Schwarzenegger confesses he was 'way too ripped' to play Conan

The actor and former California governor revealed on Reddit that he had to gain body fat to play the title role in the 1982 fantasy film. Oh, and he explained his technique for biting a dead vulture.

Gael Cooper
CNET editor Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." She's been a journalist since 1989, working at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, Twin Cities Sidewalk, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and NBC News Digital. She's Gen X in birthdate, word and deed. If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
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Gael Cooper
2 min read

Turns out there is such a thing as being too muscular. But only if you're Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The actor and former California governor addressed a rumor on Reddit last week about his role in the 1982 fantasy film "Conan the Barbarian," and unlike most film rumors, it turned out to be true. Well, partially.

Enlarge Image

Arnold Schwarzenegger had to slack off on the workouts before he could play "Conan The Barbarian" in the 1982 movie.

The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

In the Today I Learned (TIL) subreddit, Reddit user hashzlingingslasher noted that he'd heard Schwarzenegger was too muscular to properly swing a sword in "Conan," and had to slack off on the workouts accordingly.

But then Schwarzenegger himself, an occasional Reddit contributor, chimed in to set the record straight.

"Great memories but here is the reality," Schwarzenegger wrote. "Working with [director and co-writer] John Milius was fantastic, because he was so hard-core. But it is true that he thought I looked too much like a bodybuilder -- I needed to lose some of the cuts because I had just won Mr. Olympia and I was way too ripped to be a barbarian. So he told me to eat normally and not diet at all -- I let my body fat get to around 12%." (Note: While that's quite a change for Arnold, most people would never come close to a fat percentage this low, according to the CDC.)

But the part about being too muscular to sword-fight isn't true. "I had no issue with swinging swords even before I changed my body," the actor said. "I had been training with Sensei Yamazaki for three years before we filmed ... I knew I had gotten good with the sword when James Earl Jones let me hit him right in the neck on the bloodbag even though if I'd missed by a couple inches I could have hit his head or his ear. His neck had a protective leather cover under the bloodbag and I didn't miss."

Schwarzenegger also provided more details about a "Conan" factoid that's been floating around for some time -- that he actually bites into a real vulture during a scene where Conan has been crucified on the Tree of Woe. Dead, but real.

"It is true that I had to bite a real dead vulture because in those days they couldn't make one that would look good in a close-up," he acknowledged. "So they soaked it in alcohol to kill bacteria and dried it out. It still had lice."

Take that, Ozzy Osbourne.