Daily Dose: Can Schwarzenegger find professional redemption?

The news of action star turned Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger’s infidelity was pretty surprising. After all, since his marriage to Maria Shriver in 1985, the movie star managed to forge a squeaky clean image. He was already a household name that stood for action films that cast him as a hero with a heart of gold. Even his most recognizable role that on the menacing killing machine in “The Terminator” was redeemed in the mammoth sequel that followed.

Now that the animated “Governator” project appears to have been derailed by Arnold’s missteps in his personal life, it seems that a reboot of his acting career is also in jeopardy. But can he find redemption somehow? And will that be found on the screen?

One would think that Schwarzenegger must make peace at home first prior to resuming acting. Acting is very much a skill based on focusing. With the distractions in his life, it would be difficult to imagine that he thinks of little else right now other than fixing his broken relationships. Any production taking him on at this time would have to deal with the double whammy of keeping press away trying to get a peek at Arnold acting and attempting to get a comment on the scandal. It is doubtful that during the firestorm that will last for a good time that he could even do any junkets for a movie without having to answer a barrage of questions about his personal life.

Forget the hang-ups as to whether questions put to him about the scandal are fair. When Arnold suited up to play the role of Governor for the last 7 years or so, his image away from movies became fair game. Thus his privacy gave way to the spotlight of politics and the need to be portrayed as a morally upstanding citizen. Of course, his children and wife should always be respected, because they did not choose to thrust themselves into the fray. But Arnold should and no doubt will experience the sting of a reporter’s cross-examination. This is especially true because now many of his decisions as Governor will be looked upon with a suspect eye in light of the personal indiscretions. Political opponents are already picking him apart looking for hypocrisy—another conservative to jump on.

Redemption is a story that is literally laced through Hollywood. The business is eaten up with scandal, perhaps, few as hot as this one. When Mel Gibson fell not once but twice, his attempt at comeback has been extremely tough. First he tried an action thriller in 2010 with “Edge of Darkness” and then this year “The Beaver” did not resonate with viewers. “Beaver” was not even screened for us here in Atlanta. It seems that Gibson’s tarnished personal image was just too much for audiences, who can’t warm up to a guy who had demonstrated such bad behavior in his personal life.

But the Gibson situation is much different than Schwarzenegger’s. Sure the revelations that are to come about the Governator will be shocking, but I seriously doubt that there will be a recording of him ranting and uttering anti-Semitic remarks. In fact, Schwarzenegger can obviously keep a secret. After all, the guy kept this scandal under raps until after he had left office and given up politics.

Another politician, whose legacy was damaged by a sex scandal, might be Schwarzenegger’s example. Of course, I’m talking about the biggest of them all Bill Clinton, ironically a Democrat cast in the Kennedy mold.

Clinton’s infidelity while President was at the time unforgivable. His Presidency had been proceeding well even after taking a hit with midterm elections in 1994. He figured out a way to triangulate and work with his opposition to get things done. The reelection in 1996 was a significant victory giving him a prime opportunity to craft history. But then when the scandal broke leading to his impeachment by the House of Representatives in 1998, his effectiveness to rule was lessoned significantly. Perhaps the biggest loser was Al Gore, who was indirectly tied to the scandal and denied his own Presidency in the process.

And yet, today, Bill Clinton is well loved. In fact, just last year in a Newsmax/Zogby poll Americans overwhelmingly picked Clinton as the current living former president best equipped to deal with the problems the country faces today. Some polls have him as the most popular political figure in the country, much more popular than Barack Obama.

The reasons for this are myriad. But one thing comes through clearly: like him or not, Clinton was an effective leader. And this started with his ability to communicate a message. Oh, not the one about not having sex with that woman, the message that related to his job. By focusing his skill on conveying the messages that mattered in the geopolitical environment, Clinton was able and has remained important and popular.

Can Schwarzenegger do the same thing as Clinton? Yes, this is how:

1. Lose the “Governator” series: My thought is that the loss of the “Governator” animated series could help him. I wrote that I couldn’t see it working and thought it cheapened him, taking the edge off his comeback.

2. Take smaller roles: That’s right, Schwarzenegger can ease back in front of the camera by appearing in supporting roles. His Terminator role that made him famous was arguably a supporting one in which he played the villain. A smaller, even comedic, role could reintroduce us to Arnold and take the pressure off him to carry an entire movie. Imagine if Mel Gibson was permitted to appear in “The Hangover” sequel? Think about what the first film did for Mike Tyson, who did prison time for rape. The scandal will give Schwarzenegger a chance to not just reboot his career but recreate it.

3. Produce: Perhaps one of the best things that Schwarzenegger can do is to produce. His name attached to a project is worth a bundle even if he’s just handling part of the business side. He should attend a few small film festivals (we have a couple here in Georgia that would be naturally honored to have him on their jury). At small film festivals, Schwarzenegger could meet filmmakers away from Hollywood and get involved in independent film. This sounds crazy but producing a small film could give Arnold much needed credibility.

4. Make a documentary: This is where Alex Gibney should be involved. The Oscar winning documentarian directed one of last year’s best documentaries “Client 9” as well as “Casino Jack.” Both movies focused on men behaving badly. But “Client 9” with its warts and all extended interview with another fallen governor Eliot Spitzer helped to rebuild a career in downward spiral. While the press cameras are running outside the privacy of Arnold’s life, maybe he should give thought to capturing some things in his personal life. This will be tricky, of course, but it could make for one intriguing cautionary tale. I’m one attorney and documentary filmmaker who would become a part of his legal team to film everything that is going on behind closed doors.

It is sad that a man so popular and, yes, loved, as Arnold Schwarzenegger has taken such a great fall. But something inspirational can happen as a result. The solution will start at home for Arnold, who will part with a huge amount of his enormous fortune in divorce proceedings that should be handled privately. The “green poultice” will go a long way, but do little to restore his family’s confidence in him. Good acts must follow. For the general public to love Arnold again, we want to see good work as well. That should start immediately, so long as it does not interfere with his personal redemption. But when your personal and private lives are so intertwined, one redemption inevitably leads to another.

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2 Responses

  1. At this point, I am so disappointed in him and feel so sorry for his family. Plus, I have to question his intelligence when it comes to the one he had the affair with. On the other hand, he was able to keep it a secret for so long. He needs to lay low for a couple of years and maybe redemption will come but geeze….he really messed up. I don’t think any married woman would take their child to see Kindergarten Cop. And Jonathan, you are so correct about how this will hurt his pocket book.

  2. I doubt that this scandal would damage his international draw. However, he can either pull back and halt his career (as he has done) or go with it, tell all, and try to find his new self.

    Thanks for your comment!

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