Arnold Schwarzenegger recently detailed a scene from his breakthrough acting role Conan the Barbarian that left a bad taste in his mouth. In the Austrian oak’s new book, Be Useful: Seven Tools for Life, he recalled having to bite into a dead vulture… for multiple takes.
Conan fans no doubt recall the epic scene in question. The slave-turned-pit fighter is essentially crucified on “The Tree of Woe” by his enemies. He’s left for dead in the middle of the desert. A vulture, making the mistake of thinking the warrior is dead, tries to take a nibble of his muscular flesh.
However, Conan is very much alive. With his hands bound, he resorts to capturing the scavenger’s neck between his teeth. With the force of a Crom’s will, Conan savagely tears the unfortunate bird to ribbons.
However, behind the scenes, the moment was not so epic. “I bit a real, dead vulture that required I wash my mouth out with alcohol after each take. (PETA would have a field day with that one),” he joked.
Arnold Schwarzenegger Was Forced to Do His Own Stunts For ‘Conan the Barbarian’
Naturally, Schwarzenegger was compelled to perform his own stunts due to the unavailability of suitable stand-ins. “Conan was brutal because there weren’t stunt guys big enough yet,” he wrote. Luckily, lifting weights became popular, and muscular stunt guys became available.
“[Conan director] Milius had me doing all kinds of terrible sh-t. I crawled through rocks, take after take, until my forearms bled,” he wrote. In another scene, the animals got the best of him. “I ran from wild dogs that managed to catch me and pull me into a thorn bush,” Schwarzenegger recalled. “On one of the first days of filming, I tore a gash on my back that required forty stitches.”
Of course, all of the grueling effort paid off. Conan the Barbarian was a box office blockbuster and enjoyed ongoing success in the home video market. The film catapulted Schwarzenegger to stardom and played a pivotal role in Conan writer Oliver Stone’s career. It also solidified director John Milius (Red Dawn) as a creative force to be reckoned with.
Conan the Barbarian went on to have one sequel and a slew of imitators in the 80s. Fantasy epics like Beastmaster, Krull, and Highlander owe a great debt to Arnold’s brutal barbarian masterpiece. Though one sequel emerged with 1984’s Conan the Destroyer, fans are still holding out for a belated follow-up. One thing is for sure, if Arnold Schwarzenegger returned to his Conan roots, he’d have the clout to get a proper stuntman.
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