During his divorce proceedings with Roseanne Barr, the entire Hollywood community whispered into Tom Arnold’s ear that his showbiz career was over. He had risen anywhere, they said, only thanks to Miss Barr’s hugely successful sitcom — first as writer and then as guest performer —before the two wed in 1990. Their marriage was the stuff of tabloid legend, and its disintegration was the toast of late night for years.
But then came “True Lies,” the 1994 Arnold Schwarzenegger action comedy in which Mr. Arnold, who co-starred as Ahnold’s smartmouthed government buddy, basically stole the show and dealt a new hand to the haters.
“I used to have these crazy dreams that I was best friends with Arnold Schwarzenegger. And then I’d wake up at 4:45 a.m. [for my job at a Hormel factory], and I’d go, ‘Oh my God, I’m an insane person,’” Mr. Arnold told The Washington Times. “I live in somewhere Iowa, and I’m dreaming I’m friends with Arnold Schwarzenegger — that’s crazy.”
James Cameron, the director of the first two “Terminator” films and “Aliens,” knew he had his man in Mr. Arnold to play comedy relief for superspy Mr. Schwarzenegger in “True Lies.” Amid Miss Barr publicly excoriating her ex-husband, Mr. Cameron told Mr. Arnold, “Forget those people. ‘True Lies’ will change everything.”
Such is just one of the Tinseltown tales Mr. Arnold will share with audiences Saturday evening at the Alamo Drafthouse and Cinema in Arlington, Virginia. Mr. Arnold, who filmed much of “True Lies” in and around the District, said that because audiences will already have some familiarity with his personal life and history, it will allow for a shorthand with those who come to the Drafthouse.
“If you do a movie or TV show, there’s no reaction. You don’t have any feedback for nine months,” Mr. Arnold said of live performance versus working for the cameras. “I always get a little nervous before I perform because I’m like, ‘These people paid money and probably a lot of them have babysitters,’ and I have to, for the next 75 minutes, make sure they have a great experience,” Mr. Arnold said in his signature, good-natured Midwest tones.
In addition to his time in showbiz, Mr. Arnold will discuss the pitfalls of fatherhood and marriage — he has wed four times — and about learning from your mistakes and moving on.
And, yes, the rather acrimonious parting of the ways from wife No. 1.
Miss Barr, he said, “called up every president of every network and said if you ever work with him, you’ll never work with me.”
While “True Lies” certainly gave his shaky career a boost, Mr. Arnold admits that some of the subsequent projects on his resume were not quite so stellar.
“You can’t really worry about all the little BS in your life: I didn’t get this movie, I didn’t get this pilot,” he said. “You can be very honest about your failings and your mistakes along the way, and those tend to be the funniest things.
“I just feel like I have to be fair and honest with people because I think they can tell. It’s really good for me because you focus on one thing, which is that [the audience] has a good time.”
When it comes to honesty, Mr. Arnold said his most famous line in “True Lies” came about due to grousing on set about his messy divorce from Miss Barr. He says he came home to find that she had stolen his remote controls and tossed all of his clothing into the pool. But the capper, he said, was finding that his estranged spouse had in fact stolen all of the ice trays out of the freezer.
“A man doesn’t do that,” Mr. Arnold said of Miss Barr’s vindictiveness. “My mind doesn’t work like that.”
On the set of “True Lies,” he told Mr. Cameron, “The ice cube trays are out of the freezer. What kind of a sick bitch takes the ice cube trays out of the freezer?”
Mr. Cameron immediately had Mr. Arnold use the line in a take when his character is trying to lend humor to a scene when Mr. Schwarzenegger comes to believe his character’s wife (Jamie Lee Curtis) is perhaps having an affair. The line went into the film and has, for better or worse, entered the cultural lexicon.
For all the acrimony of his divorce, Mr. Arnold nonetheless agreed to appear when the Friar’s Club roasted his ex-wife in 2012 despite some initial trepidation.
“I had to ask my wife, because you don’t roast your ex-wife unless your wife is on board,” Mr. Arnold said with a nervous laugh. “Then I called my lawyer and he said, ‘Oh no, you guys have restraining orders against each other.’”
Legal papers stipulated that if Mr. Arnold or Miss Barr made public jokes about the other’s genitalia, the wronged ex-spouse would be owed $100,000.
“The only people who made money off that were the lawyers,” he said.
With such a caveat in mind, Mr. Arnold sat down and wrote 18 new jokes — one for each year since he had last spoken to Miss Barr.
Mr. Arnold did his set, which went over rather well, and planned to leave right away. Miss Barr found him backstage, thanked him for coming and asked that the two take a photo.
But first, she had to run to the ladies room. Mr. Arnold took that as a sign that she would never return and leave him hanging, so he instead ran for the exit.
“My wife said, ‘Are you stupid, she’s not going to take a picture with you without looking in the mirror to see how she looked first,’” Mr. Arnold recalled his current wife telling him.
“I know nothing about women; I still am learning.”
Despite the photo never happening, Mr. Arnold describes it as a “rare moment on TV that was real. It happened and then I got out of there, and I’ll do it again in 18 years.”
Mr. Arnold will appear at the Arlington Drafthouse at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. Saturday evening. Tickets are $25 by going to ArlingtonDrafthouse.com/drafthouse.