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Arnie tries for subtlety, with guns, in 'Sabotage'

Cast members Joe Manganiello (L) and Arnold Schwarzenegger attend the Los Angeles premiere of 'Sabotage' at Regal Cinemas LA Live in Los Angeles, California, on March 19, 2014
Cast members Joe Manganiello (L) and Arnold Schwarzenegger attend the Los Angeles premiere of "Sabotage" at Regal Cinemas LA Live in Los Angeles, California, on March 19, 2014

By his own admission, Arnold Schwarzenegger is famous for "black and white," good-versus-bad films. So his latest movie is something of a departure, nuanced and complex, tender even.

Although of course, it is still violent and action-packed.

In "Sabotage," the 66-year-old actor plays Breacher, head of a special unit of the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) whose members start being brutally killed one by one, after a cartel bust.

He still spends a large part of the film armed to the teeth and in commando mode, but his character is also moving, obsessed with a tragic past, and capable of tenderness with his men.

"I've never played a character like this. My characters are usually black and white, I'm the good guy and there are the bad guys, then with a little bit of humor throughout the movie and that's it," he said.

"I thought that it would really be great for me to be challenged like that," he told reporters in Beverly Hills, before the movie's US release Friday.

Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger attends the Los Angeles premiere of 'Sabotage' at the Regal Cinemas LA Live in Los Angeles, California, March 19, 2014
Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger attends the Los Angeles premiere of "Sabotage" at the Regal Cinemas LA Live in Los Angeles, California, March 19, 2014

Challenging him was director David Ayer, who made 2012's "End of Watch" and wrote the screenplays for "The Fast and the Furious" and "Training Day" in 2001, and 2003's "S.W.A.T."

"When we got together, David had a whole list of things that he wanted me to do," said Arnie. "I love that he pushed me, because sometimes directors get intimidated when they meet someone like me."

Ayer said he was keen to put the former Mr. Universe to the test. "It's showing a new version of Arnold," the 45-year-old director told AFP.

"Here is a man who's had this long famous career, and starred in many successful movies and then to have the opportunity to really work with him as a creative actor and to draw new things out of him was a wonderful challenge."

The megastar returned to the big screen after leaving office as governor of California in 2011, making two "Expendables" movies followed by "The Last Stand" (2013) and "Escape Plan" last year.

He has four other films in the works, including a return to the cyborg role which made him famous in "Terminator: Genesis," due out next year.

"People love to see him as strong men, a leader, with the gun fights and action. I delivered that but it's also seeing him in a new way, with soul, heart, with sadness and complexity," said Ayer.

For the Austrian-born actor, it meant having to forget some old habits.

Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger attends the Los Angeles premiere of 'Sabotage' at the Regal Cinemas LA Live in Los Angeles, California, March 19, 2014
Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger attends the Los Angeles premiere of "Sabotage" at the Regal Cinemas LA Live in Los Angeles, California, March 19, 2014

"There was the weapons training and I said, 'Why do I need weapons training? I mean, I've shot more guns than anyone in movie history. I've killed more people than anyone so why do we need to go through weapons training.'

"He said, 'Go down to the LA SWAT team and you have to figure this out. I want you to learn the ballet of this team'."

The former bodybuilder compared it to training in a gym, constantly repeating exercises to get better. "I think all of this preparation that he suggested was fantastic," he said.

While there is some subtlety, the film doesn't skimp on action and violence, notably strong in showing the bodies mutilated by the mystery killer.

"It's a bit of an homage to the films that I grew up on, and directors like De Palma, and Walter Hill and Sam Peckinpah who made very brutal kind of masculine movies.

"I think violence is political now: maybe if there is no violence in movies, there will be no violence in the world. I don't believe that. The video games our children play are much, much more violent than anything in this movie."

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