For about two decades, there wasnt anyone much bigger in Hollywood than Arnold Schwarzenegger. Although to be fair, the hits in his resume the Conan films, the Terminator films, Twins, True Lies were accompanied by some real duds Last Action Hero and Jingle all the Way. But the Austrian muscleman persevered, becoming an international box office star. Then, in 2003, he left acting for politics, with a two-term run as governor of California, which ended in 2011. He made one cameo, in The Expendables, during his time in office. But his new film, The Last Stand, in which he plays a small-town sheriff trying to hold off a small army of bad guys, marks his return to leading man status. Last week in Los Angeles, he spoke about acting, politics and what kind of shape hes in.

Why did you leave acting, and why did you return to it?

When I got into the governorship in 2003 I said I would only run the state for seven years, and then I would be back in the movie business. So now Im back again. The only thing is that when youve left the movie business for seven years, its kind of scary to come back because you dont know if youll be accepted. So I was very pleasantly surprise when I did the cameo in The Expendables that there was such a positive reaction to my appearance, and that there was an even bigger reaction when I did the second one.

You look great. How do you feel about aging and doing action scenes?

Im no different than you. We all go through the same traumas. We look in the mirror and see what happened (laughs). But the great thing is that if you work out every day, you stay in shape. This movie required a lot of stunts and action and physical work. The director was a fanatic about seeing as much as possible done by me and the other actors, unless it got really dangerous. We all practiced and rehearsed our stunts, but when youre 65 its different than when youre 35.

First you were a bodybuilder, and youve always done at least some stunts. Does it hurt to get up in the morning?

I feel good right now, but I think that when you lift as many tons of weights as I have, inevitably theres wear and tear, and you have injuries. When you do stunts you have your share of injuries there, and Ive been stitched up in movies and had broken or dislocated shoulders. Ive had a lot of surgeries and a lot of things that had to be fixed on my body. But the medical technology has really advanced, and Im sitting here today and can do everything.

What is your strategy going forward in making films?

A lot of it has to do with timing. I would have chosen to do another Conan first if it would have been ready. And that will probably be ready later this year. The same thing with Triplets, a sequel to Twins. Ive been trying to get that made for 10 years. Now the new leadership at Universal sees the value of it, so theyve hired writers and are going full blast ahead. I would say in general, decisions are based on what movie would be interesting for people to see, what does the audience out there want to see me do. Thats how I make decisions.

The Last Stand opens on Jan. 18.

Ed Symkus is a movie writer for GateHouse Media.