IT’S RUSH HOUR at Gold’s Gymnasium in Venice, California. Athletes and musclemen and actors of all shapes are gathered for his or her Tuesday elevate: curling, benching, posing, flexing, taking refuge from an unusually chilly and wet night.
Over by the load rack, aspiring actor/bodybuilder/actual property participant Joseph Baena—Joe to his pals—is manhandling a pair large dumbbells as an MH video crew jockeys for its finest angle.
Because the digicam rolls, Baena wrestles the weights onto his lap, lies down on an incline bench, kicks the weights into place, and executes eight dumbbell presses with knowledgeable precision. “Go for a stretch on the backside,” he instructs as he pumps the weights up and down. “Come all the way in which up and squeeze.”
The best way he sells it, you’d virtually consider that holding a couple of hundred kilos of metal over your face, then reducing and elevating them till the fibers of your pectoral muscle tissues really feel like they’re going to separate out of your sternum, is probably the most enjoyable a man can have on a drizzly night in SoCal in late December 2021.
He’s a pure—at lifting weights, holding heart stage, working an viewers.
The setting is wealthy with historical past: Nicknamed the “mecca of bodybuilding,” Gold’s is the stomping and lifting and squatting floor for all the game’s greats, made well-known in 1977’s Pumping Iron, the semifictional documentary that set a younger muscleman from Thal, Austria, on track to change into the establishment referred to as Arnold Schwarzenegger. The identical man whose large, fading picture hovers on the wall, simply above our heads.
The identical man who additionally occurs to be the daddy of the person genially banging out dumbbell presses in entrance of me. In case you’ve heard the identify Joseph Baena, you in all probability know a bit about his historical past: how his mom, Guatemalan-born Mildred Baena, was the housekeeper for Arnold and his then spouse, Maria Shriver, when Joseph was born in 1997. How his mom stored the reality of his paternity a secret all through his childhood. And the way, in 2011, when the resemblance between father and son grew to become unimaginable to disregard, it got here out publicly that Joseph was the kid of one of the vital well-known and profitable males on the planet. Mildred described precisely how her son discovered his dad’s id in an interview that yr: “When [Joseph’s] grandmother sat him down to elucidate that Arnold Schwarzenegger was his father, he exclaimed, ‘Cool!’ ”
After which . . . silence. Baena and his mom declined to elaborate additional on their radically reworked lives, leaving the general public guessing about how he dealt with the sudden revelation. Till now. Over the 4 hours we spent speaking about these turbulent instances and his evolving relationship together with his dad, it was clear that the trials of his first 24 years have solid a robust sense of self. He’s happy with his Latino heritage, and he hopes individuals will see previous his childhood and get to know and respect him for his personal accomplishments as he crushes his day job promoting homes at Aria Properties, a Marina del Rey actual property workplace, and establishes himself as an actor. First up is the motion pic Lava, during which he has a lead position, and the low-budget sci-fi thriller Encounters is on the way in which. Hey, you gotta begin someplace.
In fact, individuals scoffed at Arnold when he began out—after which he grew to become one of many highest-paid actors in Hollywood, residing proof that ambition, religion, and unshakable confidence can take you fairly far. For a lot of males, particularly guys born within the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, Schwarzenegger has all the time loomed massive as an exemplar of what’s doable when you work exhausting and make good in your skills and steadfastly refuse to take no for a solution. As inspiring as that life has been for many people, it’s additionally a hell of a legacy to reside as much as—sufficient to deflate somebody. On this, we’re all Baena’s brothers. No matter alchemy of genes, upbringing, and coaching introduced it on, Joseph Baena is wrestling by a situation that everybody from Sophocles to Shakespeare to Freud has instructed us is unavoidable. It’s proper there within the scratchy, tinkling opening theme tune to Pumping Iron: Each man desires to be larger than Dad.
