What more can there possibly be to learn about Arnold Schwarzenegger? You know the story by now: a charmingly intense Austrian bodybuilder muscles his way into Hollywood, overcoming his outsider status to become the world's most bankable action star, before trading it all in to become the Republican governor of California. He is pop culture's most famous example of the American dream made real. So what is it that compelled documentary maker Lesley Chilcott, who previously produced An Inconvenient Truth and Helter Skelter, to pull at the Oak's roots?

Initially, Chilcott wasn't keen. “I joke that if you go anywhere in the world they’ll know who Marilyn Monroe, the Pope and Arnold Schwarzenegger are," she tells Esquire. But digging deeper, she realised that there was room for a definitive account of the mega star's surreal rise, controversies included. “It’s almost comical to go from what was a very obscure sport of bodybuilding to govern one of the largest economies in the world. It’s a bizarre trajectory, so I thought, 'Okay, this is worthy of study'. As a filmmaker you want complex, layered stories. This has it all.”

What follows is an intriguing three-part documentary series, shot over the course of two years with the full cooperation of Schwarzenegger, now 75, that attempts to understand the drive and ambitions of the cigar-chomping multi-hyphenate. Now days away from release, we spoke to Chilcott about the process of capturing an extraordinary life:

When you started the project, what aspect of Arnold's life did you find the most intriguing?

For me, it was The Terminator. Laugh if you will, but it was a pretty dystopian look at the future. It was a big part of the Eighties for me, so to be able to talk to Arnold about the origins, who he was originally meant to play, and interview James Cameron... that held a lot of sway for me.

You chronicle every stage of his life in the documentary, touching on episodes that are clearly uncomfortable for him.

It was important to me that no subject to me was off the table. In order for this documentary to be interesting, it has to have two things: we have to show people a side of him they haven’t seen before and we have to hit every topic. I can’t say he was excited about it, but he did have an innate understanding that he needed to talk about everything.

His whole career is so goal-oriented, yet the only time he really mentions the word ‘failure’ is the situation around his son, Patrick. How was it filming that scene?

We had to work up to it. It wasn’t the first interview. It was quite sombre. It opened my eyes. There’s that Marcel Proust quote: ‘The real voyage of discovery consists not of new landscapes but of having new eyes’. He apologises and he’s sorry in a way, he’s paying for what he did to his family [Schwarzenegger separated from his wife, Maria Shriver, in 2011 after news broke that he had fathered a child with the family's housekeeper] but he can’t utter the words ‘I made a mistake’. So it’s a very tricky line to look at, and we address it head on.

What did you make of him as a person?

He’s funnier than I thought. He’s had all these comedic roles but his off the cuff comments are hysterical. He has a sense of humour designed to provoke, he wants to spar with you.

You’ve managed to get some great talking heads on there: James Cameron, Jamie Lee Curtis, Sly Stallone, Linda Hamilton and, er... former Prime minister David Cameron. How did that happen?

Arnold has a revolving door of VIPs coming to visit him at his home office, and I had said he needed to keep me abreast of certain people that come by. When he told me [David Cameron] was coming, I was like, 'I’ll be there'. I thought it was interesting that David Cameron said that when he ran as a green Conservative, that Arnold was a model [of the idea] that this could be done, and that’s how they first got talking.

Did Arnold have any say in the edit at all?

No, he didn’t have any editorial say. We did invite him into the office though. You know that scene where Arnold has all those pictures of bodybuilders on his bedroom wall? We did the same thing in the office to inspire us and everyday at 3 o'clock – I can’t believe I’m telling you this, it’s so goofy – we’d have 3 o’clock squats. Then it evolved to planks and it had evolved to hit a four-minute goal by the holidays. But he did see the episodes; we wanted to make sure we hadn’t got anything factually incorrect.

What’s next for Arnold?

He’s doing a fitness app, he’s got two books coming out, he’s got a self help book coming out, he’s doing his own podcast. He’s doing a workout newsletter... I mean, most people by now would be kicking back and saying, ‘I’m going to hang out with my cool animals and I’m going to go skiing’. He just wants to create and keep going. His latest joke is that he’s going to live forever, that’s his new goal. I’m continually impressed by the ongoing comedy of what appears to be his limitlessness.

Arnold streams on Netflix from June 7.

2023-06-05T08:01:26Z dg43tfdfdgfd