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Bringing Down the Hammer with Sven-Ole Thorsen

As the movie streaming services have grown bigger and bigger these days, many small cinemas have been forced to close down due to cost. Yet Hadsten Bio, with just 1 screen and about 100 seats, is still going strong. It is entirely run by a staff of volunteers, which in return, gives them the freedom of choosing their movie listings to the likings of the local community. Usually it’s a quiet, easy going, atmosphere, but a Sunday afternoon in April, a malevolent warlord appeared and with him our favorite, sword-wielding Cimmerian. A screening of the 1982 classic, we all know as Conan the Barbarian, was scheduled and it was presented by none other than Thorgrim!

Hadsten is a small town in the east of Denmark with less than 8000 people but the greatest fans showed up for this screening of high adventure. Around the auditorium people were lining up. Some with pictures to sign, others wanting to buy the book and exchange a few words, and even some who wanted to have a selfie with the big man. Commonly we all wanted to experience this fantastic movie, and even a few who never knew that steel is the only thing you can trust, found their way to Hadsten Bio.
Thorgrim himself - without the humongous hammer none the less - was right there in front, telling stories of high adventures during the months of shooting Conan - with Arnold, John Milius and the crew, to much enjoyment of the crowd. After a 30 minutes introduction with a brief Q and A, the fans were about to meet Conan and solve the Riddle of Steel themselves.

The Arnold Fans sat down with Sven-Ole to have a talk about his friendship with Arnold and how he became a Hollywood man of action - asking him all of your questions.

Many of our younger followers might not know who Sven is. He looks familiar, but maybe you can’t place him. You have most likely seen him in Predator, Twins, Red Heat or as Tigris, fighting Russel Crowe, in Gladiator.
The 6’5” Dane began his international movie career with Conan, and has been in 160 movie and tv-productions. Living in Los Angeles since 1985, he also became a US citizen in 2014.
Sven has been a powerlifter, bodybuilder and martial artist since the early 1970s and he came to Hollywood at a time where his massive physique was the obvious choice as the classic henchman, bigger and stronger than the hero, but often ending up biting the dust. 
You’ll be able to read much more about Sven-Ole, his strict upbringing, falling in love with the weights, and being friends with some guy named Arnold Schwarzenegger for 40 years - his long awaited book “Strong Man in Hollywood” will finally be out in english this year.
TheArnoldFans will keep you posted about the release - we have read it in Sven's native language, and it’s a great read for fans of the action movies of the 80s and 90s - life on set as an actor, stuntman and just living in sunny California, enjoying a cigar.
Q&A with Sven-Ole Thorsen (part one).
TAF: Thank you for taking the time to talk wit TAF. We salute you. These questions are from the fans and followers of the TheArnoldFans fan club - literally from all around the world.
Sven: (Smiles) You’re welcome. Always ready to tell stories from my 40 years in Hollywood, so let’s get this Q&A going.
TAF: How did you meet Arnold?
Sven:  I had opened my gym, Sporting Health Club, in 1972 and we had seminars with Frank Zane, Mike Menzer, Kalman Szkalak amongst others. Then in 1978, when Arnold was promoting “Pumping Iron”,  a local cinema contacted me and wanted to to a deal with the gym abouting inviting Arnold to the danish premier in Copenhagen.  Unfortunately the cinema pulled out, as it was too expensive for them, but then I decided to finance Arnolds visit myself. We introduced “Pumping Iron” and bodybuilding to Denmark and had a great time doing so. 
Later that year when I was in Long Beach for a martial arts competition (Sven is a 5th degree black belt in shotokan karate), I called Arnold and he was going to visit John Milius, who at the time was writing the script for Conan the Barbarian. “Come along, meet John” Arnold said. Based on my size in those days, over 320 punds, John was so impressed, that he wanted to write a part in Conan for me and asked if I could come up with at good viking name…and that’s how Thorgrim was born. 
TAF: Now you have been friends with Arnold for 40 years. How has your friendship survived so long?
Sven: We created a camaraderie during the months of shooting Conan the Barbarian - working out, pulling pranks, smoking cigars. We just clicked. Now that I have moved to from Santa Monica to Spain, we don’t talk as often, as but we still stay in touch.
TAF: What do you think about Arnolds recent heart surgery?
Sven: There are very few people like Arnold. He’s an extraordinary human being - the terminator. Now he just needs to take the time to recover, and I am sure that he will be back stronger than ever.
TAF: You named the character Thorgrim yourself. Did you chose the hammer as well or was that in the script?
Sven: The hammer was in the script. It was extremely heavy, weighing 55 pounds, and we practised the movements several hours every day. It was so heavy, that sheer force could pull you when swinging it. In a scene where I am on a horseback, fighting Arnold with the hammer, the weight and force of swinging the hammer actually pulled me out of the saddle and off the horse - even at 320 pounds. Fell off the horse several times, before we got the shot.
TAF: You kept the hammer, but later gave it back to John Milius?
Sven: Yeah. John was hospitalized at one point, so when I visited him, I brought the hammer and gave it to back to him. It’s giant doorstopper at his house last time I checked.
TAF: Conan has a strong opinion on what’s best in life. What’s best for Sven?
Sven: Family.. my beautiful wife, children and grand children, but that wasn’t always the case. But that’s a story for another time and you’ll be able to read all about it in my book.
TAF: Do you feel another Conan starring Arnold will ever be a reality, and would you be interested in join the cast?
Sven: I remember the first time I saw Conan the Barbarian at the end of the movie when Arnold is sitting on the throne as an older king, and it left such an impression on me. I’m sure that Conan is very close to his heart, and we often talk about the days in Spain because we spent so long there shooting the first Conan, and we were really bonding with all the stuntmen and all the actors. I always like the bearded look on him, just sitting on his throne ruling the lands. He has the age to reprise his role, and I for one would love it to happen…but will it? I just don’t know. Would I be interested in being a part of another Conan adventure - if it fits the story, absolutely. 
TAF: Conan was your first big american production. How was it on set?
Sven: First of all, I must say that John Milius is one of the best writers, best directors in Hollywood. When the production was about to begin, John called me from Spain and said “I’m shooting Conan the Barbarian. Could you bring 10 of your big friends to work on the set for the next 6 months?”. I arranged photo sessions with my friends - powerlifters, bodybuilders, track and field athletes, shotputters and so forth - and sent pictures to John. When we arrived in Spain, John had named the team from Denmark “The Animals”, based on the photos I’d sent.

