Arnold Schwarzenegger's return to showbiz has succeeded in one way: He's a hit in late-night.
The former California governor has been preparing a return to Hollywood, but becoming a punch line wasn't on the agenda. Yet that's exactly what's happened since Schwarzenegger acknowledged Tuesday that he had fathered a child of a longtime household staff member more than a decade ago. The revelation followed last week's separation of Schwarzenegger and his wife of 25 years, Maria Shriver.
Everyone has lined up with their Schwarzenegger impression and puns on movie titles like "Twins" and "True Lies." Schwarzenegger has long been a source of parody, but these revelations threaten to sully the generally positive image he's created over decades of moviemaking and seven years in government.
Many believe Schwarzenegger — who had been positioning himself as a highly paid speaker and green energy advocate — is politically relegated to John Edwards oblivion. Showbiz, however, can be forgiving of even the most appalling indiscretions. But the 63-year-old Schwarzenegger may have made rejuvenating his dormant movie career more challenging.
It doesn't help that the first project Schwarzenegger announced after leaving office in January was a children's cartoon, to be globally distributed by a company called Your Family Entertainment.
"The Governator" is a planned animated TV series, which is also to be spun into a comic book, video game and movie. It's a production of famed comic book author Stan Lee's Pow! Entertainment, Archie Comics and A2 Entertainment, and while it already has international deals, it doesn't yet have a U.S. network home. Schwarzenegger touted it at a press conference in Cannes and in an Entertainment Weekly cover story.
The show, in which he voices a superhero character, is to draw heavily from Schwarzenegger's personal life. At one point, Schwarzenegger said that Shriver was to voice a character, too, but those plans were scuttled.
Last week, Lee said Schwarzenegger's separation merely meant that the series will now include "a lot of girls having crushes on our hero."
"A2's `Governator' animated series and its lore is fictional and stands on its merits," Andy Heyward, co-president of A2 Entertainment, said in a statement. "The series stands on its own and is going forward as such."
He added: "Of course we wish the family the best in this challenging time."
Release is scheduled for late 2012.
Schwarzenegger told The Associated Press last month that his focus was now on show business, that "entertainment is the important thing right now." He's found Hollywood eager to welcome back an actor whose films have grossed more than $1.6 billion domestically, and whose international fame is greater than most A-list stars.
On the big screen, the most anticipation will fall on Schwarzenegger returning to arguably his most famous role: the cyborg in the "Terminator" films. 2009's "Terminator Salvation" attempted to reboot the franchise without him (Sam Worthington played the part) and made $125 million domestically, plus $246 million internationally.
The franchise is now being resuscitated for two more films. A package featuring Schwarzenegger as star, Justin Lin ("Fast Five") as director and Robert Cort producing was reportedly bought by Annapurna Films last week.
Annapurna Films declined to comment.
Schwarzenegger is also to star as a horse trainer in the planned drama "Cry Macho." It's scheduled to begin shooting in August, with Brad Furman ("The Lincoln Lawyer") directing a script based on the 1975 novel by N. Richard Nash.
For his rebooted movie career, veteran publicist Howard Bragman says the scandal is "a non-issue."
"Moviegoing audiences have seen a lot worse from celebrities," says Bragman. "The moviegoing audience tends to be younger males, and they just don't care."
Schwarzenegger has generally drawn largely male audiences. Female viewers are seen as more likely to boycott a performer who has betrayed his wife.
"Probably shouldn't try to do a romantic comedy right away," Bragman says. "But I don't see any reason Arnold can't have a much better movie career than he had a political career."
Though action films have generally favored the young, recent box office history suggests aging stars can be quite bankable. "Red," which starred Bruce Willis and Helen Mirren, earned more than $90 million domestically last year. Sylvester Stallone's "The Expendables" did even better, taking in $103 million domestically and an additional $171 million internationally.
The last time Schwarzenegger starred in a film was 2003's "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines." He's also made a handful of cameos, including in "The Expendables."
As bad as Schwarzenegger's image may be at the moment, many have recovered from seeming disaster. Though badly damaged from a prostitution scandal, Eliot Spitzer is now hosting "In the Arena" on CNN. Jude Law's image wasn't derailed after his affair with his children's former nanny. Hugh Grant eventually shook off his arrest with a prostitute.
And it will likely be a year or more before any of his projects in development see the light of day. The landscape could be very different for Schwarzenegger by then — so long as further skeletons aren't revealed.