However what occurs when an oversize image of your dad towers over you on the wall of your fitness center—one in every of a whole lot if not hundreds of gyms within the L. A. space and an fascinating selection of coaching (and interview) venue for a son who says he doesn’t need to reside in his father’s shadow? Can anybody ever be larger than this dad?
IT’S BEEN MORE than ten years since that day when all hell broke free in his household, and people years have introduced sufficient perspective that Baena’s now keen to open up about it. “These are actually huge elements of my life that nobody actually is aware of,” he says.
Bakersfield, California, the place Baena grew up together with his mom and older siblings, is simply 100 miles north of L. A.—however the suburban desert group, typically disparaged because the “armpit of California,” couldn’t be farther from the glitz of Hollywood. “It was a humble residence, and we didn’t have a lot,” Baena says.
Nonetheless, the early years have been completely satisfied: studying to cook dinner together with his mom (now a culinary-school graduate and a chef), talking Spanish together with his siblings (there are 4 on his mother’s aspect, ranging in age from 32 to 42), celebrating his Guatemalan heritage by meals, tradition, and music. “That’s an enormous a part of me,” he says. “My mother’s complete aspect is Guatemalan; we’ve got loads of Colombian household. Almost everybody on that aspect is Latin American.” The music of Vicente Fernández performs—loudly—at each household gathering, the place Mother’s tackle tamales, baked in banana leaves as a substitute of corn husks, is a favourite.
Into this era of relative tranquility, Baena recounts, the media frenzy got here. “I keep in mind the day very vividly,” he says. “I used to be within the eighth grade. Fifth or sixth interval. And I get referred to as out of sophistication to depart. And my mother’s there, and he or she’s like, ‘We gotta go—everyone seems to be discovering out about you and who your father is.’ ” Information vehicles swarmed the home. Photographers hounded the household. “I’m 13,” he remembers. “Your physique’s reworking; your thoughts is reworking. And now my life reworked earlier than my eyes.”
Their residence beneath siege, Mildred and Joe took a street journey, hiding out with family members in Texas. By means of all of it—the probing eyes of the press, the continued strain to remain incognito—mom and son stood sturdy: “She was actually the one individual I had, and I used to be actually the one individual that she had,” he says. “Nobody knew, and everybody wished the small print. We had one another’s backs.” (Baena declined to share precisely when he first talked to his dad after the revelation, and Schwarzenegger couldn’t be reached for an interview.)
In his freshman yr at Frontier Excessive, Baena found that folks checked out him in another way: “The belief issue grew to become actually tough.” He couldn’t inform who his pals have been. Athletically inclined however chubby, he was reduce from the basketball and soccer groups, and he thought-about giving up on sports activities.
The turning level got here when his buddy Cesar tried to badger him into becoming a member of the swim workforce. Baena balked, frightened about how he’d look in a Speedo. However Cesar was relentless, and swimming had one huge benefit over the opposite sports activities: “There was no tryout,” he says. Baena’s lengthy arms and highly effective higher physique engendered a fortuitous pairing of athlete and sport. “I used to be born for the water,” he says. Together with trophies, recognition, and a glossy physique got here confidence, focus, and a brand new willingness to have interaction with fellow college students; in his senior yr, he was president of Frontier Excessive. “That was an actual honor,” he says—the primary indication that he might thrive on his personal and be a pacesetter.
HANGING OUT WITH Baena, you discover rapidly that his pronouncements virtually overflow with constructive hyperbole. Guatemalan meals isn’t simply good; it’s wonderful. He’s so lucky to have had his school expertise at Pepperdine College. Latino tradition is so proud. He doesn’t drink a lot, and he barely curses—at one level, he even apologizes for utilizing the phrase ass. If it sounds grating, nonetheless, it’s not—it’s endearing.
The unabating positivity is only one of some ways during which his bearing and habits think of his father, and for a stranger who’s been a Schwarzenegger fan for many years, interacting with Baena is nearly a time-traveling expertise: One second you overlook whose son you’re speaking to; the subsequent, he’ll gesture extensively with each arms—“I’m obsessive about schnitzel!”—and also you’re watching Arnold plug The Terminator on The Tonight Present.
