In 2002, two airplanes collided in midair over Germany killing 69 passengers, including one man’s wife and two young children. The air traffic controller on duty was later cleared of responsibility and he promptly retired, but the man whose family was lost to this horrific tragedy became so stricken by grief that he sought revenge in the worst way possible.
The new film Aftermath (in limited theaters and on VOD April 7) is based on these real-life events, with Arnold Schwarzenegger in the role of Roman, a man who loses his wife and children in a deadly airplane crash. Scoot McNairy plays the air traffic controller on duty when the accident occurs, and while certain circumstances beyond his control (like the loss of power, etc.) were what caused the crash, both men’s lives are forever changed for the worse because of it.
In this exclusive conversation with Fandango, Aftermath star Arnold Schwarzenegger reveals how the real-life story influenced his decision to take on a role very different from anything he’s ever played before. We also discuss whether his recent turn in heavier dramas like both Aftermath and 2015’s Maggie may signal Arnold’s interest in retiring from action movies for good.
Fandango: With both Maggie and Aftermath, it seems like you’ve been interested in playing grief-stricken fathers of late. Why is that?
Arnold Schwarzenegger: After Maggie, I got a lot of movies that were in that direction; a lot of scripts. When this particular script came up, I remembered the true story from about 15 years ago where two planes really did crash into each other along the Swiss-German border. I found it very interesting there was a script written based on that story.
Fandango: People going into this film probably don’t realize it’s based on real-life events.
Schwarzenegger: Yes, it’s not exactly that story, but I always felt for that Russian guy for all he had gone through. It was good to see that script, and then to act it out.
Fandango: What’s fascinating about this film, too, is that there is no good guy or bad guy.
Schwarzenegger: Yes, that’s the whole idea – how both became victims of circumstance; of this huge crash. And because of this screw-up, which really was not the air traffic controller’s fault. There were a lot of other factors at play, but in the end the air traffic controller was the one who was blamed. This is why my character, Roman, is hunting down that guy. He just wants an apology from that company and this air traffic controller, but he doesn’t get it.
Fandango: You’ve gone up against some very powerful villains throughout your career, but would you say grief might be the most powerful villain to conquer?
Schwarzenegger: I think the circumstances in this film… how this man is at the airport when his family is alive, and then he learns they died in a crash. How do you overcome something like that? Something you have no control over? In action movies when you confront the enemy, there’s always a chance because it’s up to you and how experienced you are dealing with villains like a Predator or a Terminator. But in this case you have no control – everything that you had is suddenly gone in an instant – so that’s a real drama and a real dilemma. And to act it out is very challenging, and very appealing to me. I always like to challenge myself and do something I haven’t done before.
Fandango: Are you nearing a point where you may retire from action movies?
Schwarzenegger: No, not really. I just did a movie with Jackie Chan – a Russian-Chinese co-production – where I play a powerful prison warden. Then I did a comedy with Taran Killam called Why We’re Killing Gunther where I play the number-one hit man. I mix it up. It just happened to be that there were two of these dramas close together like this.
Fandango: What haven’t you done that you’d like to try out?
Schwarzenegger: The only thing I have not done that I’d be interested in doing is a regular [scripted] TV series. Something with eight to ten episodes, so you don’t work the whole year round.
Fandango: So something on Netflix, maybe?
Schwarzenegger: Yes, that’s right. People have been pursuing me to do those kinds of things. It’s just a question of finding the right project.
Fandango: Do you think it’d be action or comedy? Do you have a preference?
Schwarzenegger: Well right now we’re working on both. An action-comedy, and also one that’s more serious stuff.
As we wrapped up our chat with Arnold, we had to ask him one last question about one of our favorite guilty-pleasure performances of his – that of Mr. Freeze in Batman & Robin. You can check out that part of our conversation here.
Aftermath is in limited theaters and on VOD this April 7.