For the past 12 years, whenever Arnold Schwarzenegger had a film or pet project to promote, he found reporters and fans asking the same question over and over again.
"The first thing they always ask is: 'Are you going to do another 'Terminator'? and 'When are you going to say, 'I'm back'?" Schwarzenegger told reporters at a press junket promoting "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines."
"I knew there was a tremendous demand for the character and the movie and so I was looking forward to the time where I could again put on the leather jacket and put on the sunglasses and jump on my motorcycle and go crazy out there and be a machine," he confessed.
The third installment of the wildly popular sci-fi franchise, which opened Wednesday, picks up a decade after John Connor (Nick Stahl) helped prevent Judgement Day -- the day Skynet's highly developed network of machines was fated to become self-aware and destroy mankind. Aug. 29, 1997, came and went without incident, despite Skynet's twice-failed attempts to assassinate Connor and wage war on humanity.
Now 22, Connor lives "off the grid" -- no home, no job, no credit cards. No record that he exists. No way he can be traced by Skynet. That is, not until Skynet's most sophisticated, futuristic cyborg killing machine (Kristanna Loken) is sent back through time to complete the job her predecessor left unfinished. Helping Connor save the world from another possible apocalypse are a replica of the cyborg Terminator that once tried to kill him (Schwarzenegger) and the kindly veterinarian (Claire Danes) Connor befriends.
Although Schwarzenegger was certain he wanted to reprise his most famous role, the 56-year-old actor and former bodybuilder admitted he worried about not looking as good as he did in the first film, which was released in 1984.
"One of the main concerns I had right from the beginning was: 'Can I get my body back in shape the way it was 20 years ago in 'Terminator' and 12 years ago in "Terminator 2"?' So, it was a challenge because obviously times have changed," he said.
To look his best, Schwarzenegger said he hit the gym and trained two or three hours a day for several months.
"Even while I was filming, any time that was available where I did not work, I used a half an hour here, an hour there, working out with weights to make sure that I come in in great shape and not disappoint the fans and not disappoint myself," he recalled.
Asked how he is embracing the aging process, Schwarzenegger insisted, "I don't have the same choices you have.
"The average person out there can say: 'Well, things have changed. I'm just older now and I have a different body now,'" he explained. "When you have millions of people look at your body, there is no choice. You have to produce the same body no matter what it takes and so it just took a lot of training and a lot of effort and not thinking about the obstacles like, 'You had a motorcycle accident or you had surgery.' You just forget about all this and live in denial and tell yourself: 'Okay. I'm training now for the Mr. Olympia competition or Mr. Universe competition' and I have to be in the best shape because I have to be in the best competition, so with that kind of mentality I approached all the training."
Noting that most people's metabolism slows down after they hit 40, Schwarzenegger revealed he also stuck to a strict diet in his quest for a fitter bod.
"You just eat chicken and turkey and meats and fish and vegetables and not eat the things that I love to eat, which is bread and ice cream and apple strudel and all of that," he noted. "I have to stay away from that and make the movie more important than just what I like to eat."
Remarked "T3"'s director Jonathan Mostow of his leading man: "When we started filming, Arnold was the exact same dimensions that he was when he did 'T2...' That's not special effects. That's just old-fashioned working out."
Among the few major differences between the latest "Terminator" flick and its two predecessors is the absence of female lead Linda Hamilton, who played John Connor's freedom-fighter mom, Sarah, in the first two films, and her former husband, writer/director and "Terminator" creator James Cameron. Hamilton's character, it is explained in "T3," died of natural causes some time after the second movie ends.
Schwarzenegger admits that not even he knows how Cameron will feel about the film based on characters and a world he helped create.
"This is a question I couldn't answer... how Jim Cameron would act when he sees 'T3,'" the actor acknowledged. "Because we have to find out, when he sees it, whether he likes it or doesn't like it. I think he made it very clear that there is a part of him that wants it to fail and there is a part of him that wants the movie to succeed. I think he has mixed emotions because he feels it's his baby. He started it. He wrote and directed the first and second one and I think this one time-wise, it didn't work out. He didn't want to be a part of it under the constraints that it has to be a summer movie 2003 and he has to do it now. He doesn't operate that way. I thoroughly appreciate that. JC and I, we are very good friends. We've stayed good friends over all these years and we ride the motorcycles together almost every Sunday morning together and we have a blast."
Much has been made recently about Schwarzenegger's political aspirations, particularly whether he will run for governor of California in the near future. Although the actor said he hasn't ruled anything out, he assured reporters he has no plans to give up his movie career any time soon.
"I'm looking forward to doing many more films," he said, pointing out that he has several movies in the works right now. "I'm moving forward with full steam. Why should I be stopping at this point?"
Asked if he was worried that filmmaking might cut into potential campaign time, he replied, "The political side of it, I can think of as time goes on.
... if the time is right and there is a need for me then I will be more than happy to jump in, but that is not something I have to worry about right now."