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10 Quick Questions for Tom Arnold

Actor stars with Arnold Schwarzenegger in Netflix series ‘FUBAR’

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Ian Spanier Photography/Contour by Getty Images

Tom Arnold, 64, reunites with his True Lies costar and real-life friend Arnold Schwarzenegger in the new Netflix series FUBAR. He tells AARP how he trimmed down for the role, how he’s handling late-in-life fatherhood and how he’s feeling after suffering a stroke last year.

Tell us about your role in FUBAR.

They wrote a great character. It’s the CIA, and [my character’s] the torture guy. Arnold [Schwarzenegger’s] character [is on the verge of retirement and] has moved on from the torture, but … Arnold’s daughter’s child needs a bone marrow donor, and we need to track her long-gone baby daddy down. We track him down and he won’t [donate]. They call me in to get the bone marrow from him. It’s a quite funny and sort of creepy character.

Have you kept in touch with Arnold over the years?

I have this long, very long, personal relationship with him. And sometimes I step back and go, I can’t believe I’m friends with this guy. My kids [son Jax, 10, and daughter Quinn, 7, with ex-wife Ashley Groussman] are like, “We can’t believe you’re friends with that guy.” Because he’s done so many incredible things. I still learn things from him. My son has a poster of Arnold Schwarzenegger posing in one of his muscle competitions in his room. I’m not gonna let [my kids] watch the [FUBAR] episode, but I’m gonna take them to the premiere, and they’re very excited.

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Aren’t you and Arnold a little old to still be playing action heroes?

I did think, Well, he’s 75. I wonder if he’s into all this action stuff. I have to tell you — he’s working on FUBAR, and somebody had gotten COVID — one of the main actors — and [Arnold] had to work for a week, 14-hour days, by himself, doing all of his stuff. I could just tell he was really into it. The first thing he said [to me was], “Let’s go for a bike ride.” I thought motorcycle — he’s, like, bicycle. Oh my gosh, I have been on a bicycle, but not with traffic, the way he rides it. Even though I’ve lost 80 pounds [since] I had a stroke. I said, Boy, I hope I can. It was great. The thing about him is, he always seizes the day, every day.

When did you have a stroke?

It was January of last year [2022]. It’s bath time [for my kids] … and I [turn around and] count to 10, and whoever gets up first [to get out of the bath] wins. Kids are very competitive. When I turned back around, my right eye felt like a curtain came down black and I couldn’t see. I thought maybe I hit my eyeball when I had my hands up against the door counting, and so I didn’t freak out. I was very aware of how I was feeling in my head. I got the kids in bed. Half of my vision comes back in the upper half of my right eye. I was supposed to fly to Alaska in the morning to start [filming] a show. … I thought, Well, I’ll just go up to Fairbanks and deal with it up there. And then I thought, Oh, wait a minute, I’m a dad, I can’t live like that anymore. So on the way to the airport, I stopped by UCLA [medical center] and [after some tests] they came back and said, “You’ve had a stroke. You need to check into the hospital right now for 24 hours so we can do the stroke protocol.”

How are you feeling now?

During the COVID [pandemic], I gained about 45 to 50 pounds. I realized I had to lose this weight. I started working with a trainer who I met at Arnold’s. …  [The trainer asked], “Do you have any goals for when you work with Arnold [on FUBAR]?” I said, “I’d like to be my original True Lies movie weight.” I didn’t think that was possible. But by July, I had lost 80 pounds. I was actually trimmer than when I made the movie in 1994. Now I’ve got to maintain it. I have in my life three times lost 100 pounds, and as soon as I got to my goal weight, I was like, OK, that’s it. And that kind of thinking is what got me in the situation. So I’m very lucky. I just had a stress test where I ran on the treadmill. Everything is looking good.

spinner image tom arnold as norm carlson in a still from fubar
Tom Arnold plays Norm Carlson in the Netflix series “FUBAR.”

Has Arnold given you any parenting advice?

He said, “Listen, you get in there, you change every diaper. You don’t let anybody else tell you they do it better or shush you out of the way. You do it.” My thing is always like — yes, I am older — 64 — I’m not going to be around forever. … I don’t believe in the rules of, OK, the dad does this, the mom does this. I decided early on right away, I want to do everything. I was raised by a single dad.

Is there one lesson your father taught you that you want to impart to your kids?

I knew early on that if I wanted anything, I had to work for it. He would do a thing where I would say, “Daddy, can I have some money?” And he’d pull his pockets out. I got no money. So by the time I was 10, I started working in the fields back in Iowa, and the self-esteem I got from that, realizing, Oh no, I’ve got to do this myself, has helped me a lot. [With] my kids — it’s a little different because they don’t have to work in the fields. But they … have chores and tasks.

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Are you still in touch with Roseanne Barr? [They married in 1990 and divorced in 1994.]

I understand when people have kids, they have to still engage with people, but Roseanne and I never had kids. I wish her the best. It was a very acrimonious divorce, but the truth is, we both did our best.

You made a surprise appearance at the 2012 Comedy Central Roast of Roseanne. How did that go?

I walked out, and I swear — it doesn't happen very much on TV — but [the surprise] was real. I could feel [everyone] go [gasping sound] — even the other roasters. The roasts that I loved back in the day, there would always be a moment where they said something kind, and I just thought, Well, how do I say something kind? I thought, Well, I’m going to talk about when she first went on Johnny Carson. We were friends back in 1985, and she did a couple of jokes I’d written. Johnny Carson let her come down and sit on the couch [and] he made her career. So, I just did a [bit] about it, and I was totally sincere about her giving me the opportunity of letting me sit on her couch for a little while. It was a real thing. I left and I couldn’t see what other people were doing. Were they hugging her? All I wanted to do was get the hell out of there. And then, as they’re taking my mic off, she comes back and says, “Thank you. That’s great. It’s great to have you.”

Would you get married again?

I don’t know. … I got married four times in 20 years — that’s, like, crazy. I want to figure out what I did wrong. It was pretty clear I was projecting my dreams on other people, and then when those things don’t coalesce, it gets disappointing. But my goal was to have a family, and that has turned out to be amazing. The most important thing is being a father. I’ve done a lot of cool stuff, but nothing, nothing like this. I am very grateful.

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