The door to Schwarzenegger's suite at the Dorchester is ajar, but I can't see his face. All I can see from here is the back of his armchair and two shoulders so big you could park a Renault Espace on each of them. That's not the scary bit though. In between those shoulders sits Schwarzenegger's head. When Schwarzenegger talks, his bronzed, muscular head stays still. But that's not the scary bit either. The scary bit is that from this angle, you get to see how scrawny and simpering mere mortals look to him – an effect accentuated in this case by the presence of tiny, terrified Sun scribe Dominic Mohan. Arnie's PA, a middle-aged American woman who looks like Miriam Margolyes informs Mohan that his time is up and The Sun photographer may now enter to take a quick snap of the two. As the smudge enters the room, Mohan seizes his chance to ask one more question. If Arnie got the chance to clone anyone in the world, who would it be?
Ever the pro, Arnie reels off a few great thinkers throughout the course of history. He would clone George Washington, Freud and Jung, Jesus Christ and, perhaps surprisingly, given his Republican affiliations, Karl Marx. As Mohan scuttles away and I take over, Arnie expands on his theme as though he hasn't even noticed this is another interview: "Imagine if you could clone yourself! I could be taking my kids to school right now. Or be with my wife while I'm talking to you here. Or another [Arnie] could be out there in the States dealing with my new movie over there. And then I wouldn't have to take off for a week and come over here."
This week, Arnie's been spending a lot of time talking about the whys and wherefores of cloning. That's what happens when your new film attempts to address the complex minutiae of such a complex moral conundrum. That said, The Sixth Day doesn't try that hard. Arnie plays Adam Gibson, a pilot who goes home one day and discovers that he's already at home. Before he can confront himself, he's bundled away by the evil Saffron from Republica whose even more evil paymaster Matt Goss runs an illegal cloning plant. It turns out that only a terrible mix-up led to Adam being cloned in the first place, but now the real Adam's rumbled their game – HE MUST BE DESTROYED! Inevitably, the other Adam realises what's up. Thereafter, The Sixth Day becomes – oh joy of joys! – a buddy movie starring Arnie and himself! Arnie himself isn't totally averse to such a reductive interpretation. "We wanted to throw that issue out there early," he says, “and let the film deal with the fact that he is a little man… an ordinary man who has been thrown in these extraordinary circumstances. They are trying to kill him! He has to fight this rich guy with killer squads! Then it becomes an entertainment and you don't really stay with the rules of cloning.”
But there are, aren't there, what Betty Boo would term “much seriouser issues”. Should human beings be allowed to play God? In this eerie futureworld, the answer seems unclear. When Adam's family dog dies, his colleagues encourage him to go to RePet™, a mall outlet where your the DNA of your freshly deceased mutt is used to create another one! Perhaps sensing the imminent danger that the planet is in, Adam thinks that we should accept death as inevitability of life. Parallels abound here with a real-life tragedy a few years ago, in which Arnie accidentaly reversed onto his own dog with his military vehicle. Had RePet™ been available to him, would he have taken his flattened pooch to be regenerated? "Ur… I would have done it in two seconds, for sure. I never really felt that [cloning] was playing God. That's the religious spin, you know? It's like when you have an operation. Who is operating here? It's not Gaaahd! People in the olden days used to die at the age of 50, and now medicine, science has developed so that the average age of mortality is 77. It wasn't Gaaahd that did that!"
Arnie looks vaguely tetchy, as if those religious objectors were sat right in front of him. I hazard a joke. "Well, George Burns did a very good job of playing God!” – an allusion to the 1977 film Oh God!
“Yeah exactly. That's funny,” says Arnie, not actually laughing.
Don't you think the end of The Sixth Day was quite disappointing? I was expecting both Adams to go back to the family home, to live with their wife and kids. I mean, there are times when my wife has told me that she could do with an extra one of me! Know what I mean?!!?
"Hu-huh!" A funny thought rolls into Arnie"s head. “I don't think that my wife could handle that! I think I am already too much for her, being me!”
Hey, it looks like you're handier between the sheets than I am.
"Well…" ponders the father of four, treating the suggestion with a gravity that, frankly, flatters it. 'It's not only… I wasn't just thinking about the bed. I'm thinking about so many other issues."
