By JAMEY KEATEN
CANNES, France — Well, Arnold Schwarzenegger IS back.
The one-time muscleman who morphed into Hollywood icon and then California governor returns to his on-screen core – sort of – with a cheekily titled animated TV show, “The Governator.”
In an interview, the 63-year-old said he wants to surprise fans who expected him to go back to the big screen, shifting to the virtual world with a superhero who gets things done without the constraints of laws or an often-intractable political system.
“I think that a lot of times you can actually do more and accomplish more being outside of the system,” he said.
Schwarzenegger spoke to The Associated Press before unveiling details of what he calls a funny, action-packed, crime-fighting fantasy at the MipTV television business conference in the Riviera resort of Cannes. Action Comics giant Stan Lee will be at the show’s creative helm.
Schwarzenegger, who will voice the superhero, was the talk of the town Monday: France’s culture minister inducted him into the Legion of Honor and he had his handprints cast in cement for Cannes’ star walk.
Three months out of office, current events are still on his mind, from Japan’s earthquake disaster to the Arab world turmoil and to environmental and economic troubles in the West.
Still, showbiz is eclipsing politics for now.
“I am not as eager to run for office,” he said, lounging in an opulent hotel suite overlooking the Mediterranean. “Entertainment is the important thing right now.
“I am fortunate that I can have a foot in entertainment and a foot in the political arena,” he added.
That’s where the show comes in: Bridging Schwarzenegger’s many personas over the years in a TV project that riffs off his public service, his athletic and acting prowess, and his business savvy.
Think Bruce Wayne – the civilian tycoon behind the Batman mask – but involving a former California governor who assembles a team of whiz kids to fight both crime and natural disasters out of a high-tech lair under his mansion in Brentwood, and unbeknownst to his own family upstairs.
Producers of the show, which is to debut next year at locations still being determined, have cobbled together a comic-strip action extravaganza with laser-beam eyes, remote-controlled motorcycles and magic chewing-gum bubbles that change faces for incognito sleuthing. It also has what Schwarzenegger called “speaker spray,” which temporarily allows its recipient to converse in foreign languages – among much more gee-whiz gadgetry and imagination.
In short: “It’s a superheroic guy” with powers that a real-world governor could only dream of.
“It’s kind of like, when you see that you could have fought certain crimes but the system didn’t allow you, or there were too many people that had to be asked for permission, by that time, the criminals were gone or the disaster that could have been prevented from happening,” Schwarzenegger said. “With this, it’s a fantasy world where the governor has extra powers.”
In a sneak-peak teaser aired for the TV-world honchos at Cannes, the animated governor declares “I won’t be back” on the capital steps. Newsman Larry King – show producers say it’s really his voice – presses for answers.
Then, it was off to battling robots who try to rob an armored car, in a splashy, high-color sequence. The Governator “will be basically fighting the most evil, and worst, of the villains,” Schwarzenegger said.
The simplicity of save-the-day superheroism is a far cry from the messy world of political wrangling on issues like redistricting, budget balancing and state fiscal woes that hurt his popularity at the end of his seven-year term.
“When you are a governor, you deal with keeping the beaches clean, making sure there’s enough funding for the after-school programs and the lunch programs for the kids, and all of those kinds of things,” he said at the presentation. “As an action hero, you just have to save the world – that’s it.”
Schwarzenegger was quick to insist that the show won’t be violent, a conscious break from his cinematic career: “If you look at my movies, a lot of heads come off … this is not what this is.”
That, he told the AP, was what drew him to the project: a chance to change his image and surprise his fans.
“So we happened to start working on this, and I said, ‘This is a perfect thing to introduce first.’”
First? Did he mean before a possible return to acting?
Schwarzenegger played coy, or perhaps he simply hasn’t made up his mind.
“There’s a lot of scripts that I have been reading,” and he has been speaking to producers, directors and “the agencies,” he said. “We are getting closer to flushing out in which direction I am going to go.”
“I have not committed to anything. … So now we are concentrating on launching this series and this character, and then when that is done, then I will make the next decision,” he said.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.