There was 10 stuntmen from the US, 10 from Spain and 10 of us from Denmark. We spent almost 7 months in Spain on 17 different locations and had a ball. Every lunch was 5 dinner menus for the cast and crew, with wine, cheese and fruit. I said to myself:  “Wait a minute.. this is heaven on earth, playing cowboys and Indians during the day and being treated like kings.”

We all got a little tipsy during those lunches, and had lot of food fights and fun. It was a fantastic time.
TAF: Richard Fleischer didn’t really want you in Conan the Destroyer, and yet you still ended up having a very memorable fight with Arnold. How did you get the part and were any of you injured during the particular scene?
Sven: Fleischer was concerned that my character was killed in the first movie, and yet here I was. Wearing a big helmet with limited exposure of my face helped, so finally he agreed. Togra’s fight with Conan was fun. Both of us almost chopped off each others fingers, but fortunately we stayed at “almost”. A few cuts and bruises, but nothing serious.
TAF: In “Running Man” you played Killian's bodyguard. Was your line to "score some steroids” in the script?
Sven: It was, yes. In a previous scene Killian refers to Svens lack of hearing - “did steroids make you deaf”, so it tied perfectly in to the expected showdown when Sven walks up the stairs. Unfortunately for Killian, Sven was sympathetic to the uprising.
TAF:Recently there has been rumours about a sequel to Running Man. If that sequels happens, could you see Sven (the character) return as a stalker in the game?
Sven: (Laughs) Only in a wheelchair. … Nah, I don’t think Sven would return as a stalker. Unless they build him an exoskeleton battle-suit.
TAF: When working out with Arnold - on set, or just regularly at Golds/World Gym. What was your favourite exercise?
Sven: We always had a great time in the gym. On a set or just working out at World Gym. I was always stronger than Arnold in those basic lifts - the deadlift, squats and the bench press, but my favourite exercise would be the bench press, regularly pressing 500+ pounds for reps.

Usually I was in charge of setting up Arnolds mobile gym at a movie set, and one time when we were filming “Predator” I set up the gym as usual, and the other cast members wanted to use the gym. I wasn’t hired as an instructor or anything,  but when someone wanted to use the gym, I helped them settle in. So I came up with the idea, that they had to pay for membership - a bottle of Dom Pérignon. Whenever the occasion required champagne I went to my room and got 10-20 bottles of Dom Perignon. Arnold was wondering where all the bottles came from, so when I told him about it, he just smiled. It was his gym,  but he enjoyed the champagne with the rest of us.
Sven has so many stories and we have plenty more questions for a sequel, so he will be back. You’ll find plenty of them in his book and we will keep you informed on where and how.
Now it’s time for a giveaway. 
Win a signed picture for your collection.
We asked Sven to sign 5 photos for TheArnoldFans community - and you can win one of these.
Go to our instagram page and find the post to enter. We ship worldwide.
Follow Sven-Ole Thorsen on Facebook
Follow Sven-Ole Thorsen on Twitter

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