Does Arnie have a sense of humour? I suspect he does. He's just not going to share it with the little… sorry, ordinary people sent in to help him promote his films. In Arnie's world work and play are clearly demarcated. Later on that day, at a press conference, he points out the brutal semantic truth of the job he's paid to do: "I am in showbusiness, the business of show." And part of being such a good businessman is a keen awareness of your own myth. When Warners paid him 20 million pounds for six weeks work when he played Mr Freeze in Batman, he explained the reasons. “I can pull in overseas audiences. That is why they are so free with their money.” It's a myth he's happy to play up to it when it suits him. Recently, he was said to have entered a radio phone-in inviting people to impersonate Arnie. "That's correct," he confirms, with teutonic briskness, "It was down in the jungle of Mexico where we were filming and I heard this on the radio, so I thought, "Let's have fun with it, let's see if I could win." So I did my impression, and the DJ said it was very good, but it still didn't make it. He didn't like the way I said, ‘I'll be back.’”
Really? What was the matter with it?
It's just that some people would call in and say it more like…" Arnold Schwarzenegger proceeds to do an excellent impersonation of someone impersonating him: a camp, overripe "I'LL BE BEEARHK!!!”
Arnie leans over to pick up a glass of water. Even when engaged in such a simple act, it looks like there are three dwarves inside him, operating everything. The first time he came to London though, Arnie wasn't quite so terrifying. The American dream had yet to co-opt the young Austrian and make him a star. He hadn't even won the first of his many Mr Universe titles.
"I was lodging with the Bennett family at 335 Romford Road. Mr Bennett ran a gymnasium. They saw my potential and helped me."
You lived in Romford!
"It was a very exciting time," he recalls, getting dangeously near to emotion, "I felt like I was part of a family. The Bennett family that had a huge amount of children and I felt like one of them. I was sleeping in the same room as them, having a great time and working out with Wag Bennett."
So how was life as an honorary Essex boy? Did you frequent the local pubs?
"Yah. Local places. He would take me to interesting steak places and stuff like that. It's great when you are part of a sport like that because you are part of a family. And I was competing for the first time. It was a very simple life."
But life is quite simple when you have one driving ambition, isn't it?
"Not just in that way," corrects the man who inspired McBain in The Simpsons, "Also the fact that it was not in the wealthiest area and the people were realy kind. I remember when I went to the Post Office and I didn't speak very good English. This lady would be there for 15 minutes showing me how to send mail in an envelope to my mother, and redo my address. You couldn't find that kind of spirit today."
For Arnie, it was those days that mapped out his destiny. At the beginning of the 60s, the young Schwarzenegger was a frail youngster growing up in the shadow of his tyrannical father. By the end of it, he was Mr Universe! Indeed, is goes some way to explaining why I'm so intimidated by the great man. Here I am, slouched on the Dorchester's plush settee, a belly the size of Mrs Bennett's pouffe and breasts that ripple in the wind. You gotta help me, Conan. What kind of fitness regime would you recommend for me?
"First of all,” says the man who, in Pumping Iron, who even saw off The Incredible Hulk, "you have to want to be in shape, you know what I'm saying? Because otherwise, the whole idea is bogus. You can't just send people to the gym if they don't want to go. Then, if you really want to be in shape, I’d just say that a good reasonable diet and half an hour of exercise a day can go a very long way.”
You’re right. Maybe I’m not ready. I think I’m too fond of pies.
I don't mean like American pies. I mean steak and kidney pies, chicken and mushroom. Savoury pies.
"I think that a country with Salzburger Nokel and Sachertort and Wiener Schnitzel has its own problems. Or a country with hamburgers and cheeseburgers and Haagen Dasz ice cream also has its problems."
All right, all right! Naively imagining that this last genuine, ineluctable glimmer of actual humour constitutes a breakthrough in our relationship, I naively decide that the time is right to ask Arnie a personal favour. Whenever I interview someone really famous I ask them if they cab record an outgoing answerphone message for me. Nothing too fancy. Just, "Hi this is Arnold Schwarzenegger. Peter isn't home right now, but…HE'LL BE BACK!"
We're suddenly interrupted by a pounding at the door. A woman from Columbia Pictures storms into the room and declares, "Peter! THAT is so no!"
"You can't do that!"
"You just can"t."
The Bee Gees sang for me, you know.
Lionel Blair – he did two messages!!
"It's OK," says the American woman, we've got it covered" – as if I'd made a lunge at Arnie. As if anyone would!
"You can't do that," reiterates the Columbia woman, "No IDs, autographs, anything like that. It's just…"
But Mohan got his picture taken!
Alas, it's all in vain. With in a matter of seconds, my interview has been, un, terminated. No formal goodbyes with the big fella; no more polite exchanges. My protestations are no echoing down an empty corridor.
And just as we were just beginning to get along. I guess that's the business of show.