By Olivia Tracey
Although movie stars in Hollywood are an everyday event, it’s not every day that you get to interview the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, with a one-on-one photo to boot. Such was the case on my visit to the production set to witness the making of "End of Days," which, with a budget exceeding $100 million, stands as the most expensive independent movie to date. Mind you, I have an angel to thank for the invitation,. Schwarzenegger’s co-star, Gabriel Byrne, who plays the very sinister Satan on screen. But of course, isn’t that the mark of a gifted actor, that he can run the gamut of characters from A to Z, both losing and using his real character at will.
In the case of Arnie, he is very much using is own character traits as the do-gooder who more than pulls his not insubstantial weight as private security agent Jerico Kane on a mission to protect the untainted Christine (Robin Tunney) from Satan (Byrne). According to Satanic prophesies, every thousand years the Great Evil leaves his prison to search for his chosen bride in order to create his kingdom on earth. Therefore, our hero must protect Christine in order to ensure the future safety of mankind.
Meeting with Schwarzenegger was quite a moment. Though definitely a statuesque figure at about 6-foot-1, he is not quite as towering as you’d expect. He has, however, more than his fair share of presence. He is also an absolute delight, relaxed and happy to be back on the set after a two-year absence due to ill-health. Well, hasn’t he always promised "I’ll be back!" Mind you, he is especially thrilled to return with a big impact movie like "End of Days, " a good-conquers-evil philosophy in which he gets to play less android more human, the underdog who turns hero.
Sporting a fine make-up job of stitches, cuts and bruises, and gripping an unlit cigar between his grimacing teeth, he recalls his rise to fame from the first of his 13 Mr. Universe titles at the age of 20 to his debut movie, "Hercules in New York." He laughs when he remembers his gung-ho approach to acting, a certain "I will conquer Hollywood" onslaught. However, then only six months in L.A. the Austrian body-builder started to study drama along with working on both his English and his accent, and in time learned the art of subtlety and sensitivity in his performance. And, of course, the rest is history.
Being married to the Kennedys’ Maria Shriver, it’s not surprising that he has an interest in politics and social issues. Working consistently as an international coach with the Special Olympics as well as establishing "The Inner City Games Foundation," he is eager to share his privileged life with the less privileged, eternally grateful for the wonderful opportunities afforded him to date in America.
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Indeed, our own Gabriel Byrne has not been short of opportunities either. He is already at the cream of the film industry, and "End of Days" will no doubt place him firmly in the supreme echelon. Dressed in devilish black, he sat among the press group, chatting casually as though he were at home with his mother in the kitchen. That’s not to say that I felt like his mother. Believe me, I would never want to be Gabriel Byrne’s mother.
Speaking with the "End of Days" producer, Armyan Bernstein of Beacon Communications, I was told that for Satan he needed "a good actor who is also seductive." Of course, Gabriel smiled coyly at the word "seductive," brushing it off in his quiet humble way.
"Well, evil is seductive," he volunteered. "That’s why we have such a battle with it. In this movie, Satan is not so much the larger-than-life demon, but rather the everyday character who could be seated next to you on a plane."
To add to his appeal, Gabriel also demonstrates a dry humor and a charming ability to laugh at himself. Referring to the scene where he holds up Arnie with one hand, he described his son’s ego-crushing reaction: "But Dad, that was special effects." Just for the record, it wasn’t special effects but Byrne’s pure Irish brawn. And there goes that sex appeal thing again! But of course Byrne continues to downplay his manly vigor with a description of the gun-shooting scenes where ketchup-filled squibs are attached to his body, waiting to explode with each gunshot, causing a sharp tingling sensation as he squirms inside with tension, trying desperately not to anticipate the explosion.
Nevertheless, "End of Days" places our Gabriel in very good company indeed, with his "Usual Suspects" co-star Kevin Pollak, alongside a contingency of prime Hollywood behind-the-scenes talent including Special Effects artist Stan Winston (nine Academy-Award nominations and four wins for "Aliens," "Jurassic Park" and two for "Terminator 2: Judgment Day"), Production Designer Richard Holland ("Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" and "The Princess Bride"), and director and cinematographer Peter Hyams ("The Relic," "The Pressidio" and "Time Cop"). So one could safely conclude that "End of Days" could be the start of something big for Byrne’s already illustrious career.
"End of Days" opens nationwide today, Nov. 24. It premiers shortly afterward in Dublin on Dec. 10 with all voluntary donations going to the Aine O’Connor Foundation, Gabriel’s former love who died of cancer and to whom he is dedicating the movie. You see, I told you he was an angel, with a big and beautiful heart.