When Patrick Schwarzenegger was a boy, he was so obsessed with being on his father's movie sets that he would never leave. For days on end, he'd sleep in the trailers of the Terminator or Mr. Freeze, binging on candy from craft service and riding a golf cart around the studio backlot.
"That's why my kids hated when I became governor," recalled Arnold Schwarzenegger, "because they felt like the fun days were over."
Despite the family's transition from Hollywood to Sacramento, the younger Schwarzenegger clung tightly to his memories of the movie business. Now, at 24, he's attempting to recapture some of that childhood joy by embarking on his own acting career. This weekend, he has his first leading role in the teen romance "Midnight Sun," in which he plays a high school jock who falls for an aspiring songwriter (Bella Thorne) who is afflicted by a rare disease that forces her to avoid exposure to ultraviolet rays.
Schwarzenegger began expressing an interest in acting about a decade ago, when he was a student at the prestigious Brentwood School. His father suggested he enroll in acting classes, so he began taking private lessons from Nancy Banks, who has coached the likes of Margot Robbie and Chris Pine. By the time he got to USC — where he majored in business and minored in cinematic arts — he felt he was ready to start heading out on auditions.
"My dad was like, 'Let me introduce you to an agent or manager,' but I purposefully didn't use his agent or manager," said Schwarzenegger, sitting poolside at a Beverly Hills hotel. "I didn't want to feel like I was getting used by — not used — but that the reason I was getting things was because of him. And he totally got that."
"It was his own decision," agreed his father a few days later in a telephone conversation. "He never said 'Can you get me a meeting?' or 'Can you help me with this or that?' Which is unbelievable, because I said, 'Any help you need, you just let me know.' But he was very into doing it on his own."
Instead of capitalizing on his father's connections, Schwarzenegger said, he selected a manager who was working as an assistant at the Creative Artists Agency. He also didn't jump into films right away. At 17, he landed a Hudson Jeans campaign, modeling shirtless in a massive billboard that hung over Sunset Boulevard. That led to a gig for Tom Ford, posing alongside other celebrity offspring such as Gigi Hadid and Ian Mellencamp.
"But more and more, it was like, 'Can you come and walk in our runway show?'" he said. "And I was just like, 'I'm not loving this.' I like fashion. I like clothing. Do I like modeling? It's not what drives me. I don't want to be better at it or learn more about it."
Indeed, Schwarzenegger inherited both of his parents' good bone structure. He's got his mother Maria Shriver's smile and is essentially a dead ringer for a young Arnold, minus the massive muscles.
"On Instagram, they'll say the funniest things, like, 'Such a waste of genes, you're not a big body builder. Come on, man, why didn't you take after your dad?'" he said while sitting in front of a spread of green juice, steamed vegetables, salad and sea bass. "Do I like working out? Yeah. Do I like being healthy and drinking green juice? Yeah. But do I want to have big muscles and be huge? No, I'm OK."
Schwarzenegger doesn't seem to have a chip on his shoulder about being the kid of famous parents, though. He said he's incredibly close with both his mom and his dad, who separated in 2011.
"Me and my mom hang out so much," he said. "I'll go with her to get her nails done. It's so much fun. I'll get a massage or something and just hang out."
Although in person Schwarzenegger has a frat boy swagger — the Lambda Chi Alpha vet was sporting a ring that said "[expletive] YOU" — he also seems to be pretty in touch with his emotions. Every January, just after New Year's Eve, he invites over a group of friends to watch Simon Sinek's TED talk about focusing on the "why" instead of the "what." He keeps a whiteboard by his bed on which he lists his family, friend, finance, faith, physical, mental and work goals.
"My first thing is taking three minutes out of my day to not use my phone and just be thankful that I'm healthy and alive," he said. "People laugh at that, but I'm like, 'OK, you wake up and you look at Instagram.'"
According to Schwarzenegger's father, he's always been goal-oriented. At 10, he started working at the Arnold Sports Festival, an annual convention in Ohio that brings together professional bodybuilders and athletes for a weekend expo. There, he was put in charge with running the veteran actor's memorabilia booth, ordering t-shirts and photos so that he could understand the retail business.
"The idea was like, this is the way I did it," said the elder Schwarzenegger. "It happened to be with Patrick, he is a natural in business. …He was calling my people and saying 'You should get involved in this stock' at the age of 15 already."
As a teenager, he convinced his parents to loan him money to invest in Blaze Pizza, a fast-casual chain that now has 225 locations. He since invested in about a half dozen other companies, including Every Table, a line of restaurants with adjustable pricing, and Cubcoats.
"I gotta show you this, it's so cute," he said, whipping out his iPhone and starting to play a video advertisement for the kids' brand. "It's basically a patented stuffed animal that can turn into a jacket. I did research with a bunch of different moms and showing it to moms and seeing how kids like it. So I'm helping them with licensing deals and connect with Disney and Universal. My dad is someone that has made more money in business and real estate than with film. He says film is something where you can work every day for three months and then not at all for a year."
Schwarzenegger is well aware of the risks involved in the film industry and said he's grown a lot as an actor since shooting "Midnight Sun" almost three years ago. On set in Vancouver, his costar Thorne said, he was open about his novice status. Because she'd been acting for years as a kid on the Disney Channel, he looked to her for advice.
"One of the difficult parts about having a lot of dialogue is when you say it a thousand times, it's unnatural. That's just that," Thorne said. "So we talked about taking pauses or changing mannerisms or changing up inflections. Adding in 'um's' and 'well's' to give you a different rhythm. That, I think, was the main thing that I actually really helped him with — not that he really needed help."
"Midnight Sun," which looks like a Nicholas Sparks weepy but is actually based on a 2006 Japanese melodrama, is not the kind of film that typically gets critical acclaim. Indeed, reviews for the picture, and its young stars, have not been kind.
The Hollywood Reporter's mixed assessment — "Schwarzenegger, although a bit stiff at times, hits the right emotional notes" — reads like a rave compared to most. Variety snarked that "he'll need some more training to diversify his limited range of expressions (which alternate between blank-faced stoicism and that trademark Schwarzenegger grimace-smile that looks more charming on father Arnold)."
Fortunately, Schwarzenegger is still immersed in training, taking weekly classes with his acting coach, Banks, where he and a bunch of of students put on a play once a month. On his whiteboard, one of his acting goals is to spend an hour every week reading the new play, trying to analyze its themes and understand his character's intentions.
"If this movie doesn't do well, am I gonna be bed-stricken sad? No. Life goes on," he said. "There's always gonna be failures or something that doesn't work. And my dad says, '[crap] either happens to you, or it happens for you.' How do you utilize [crappy] things to make your life better?"