He did say he'd be back

After three careers that ended at the top, Arnold Schwarzenegger has nothing left to prove. But this hasn't stopped the Austrian-American actor, politician and former body-builder from returning to his first starring role in a decade in the action film The Last Stand.

''Did I think about retiring?'' The 65-year-old star repeats the question with a look of disgust. ''That word would never come into my vocabulary, because it's a waste. Why would I want to all of a sudden stop what I love to do?''

In The Last Stand, Schwarzenegger plays Sheriff Ray Owens, a former LAPD narcotics cop who got burnt out and moved to a sleepy border town with little crime. When a notorious drug kingpin escapes from the FBI and begins racing towards the US-Mexico border with a hostage in tow, it's up to Owens and his inexperienced team to stop him from crossing.

''The character I play is a character who's about to retire,'' Schwarzenegger says, smiling at the irony. ''So he's not playing the youngest guy any more, and he realises everyone is counting him out because he's older. So it's important to him to stand up for what is right and to prove himself.''

Perhaps the same could be said for Arnie, who shrugs off any concerns about his health after his autobiography, Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story, last year revealed he had secret open-heart surgery back in 1997. Looking relaxed and fit as he sits in a Beverly Hills hotel suite, Schwarzenegger brags that he did many of the stunts for the film himself, and doesn't complain when asked about the injuries he must have sustained from a brutal fight scene with a much younger actor.

''You always injure your shoulder or your elbow or your knees and so forth, but pain is temporary,'' he shrugs casually. ''What is on the screen is permanent.''

Schwarzenegger admits he carefully weighed his options after finishing his second term as governor of California in 2010, but says he was convinced there was still a place for him in Hollywood.

''I did four hours of work on The Expendables, and there was a huge cheer in the audience when I was on screen,'' he says. ''Then there was another great reaction when I did four days of work on the second Expendables, so I felt more comfortable that people want to see the more traditional action movies where the action guys are actually doing the things rather than a computer. I think there's room for the special-effects movies, like Batman and Iron Man and Spider-Man, but what about guys with no special powers who just get the job done?''

Born in a small village in Austria, Schwarzenegger started out as a body-builder, moved to the US and won the Mr Olympia crown six times before making his acting debut in the 1977 drama Stay Hungry. (He won another title in 1980.) As well as starring in action franchises such as Conan the Barbarian and The Terminator, the shrewd immigrant earned a BA in business and international economics, and then surprised the naysayers when he was elected governor of California as a Republican in 2003 and re-elected to a second term in 2006.

He married Kennedy clan member and television journalist Maria Shriver in 1986 and the couple had four children, but in 2011 Shriver ended their 25-year marriage after it was revealed he had fathered a child, now 12, with their long-time housekeeper.

Always the politician, Schwarzenegger smoothly tackles the question as vaguely as possible.

''On a personal level, I've had failures, including the most recent, which was of course the biggest personal failure of my life,'' he confesses. ''But I was always able to get up when I fell, and that's what life is all about.''

Schwarzenegger has already filmed his next two action films - The Tomb, with Sylvester Stallone, and Ten, which co-stars Sam Worthington, who starred in Terminator: Salvation. He has plans for a second sequel to Twins, titled Triplets, with Danny DeVito and Eddie Murphy, The Legend of Conan, and Terminator 5. Schwarzenegger makes no apologies for his appetite for life.

''I always believed strongly in working really hard, but also playing hard,'' he says. ''I have my toys - the cars, the motorcycles, the skiing and clothes and things I collect that I love, but now I also have four wonderful kids - actually five,'' he quickly adds with no trace of embarrassment. ''So life couldn't be better.''

Top five ageing action heroes

Sylvester Stallone, 66

The star of the Rocky and Rambo franchises recently reinvented himself in The Expendables and its sequel. Will be seen in the upcoming action films Bullet to the Head and The Expendables 3.

Bruce Willis, 57

He made four Die Hard movies and also appeared in The Fifth Element, Armageddon and Sin City. Returns next month in A Good Day to Die Hard.

Jackie Chan, 58

Made the jump from Hong Kong martial arts films to Rush Hour (1998), Shanghai Noon (2000) and their sequels. He will next appear in The Expendables 3 and Rush Hour 4.

Liam Neeson, 60

Became an action star late in his career after the 2008 success of Taken, followed by Clash of the Titans, The A-Team, The Grey, and Taken 2. He will next play an air marshal on an international flight in his upcoming action film, Non-Stop.

Harrison Ford, 70

Had a long career as an action star of films including Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Patriot Games and all their sequels. More recently starred in Cowboys & Aliens and is reportedly returning to upcoming Star Wars and Indiana Jones films, which are in the works.

THE LAST STAND

GENRE Action.

CRITICAL BUZZ Lukewarm reviews and poor US box-office numbers may not help Arnie resurrect his career.

STARS Arnold Schwarzenegger, Forest Whitaker, Johnny Knoxville.

DIRECTOR Jee-woon Kim.

RATED MA15+.

RELEASE Now screening.

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