in the script, but is glad he relented. "It was a wonderful experience in large part because of Arnold," he says. "On my first day, I was all nervous and was hanging back a bit in shot. Arnold said, ‘you want to be in the movie? You need to stay closer to me - the camera’s on me!’"
And even though his career now lies largely on stage, Total Recall still looms large. "I did a play in New York, and on the first day of rehearsal I had a line, ‘My wife died in a fire and left me with five kids to feed!’ The playwright went, ‘I’m a huge fan of that movie!" And for the record, does he have five kids to feed? "No," laughs Johnson. "I’m not married, no kids."