Baena is shut with Schwarzenegger—pictures of them socializing or exercising collectively are frequent media fodder—however he’s cautious of speaking about Dad an excessive amount of. He does inform me, although, that they finally bonded over health. Schwarzenegger gave Baena The Encyclopedia of Trendy Bodybuilding (which he coauthored) to information his coaching. “Regardless that I might name him anytime, I used to be too proud,” Baena says. “I went straight to the e-book. I wished to determine it out myself.” Later, he reached out for recommendations on constructing his shoulders, and so they began coaching collectively round his 18th birthday. Naturally, it concerned a visit to Gold’s. “I used to be so nervous,” he says. However he took all of it in—the rituals, the routines, and, maybe most necessary, the demeanor. “I used to be being observant, making an attempt to see what he was doing and the way in which he was appearing,” says Baena. He discovered to grip the bar on bench presses correctly, flip his wrists on dumbbell curls, drop deep into the opening on squats. He discovered to really feel the stretch in his traps, the squeeze in his pecs, the deep burn within the muscle tissues that alerts progress.
By means of all of it, he developed an understanding that the fitness center—loud and rough-and-tumble although it’s—is usually a crucible for transformation. When he bought severe about lifting in school, he says, “I used to be capable of purchase a bodybuilding mentality—that I might form my physique nonetheless I need.” After having success as a swimmer, Baena discovered that with comparable effort and self-discipline, he might construct up, shred down, or do a mix of each. “I made insane progress,” he says of his school years.
His present routine is, to say the least, concerned: plenty of units, loads of isolation strikes, two hours, six days every week, plus 20 minutes of fasted cardio within the morning. “One of many huge issues I discovered from Dad was to not have the ten-rep mentality,” he says. “It’s pushing your self to the boundaries and going that further mile, getting these further reps and half reps until you’re principally dying.”
To the uninitiated, it sounds depressing, however Baena lights up as he talks about lifting. Analysis from the College of Missouri suggests that specific people might have an unusually excessive pleasure response to train, and Baena seems to be one in every of them. Although he stops in need of equating it with intercourse (“as satisfying to me as coming,” Arnold as soon as declared of lifting weights), he’s rhapsodic nonetheless: “Since I began figuring out significantly in school,” he says, “it was immediate gratification.”
You would possibly suppose, given his love of the fitness center and the genetic items lurking in his double helix, that Baena would possibly really feel strain to leap into physique competitions. However he doesn’t. His saner, or possibly we should always simply say sane, perspective towards health ensures that his physique—six-foot-one and 190 kilos—whereas spectacular, stays extra approachable and athletic than that of most bodybuilders, extra huge receiver than offensive lineman. His Instagram feed, @projoe2, which has a wholesome however hardly A-list 351,000 followers, is extra like a primer on residing a contented life than an countless homage to bigorexia.
“There are such a lot of different issues that I care about greater than health,” he says. “My life-style, my household, my pals, having enjoyable at work. There’s a steadiness. It’s not simply health on a regular basis.”
It’s a blessedly un-Arnoldian sentiment.
With a brand new slew of actors getting Marvelized by the month, muscle tissues are mandatory for the forms of roles Baena desires, however he is aware of that it takes greater than that to scale the Hollywood signal. Given the shifting panorama of the leisure trade, he was initially uncertain learn how to proceed when he began contemplating appearing as a profession path.
“My dad is old-school; he doesn’t consider in handouts. He believes exhausting work pays off, and so do I,” says Baena. “I like the phrase honor, and I’m very prideful within the sense that if I exploit my dad’s contacts or ask him for favors, I’m wondering what honor is that gonna deliver me?”
The identical impulse drove his determination to not take a final identify that may open doorways for him in Hollywood: “After I go to auditions, they don’t know who I’m, as a result of we don’t have the identical final identify.” When he books a gig, he says, “I do know it’s all me.”
