Why James Cameron Made Arnold Schwarzenegger Pay for Their First Lunch

James Cameron originally hated the idea of Arnold in his film, and planned to start an argument with the then-bodybuilding champion.

This still from a training video shows Arnold Schwarzenegger around the same time he first met with James Cameron.

This lunch meeting was a courtesy. That's how James Cameron saw it.


The studio executives who were financing The Terminator had wanted a big star to play the lead. James still felt his friend Lance Henriksen was a good fit, but Orion executive Mike Medavoy suggested an alternative: bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose career was just beginning on a film called Conan: The Barbarian. They thought Schwarzenegger should play the "good guy," Kyle Reese.


James felt strongly they were wrong, but he knew he had to play the political game. He came up with a plan: He'd take the lunch meeting with Arnold, but start an argument over something small. That way, the studio would see that the two wouldn't get along on set, and wouldn't pressure James to hire him.


But Arnold was charming, and he was impressed by James' story, and over their lunch shared his ideas on how The Terminator — the villain of the film — should behave.


"He should be like a machine," Arnold said. "No expression whatsoever."


That scene is depicted in the fourth episode of BLOCKBUSTER: THE STORY OF JAMES CAMERON — the award-winning "biopic podcast" series, starring The Walking Dead's Ross Marquand, from filmmaker and journalist Matt Schrader.



BLOCKBUSTER is free on Apple Podcasts and Spotify, and all other platforms. BLOCKBUSTER is winner of Adweek's Creative Podcast of the Year, and earned two Webby Honorees and NYF Radio Awards, including for Best Podcast Miniseries.


James and Arnold seemed to be enjoy each other's company — at least until James suggested he'd like to sketch Arnold's face — and for Arnold to consider playing the villain himself.


"No, no, no, no" Arnold responded, in Episode 4 of BLOCKBUSTER.


James quickly drew the geometric shapes of Arnold's square jaw anyway — which he would later illustrate into a painting he'd send Arnold to convice him the role was right for him.


But when the check came at the end of their lunch, James realized he'd forgotten his wallet.


In Hollywood, the actor never pays for lunch. It's considered bad form. But Arnold quickly reached for his own wallet.


"I got this," he said in Episode 4. That story is featured in BLOCKBUSTER: THE STORY OF JAMES CAMERON, free on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and all other platforms.


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