Zade Rosenthal
Josh Wolk
November 24, 1999 AT 05:00 AM EST

Looking to return from his two-and-a-half-year movie hiatus, the notoriously pragmatic Arnold Schwarzenegger did everything but develop a calculus theorem to select ”End of Days,” in which he battles Satan on New Year’s Eve 1999. ”This had all the things I basically needed to come back with,” he explains. ”It had the supernatural, which is important today, because people today love supernatural movies like ‘The Sixth Sense.’ Second, the timing was perfect, because it was the only movie that dealt with the millennium. [Satan needs to impregnate a woman in the last hour of 1999 to spawn the Antichrist.] Third, it was very important to do a big movie, to make a big splash when I come back with a big budget and everything. And four, I wanted to show I’m physically [recovered from my 1997 heart surgery[ so I needed a chance to show stunts and the craziness.”

Sure, it sounds like Schwarzenegger is just reprising the blockbuster formula that made him a star in the ’80s, but at least he added one new ingredient: acting. Instead of playing his usual stoic killing machine, in ”Days” he occasionally gets dramatic. His character, for example, is suicidal and alcoholic over the recent murders of his wife and daughter, and in one scene he even does some Schwarzen-weeping. (Of course, he quickly stops the blubbering in favor of shooting many, many bullets.) ”We did not want to go the traditional way, where you come in as the knight in shining armor and you know in the first five minutes, aha, he’s gonna kick some butt and wipe out the enemy,” says Schwarzenegger. ”That worked in the ’80s and early ’90s, but it doesn’t work anymore.”

But will audiences even show up to notice? Since Arnold’s prime, dramatic actors like Nicolas Cage and Tommy Lee Jones have become the typical action heros, leaving musclers like Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone looking like bulging-pec’d relics. Even ”Days” producer Armyan Bernstein was initially concerned that today’s teens, who weren’t weaned on ”Terminator,” would ignore the film. ”We felt the core Arnold audience was going to be there, but there’s a whole wave of young people who maybe didn’t see ‘Eraser,”’ or any of his other movies, says Bernstein. But once the publicity campaign for ”End of Days” kicked off, the loyal producer became convinced that the big guy was timeless. ”We brought Arnold over to MTV the other day to do ‘Total Request Live,”’ says Bernstein. ”And the street was ablaze with kids screaming, ‘Arnold!’ All these young guys were taking off their shirts and flexing. He’s one of these guys who is cool to young people.”

Universal is praying that Schwarzenegger’s cool factor pays off at the box office, but there’s one person who won’t get down on his knees: Arnold. ”We all want people to like us. It’s just that the profession I have is so out there so every time I have a failure, a billion people witness it. I like to be on the edge like that. That’s why I’m in this profession.”

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