DAD HAD THREE phrases of appearing recommendation, Baena says: Do the reps.
The on-the-nose counsel struck Baena as humorous at first. “I used to be like, Actually? Like in exercises? What are you speaking about?” With time and expertise, nonetheless, he found the knowledge in Arnold’s easy directive. Appearing can appear to be alchemy—the magical act of changing into—however as with constructing your physique, a lot of it’s a Zen-like matter of placing within the hours. You must get the shit finished. If a scene requires 20 pages of dialogue, Baena says, “I say the strains over and over—with a scene companion, an appearing coach, or simply on my own—repeating, repeating, repeating till it’s muscle reminiscence. To some extent the place you possibly can wash your garments, do your dishes, principally do something—and spit the strains out.” About as glamorous as lateral raises. However as within the fitness center, repetitive work is the value of success.
One other invaluable piece of Arnoldian steering Baena took to coronary heart: Discover a mentor. 4 years in the past, whereas nonetheless in school, Baena reached out to Eric Morris, the storied appearing coach who had guided Schwarzenegger to a Golden Globe for 1976’s Keep Hungry. As his father had a half century earlier than, Baena hit it off with Morris, and he has labored with him three or 4 days every week ever since. “When Joseph first got here to me, I referred to as him Mr. Smiles-a-Lot,” says Morris, sharp and perceptive at 90. “That’s all he did onstage. Over time, although, he discovered that it was okay to precise his frustration, his anger, his vulnerability—he grew to become extra affectable and expressive.”
Baena admits that his early efforts in pupil movies have been clunky and self-conscious, however he discovered his stage legs at school two years in the past taking part in Biff, the conflicted son of the title character, in Arthur Miller’s Loss of life of a Salesman. Tearing up the ’40s-era dialogue—“Pop! I’m a dime a dozen, and so are you!”—he uncovered new depths of feeling and tapped into experiences from his life. The method helped him psychologically, too, he says, “virtually like remedy.” “That was sport altering for me,” he provides, noting that he was ready to attract on the identical depth in Lava. “Getting that finish of my vary made me understand I is usually a severe working actor,” he says. Morris is reluctant to match elder to youthful, however he’s obsessed with his pupil’s promise: “Joseph is on his personal journey, together with his personal particular obstacles. He’s superbly evolving. As he matures and will get extra coaching, he’ll tackle extra complicated roles.”
Requested the place he sees himself in ten years, Baena doesn’t hesitate: “I’m an award-winning actor with plenty of actual property expertise, and I’m on a ship in Miami, sipping a mai tai with my buddies, preparing for the subsequent film.” Okay, he’s bought huge desires—he’s 24, in spite of everything.
Maybe the true takeaway is that Baena is seemingly unafflicted by rage, resentment, or pathological ambition, the type that typically derails the kids of the well-known. “It took somewhat bit for me to understand that I don’t should do what my dad did,” he says. “I don’t should get into appearing or bodybuilding. I’m very motivated and pushed. I’m completely satisfied about my relationship with my dad. However I’m extra completely satisfied that I’m discovering pleasure in what I’m doing and that I’m doing precisely what I’ve all the time dreamed about.”
As he speaks, I take into consideration all the boys I do know who’ve horrible relationships with their dads—abusive ones, distant ones, absent ones. And I take into consideration Baena, collectively together with his dad, biking round Santa Monica, sharing a beer, figuring out at Gold’s, doing curls on the preacher bench. “A whole lot of guys battle with making an attempt to make their dad proud or making an attempt to get out of their dad’s shadow. However so long as you’re doing what you need to do, then that every one comes. In fact, possibly these guys don’t have such good dads.”
In case you shook a Magic 8-Ball to study extra about Baena’s subsequent chapter—in health, in actual property, within the unsure carnival trip that’s the leisure trade—you’d get a definitive Can not predict now. However we like his possibilities.