Rumor Central: Were Arnold Schwarzenegger’s manly muscles preventing him from being Conan the Barbarian?
Conan the Barbarian, Schwarzenegger’s breakout role in 1982, remains to-date one of the greatest all out assaults of ass kicking that has ever graced the silver screen. Sporting a fine score produced by Basil Poledouris, and an excellent cast, Conan has been winning its way into the hearts of viewers for decades. But upon viewing the film many fans of Arnie noticed his slightly less toned physique compared to his body during his 1980 Mr. Olympia victory (*cough* his 7th Mr. Olympia title *cough*). For whatever reason a nasty rumor had spawned within the bowels of the internet (imagine that, right?) that he was so swollen he couldn’t swing a sword properly, and had to cut weight for all the stunts required during the course of filming.
Don’t get me wrong, Arnold was still stacked to the socks and juiced to the gills, but there is a noticeable difference. It also does makes sense that biceps made of steel wouldn’t be flexible enough for all of the blade-twirling action taking place in Conan (seriously go back and watch some of those sword stunts he pulls off they are pretty gnarly). So, as rumors often do, it spread until it became hardened lore woven into the fabric of the myth that is Conan The Barbarian.
Never fear though, Social Media is always here to help dispel these nasty rumors. Reddit in particular helped vanquish the rumor during a Today I Learned post (TIL). To those unfamiliar with TIL, it is someone posting a fun fact they learned while reading on a particular subject. The subject was concerning Arnold having to tone down his workout regime to be able to swing his sword properly during Conan. The Terminator himself, posting under the username GovSchwarzenegger showed up to set the record straight once and for all:
Just seeing this. Great memories but here is the reality.
Working with John Milius was fantastic, because he was so hardcore.
But it is true that he thought I looked too much like a bodybuilder - I needed to lose some of the cuts because I had just won Mr. Olympia and I was way too ripped to be a barbarian. So he told me to eat normally and not diet at all - I let my body fat get to around 12%.
I had no issue with swinging swords even before I changed my body. I had been training with Sensei Yamazaki for three years before we filmed. I'd also been training in kendo and horseback riding for those three years by the time we filmed. Reps, reps, reps.
I knew I had gotten good with the sword when James Earl Jones let me hit him right in the neck on the bloodbag even though if I'd missed by a couple inches I could have hit his head or his ear. His neck had a protective leather cover under the bloodbag and I didn't miss.
I got attacked by a dog on the very first day of shooting - he pulled me down from the rocks into a thorn bush and I had to be stitched up on the set. Milius walked up to me and said "this sets the tone" - he meant this in a positive way.
Also, it is true that I had to bite a real dead vulture because in those days they couldn't make one that would look good in a close-up. So they soaked it in alcohol to kill bacteria and dried it out. It still had lice.”
Attacked by a dog? Eating actual vultures infested with lice? If anything, this rumor has created an even greater chapter to the legend of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Arnold was so good with a sword James Earl Jones trusted him with his life when it came to doing the stunts. The lack of muscle mass had nothing to do with Arnie’s skills or abilities with a sword, but rather had everything to do with committing to his role. He had become too cut to be believable as an actual barbarian from centuries ago, so he woofed down some donuts and cheeseburgers for a while, and came out looking… well still pretty cut. So there you have it folks, there is nothing to the rumor and you heard it from Mr. Olympia himself.
Here’s to hoping that Schwarzenegger can recapture the magic that made the first Conan so great when The Legend of Conan (The rumored/confirmed 3rd movie in the series that will have Arnold reprising his role) does finally hit the theater.
Until next time folks keep watching movies and keep being skeptical of crazy stuff you read on the internet.
Rumor Status: UNTRUE
Stephen Gipson is a writer and contributor for Cinema Soapbox