What you don't know about Tom Arnold
What you don't know about Tom Arnold -- The ''Happy Endings'' star talks about woking at a meat-packing plant, his marriage to Roseanne, and working in Hollywood
- TV Show
Tom Arnold looks different. On a recent Sunday afternoon, wearing gym clothes and a Red Sox cap, he sits on the rooftop pool deck of his exclusive Santa Monica beachfront high-rise, chomping on Nicorette gum while swigging from a can of Coca-Cola Zero. No longer resembling the obese schmuck who made headlines in the 1990s for what he calls his ”crazy marriage” to and messy divorce from Roseanne Barr, Arnold reveals how pretty much everything you think about him is wrong.
First, he’s happily married. After two divorces and a string of bad luck with the ladies, he’s found himself in a dependable, evolving marriage to Shelby, a blonde more than a decade his junior who used to work in political consulting. Second, he’s tackled those well-publicized lifestyle issues, most recently kicking his expensive 12-a-day Cuban cigar habit. Third, having lost 70 pounds since last November via strenuous cardio workouts, the guy who’s made a career of playing goofball slobs actually looks pretty handsome — the Everyman’s Colin Firth.
And finally, there’s the new revelation that he actually can act. Right now, he’s drawing the biggest — okay, let’s be honest, only — critical raves of a career overflowing with junk like McHale’s Navy and Soul Plane. In the ensemble indie dramedy Happy Endings, he acts utterly against type as Frank, a tender, generous multimillionaire widower who falls for a seductive young singer (Maggie Gyllenhaal) while struggling to connect with his closeted gay son (Jason Ritter). The part was written for Arnold, 46, and he says that those who know him think it fits him well. ”My wife is always like, ‘I think people think you’re the hyper guy on TV all the time. But no, you’re actually very boring, and so calm, and you come home and are quiet.”’ Indeed, the midlife anxieties and constant yearning of his Happy Endings character mirror, however coincidentally, some of what’s going on with Arnold himself.
The roots of Tom Arnold’s humility go deeper than duds like TV’s Jackie Thomas Show. They were planted in Ottumwa, Iowa, where this oldest of seven children was raised by his devoted dad, then an industrial engineer, after his parents’ marriage broke up. He never expected to amount to much, and he worked for a time as a young man in a Hormel plant ripping fat from the ribs of dead pigs. Arnold has always looked at his career through the prism of that meat factory — being famous, even if it’s as an idiotic, ridiculous person, still beats sweating it out on the greasy kill floor. ”How many guys from Iowa that worked at meatpacking plants are out here working?” he asks, gazing out on the sun-dappled waves of the Pacific. ”I might be one of the few. And so I embrace [my persona]. If I hadn’t gotten fired from the meatpacking plant, I swear to God I would still be working there.”
Dismissed from the Hormel plant after he was arrested for running naked through a local retirement home and a fast-food restaurant, Arnold attended the University of Iowa and worked the Midwest comedy circuit before hitting Hollywood as a writer on Roseanne; his proudest moment came when Barr won an Emmy for acting in the series. And following their tabloid-friendly relationship (we’ll get to that in a second), he landed breakout film roles as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s sidekick in 1994’s True Lies and as Hugh Grant’s wacky pal in 1995’s Nine Months, fast commanding $5 million a movie.