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Arnold Schwarzanegger committed to star in Collateral Damage on a chair lift, but the character is very much a man with his feet on the ground, a firefighter caught up in exceptional circumstances. A bit like the New York heroes of September 11, 2001.

Arnold Schwarzenegger was the first to sign on after hearing about the project, which was brought to his attention on a chair lift by producer Steven Reuther while the two were skiing together in Sun Valley. “This is how I always get projects from Warner Bros. Pictures,” Schwarzenegger quips, “this is the same way I found out about Eraser and Batman & Robin – someone is always pulling out a script on the chair lift and saying, ‘Look at this!’”

"In the wrong place at the wrong time"

Running late to meet his wife and son at a downtown high-rise complex one morning, the L.A. firefighter and devoted family man Gordy Brewer arrives in time to witness a bomb explode in a nearby vehicle, showering the area with debris and shattered glass. The explosion is credited to El Lobo, The Wolf, an infamous rebel leader in Colombia’s decades-long civil war. Its targets were members of the Colombian consulate and American intelligence agents; its casualties included one civilian woman and one small boy - Gordy’s own family, innocent people who lost their lives for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

When the official enquiry bogs down after weeks of red tape, Gordy takes matters into his own hands; he’s got nothing left to lose. 

“I liked the action of the story,” Schwarzenegger says, “as well as the drama and frustration my character Gordy experiences, all the emotional elements and the realism.” Being a family man himself, the actor felt an immediate empathy with his character. “When you love your family you can’t imagine what it would be like to see them get killed right in front of your eyes so it’s easy to get the emotional element of the story. All you have to do is imagine what it must be like and you feel it immediately. This is what drives Gordy.” 

He was also pleased at the opportunity to portray a firefighter. “I can be a hero on the screen, but the real heroes are these guys who are out there every day, bravely doing their jobs,” Schwarzenegger acknowledges. “This was dramatically demonstrated after the terrorist attacks on September 11, when we saw so many firefighters, along with police and rescue workers, risking their lives – and in some cases, losing their lives – in order to save others. 

“I have always had the utmost respect for firefighters,” he continues,” and now my respect has been heightened tenfold. I believe there is a whole new appreciation now for firefighters in the United States and around the world.”

For Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has become an international icon portraying characters that are absolutely in control of every situation, the role of Gordy Brewer adds a degree of depth. Although Gordy is a man of action, capable of great stamina and purpose, he is also a man making his way through unknown terrain, consumed by grief, discouragement and frustration. 

“Arnold’s performance is compelling,” states director Davis. “He did a fabulous job with this role. His Gordy is believable, compassionate, smart and driven. In looking at Arnold’s body of work, he has never had an opportunity before to play a real character in a reality-based drama.”

“Arnold Schwarzenegger surprised some people when he did Twins,” producer David Foster recalls, “because no one thought of him then as a comic actor. And it turns out he has a great gift for comedy. Now everyone takes that for granted. In Collateral Damage, he reveals another facet of his talent by presenting himself as an ordinary working man who’s got himself deep in dangerous territory and is going to tough it out. It’s more than the confident, indestructible Arnold character we’re used to seeing. He’s stunning. He really delivers.”

"a significantly different Arnold"

“This is a significantly different Arnold we’re seeing here,” echoes producer Steven Reuther. “Rather than the invincible hero role that he’s known for, he’s an average man who had a job and a family and is suddenly way out of his depth and thrust into heroism. He draws his strength from deep inside this time. You want to say ‘hey, where’s his machine gun?’ but that’s not what this character is all about.”

With Schwarzenegger committed to the lead role, the filmmakers cast the rest of the culturally diverse roles. “I was very lucky,” says Davis, “to cast an eclectic group of actors for the film, including Francesca Neri, a talented and beautiful Italian actress, Cliff Curtis, a gifted chameleon from New Zealand, Elias Koteas, with whom I’ve wanted to work for years and who evokes for me qualities of Robert De Niro and Robert Duval, John Leguizamo, who I think is a comic genius, and the ever-magical John Turturro.”

Published May 9, 2002

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