Everyone has heard an Arnold Schwarzenegger impression - but not everybody has heard an Arnold Schwarzenegger impression from the writer of Commando.


Steven E de Souza is talking about the first time he met the future Governor of California, when he was pitching him Commando - and accidentally stumbled into doing an impression of The Austrian Oak’s unique accent right there in his living room.

"I started telling him the story of the movie – it was pretty much the movie you saw – and I slipped into my Arnold imitation," he recalls. "I’m saying to him the line 'remember when I said I’d kill you last? I lied' in his voice, and I look up and he’s glowering at me over his cigar, and I go, 'I do all the greats, let me do my Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart for you.'"

It was the start of a beautiful and productive relationship, as Commando proved Schwarzenegger could be more than a machine or a cave man, and led to de Souza becoming Hollywood’s main action writer, later penning Die Hard and its first sequel, The Running Man (again for Arnie), and Street Fighter – though he says he "writes thrillers with action in them".

De Souza is talking to RadioTimes.com ahead of the London Action Festival, which is celebrating Commando with a special screening on the morning of 25 June, followed by a Q&A with the screenwriter about his storied career in Hollywood.

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He’s excited to see Commando with an audience for the first time in several years and reflecting on the continued love for the film (and the many, many memes it has spawned).

De Souza says he was always a believer in the potential of the movie: "I concurred with Arnold [that the film would be a success]. At the time it was Rambo versus Commando and those two had a rivalry for a long time, but Arnold predicted that people would still be talking about this film because it did not take itself seriously and was self-aware. And Rambo took himself very seriously."

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Beloved for its conveyor belt of brilliant one-liners, inventive kills and a Schwarzenegger performance so charismatic it has its own gravitational pull, Commando is the Venus de Milo of action movies – and yet it was originally intended to be even bigger and more explosive.

There were going to be speedboats, explosions and landmines, only for the budget to be blown by the time they got to filming the ending.

"I blame Sylvester Stallone for screwing up the ending," de Souza says. "Mark L Lester (the director of Commando) had seen a sneak peak of Rambo II and he said Stallone kills a million guys so we have to kill more guys.

"So what happened was, Mark went overbudget putting in this giant scene where this private army gets wiped out. The random shooting of hundreds of guys was not in the script. So they burned up the budget and then said we don’t have the money to film what you wrote."

De Souza was then tasked with writing a new ending in 24 hours, and one that wouldn’t require the use of more exotic locations and trawling an entire film crew to a private island off the coast of California.

The lack of budget meant the ending had to take place somewhere on the Fox lot: "I said let’s do it in a basement, so the basement you see in the movie is an actual basement at Fox.

"We sent one of Joel Silver’s (producer) assistants down there and they were reporting back what was down there, and I was drawing a picture of it on the back of an envelope and dictating what could work and what lines to put in."

Arnold Schwarzenegger), a former special operations leader, arms himself to rescue his kidnapped daughter in COMMANDO.
Schwarzenegger in action. SEAC

Now iconic, Commando's climax – which sees Schwarzenegger throwing a steam pipe through the torso of his chainmail-wearing nemesis Bennett – was the work of a last-gasp rewrite.

Schwarzenegger’s infamous one-liner as he delivers the killing blow (“let off some steam, Bennett”) was also written at the late hour, and de Souza wishes to clarify some confusion over the origin of the line.

"There’s a new book out called The Last Action Heroes that inadvertently attributes that line to an ad-lib by Arnold, but think about it, how would that be possible?" he says. "Like, how convenient for him to ad-lib that and for it to be such a good ad-lib and also make a fake torso for Bennett and put a pipe in it. But it was in the script."

De Souza, who also wrote movies for the likes of Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone and Jean-Claude Van Damme, thinks of Schwarzenegger as his favourite collaborator – a man who was more willing to set aside ego than the other behemoths of the period.

He says: "Arnold was the most willing to engage and tear things up. He said later in an interview that I was the guy that really got him. I got along well with Bruce but as his career went on, he became more convinced about what he wanted to be.

"I got along great with Eddie Murphy but he decided he didn’t want to be funny but Arnold stayed consistently on target."

De Souza also saw first-hand the amount of work Schwarzenegger put into his acting, one time stumbling upon him taking singing lessons to improve his pronunciation: "I go to his house and he’s taking singing lessons and I thought, 'That’s interesting,' and ask him if he’s thinking of doing musicals.

He said, 'That’s funny. I am going to have a command of my English so the singing lessons help with the voice and breathing. I want to lose my accent but not so much as it is what I am known for.'"

Nearly 40 years on from its premiere, Commando remains a fixture on British TV and Schwarzenegger a behemoth of politics and culture. He has seen several of his movies remade – Conan the Barbarian, Total Recall, True Lies – yet in this era of studios cashing in on existing intellectual property, Commando has remained untouched.

There was once talk of David Ayer writing and directing a remake a decade ago, but nothing since.

De Souza puts the lack of a remake down to the fact Schwarzenegger cannot be duplicated by any ordinary action hero: "You need this unique character and they’re just not in motion pictures. I guess you could do it with The Rock but The Rock isn’t going to do a reboot of something.

"I don’t think a reboot is worth doing but if they do it, please put in the original ending!"

Going Commando: A Special Screening of Commando + Q&A with Steven E de Souza takes place as part of the London Action Festival on Sunday 25th June 2023. Visit our Film hub for the latest news and features, or find something to watch tonight with our TV Guide and Streaming Guide.

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