LOS ANGELES - Arnold Schwarzenegger's big Hollywood comeback is not going quite as planned.
Since stepping down as Governor of California in 2011, the actor-turned- politician-turned-actor-again had starring roles in two action films last year: Escape Plan with Sylvester Stallone and The Last Stand, the first movie he headlined in a decade.
Both tanked in the United States; now, so has his third and latest effort, the crime thriller Sabotage, which is about an elite squad of drug-enforcement agents who rob a drug cartel. It scraped up a mere US$5.2 million (S$6.5 million) when it debuted in the United States two weeks ago - a career low for a man who was once the biggest action star, with hits such as The Terminator (1984), Predator (1987) and Total Recall (1990) to his name.
Yet the 66-year-old seems undeterred - he has already signed on to do the upcoming sequels to The Terminator and two of his other big successes from the 1980s, the comedy Twins and the Conan the Barbarian fantasy franchise.
Speaking to the media ahead of his new film, which opens in Singapore today, the Austrian-born former bodybuilder says he did not think for one second it was going to be easy returning to show business.
"I think if you want to get to the top, whether it's in your profession or mine or politics, it's always a grind, it's always tough.
"And so I don't look at it as, 'Is it going to be easy or tough?' I just say, 'That's what I want to do, I want to get back into the movie business', like I always envisioned. And I'm going to start by again working my way up until I have successful movies again.
"You know, whatever it takes, I will do, and I will take my work seriously."
And lest anyone doubts that he had the same work ethic during his two-term stint as Governor of California from 2003 to 2011, he emphasises that he started thinking about acting only when he left office.
"Until the last day of my governorship, I refused to have any meetings with studio executives to talk about my future or doing a movie.
"Because I always said I cannot do this job and represent the people if I'm still thinking about myself. What I was doing as governor was much bigger than myself; you're representing a state with 38 million people and the eighth largest economy in the world. This is so big that you cannot all of a sudden start thinking, in the last six months of your governorship, 'Oh, well, what is the movie I'm going to do three months after I'm finished with this?' So I had my first meetings after Jerry Brown was elected and sworn in."
But just as Schwarzenegger always planned to return to acting eventually, he has not left politics behind completely either.
In 2012, the card-carrying Republican spent US$20 million - his own money and that of donors - to launch a policy think-tank at the University of Southern California, the USC Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy. Its goal: to find bipartisan policy solutions to political, economic and environmental reform.
The talkative actor is a relentless name-dropper when it comes to his political connections. Upon seeing a French reporter at the Sabotage press event, he says: "France! I almost went to France a few months ago, to meet your president. We had scheduled some discussions but postponed them to a little later."
And he volunteers that the first thing he did after stepping down as governor was to make speeches, not movies.
"I made a bunch of speeches around the world because that's what you do when you come out of politics, right?" he says, laughing.