The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Knapp Schwarzenegger before the holidays to find out how and why he decided to enter the world of reality television after decades of dealmaking behind the scenes.
When did you know you wanted to become an attorney, and why?
I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to become the first in our immediate family to attend graduate school. As an economics and political science major at UCLA, I learned that many of the individuals who had a profound impact on our history and society were lawyers: Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and any number of U.S. presidents to just name a few. I also had a few successful lawyer friends who I looked up to and who would tell me all about what it is like to be a lawyer. So the legal profession always really impressed me. And I am quite analytical by nature, so the torturous and cerebral law school training was a perfect fit. It would provide me with the skill set to strengthen my intellectual stamina and give me the confidence to tackle a competitive marketplace — particularly competitive and intimidating for a young immigrant with English as a second or third language.
What have been the highlights of your legal career up to this point?
Becoming a partner at Bloom Hergott in 2003 certainly is one of them. We are probably the best known entertainment law firm in the world, which has shaped the entertainment industry for decades, so I take great pride in that. We represent a lot of the biggest talent in show business, and over the 21 years I have practiced law I have worked on deals and projects which have entertained billions of people around the world. I love when people in Brazil, China or Germany tell me how much they enjoyed Fast and Furious 7, Karate Kid, National Treasure or Terminator 5, and I know I contributed to that. And I of course also consider it a major highlight to be joining Arnold Schwarzenegger’s New Celebrity Apprentice boardroom as an advisor along with Tyra Banks, Warren Buffet, Jessica Alba, Leeza Gibbons and Clippers owner and former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.
Why did you want to serve as an advisor on The New Celebrity Apprentice?
I have always been big fan of Celebrity Apprentice. It is super entertaining and raises so much money for charity. It has raised over $15 million so far, and there really is no other show like this. So I was very excited about Arnold taking over the show and, once we concluded Arnold’s deal, NBC and Mark Burnett started looking into possible boardroom advisors. The emphasis was on giving the boardroom a sense of authenticity, so it would feel like Arnold’s boardroom. They wanted to have someone from Arnold’s actual team in the boardroom, and I was very honored when I was asked to come on board as an advisor. Being in front of the camera had never before crossed my mind. As a talent attorney I am always the behind-the-scenes power broker, protecting and negotiating the best deals for my clients. To join The New Celebrity Apprentice and share the stage with talent I would ordinarily represent was new and exciting.
What were you most looking forward to as part of your work on the show?
Meeting some of our contestants and boardroom advisors, for sure. I grew up with Motley Crue and Culture Club in Europe in the ’80s, so meeting Vince Neil and Boy George and seeing them actually collaborating on a music task was really something. I had also watched a few of the fights and interviews of UFC standout Chael Sonnen and four-time world champion boxer Laila Ali, so I was thrilled to meet them as well. During the day the other advisors and I would check in on the teams to see how they were doing on their tasks, and that gave us a great opportunity to interact with all the contestants. But my favorite part was definitely the boardroom. We had some very tough boardroom decisions, which created not only great suspense and drama but also great comedy. And, surprisingly, I actually felt so comfortable in the boardroom that many times I would completely forget about all the cameras around us. It was so similar to the dynamics we lawyers and talent representatives encounter in actual real-life boardroom negotiations.
What were the biggest challenges?
The biggest challenge was probably fitting the shoot in with my already very busy law firm job. I made it clear to the network and production that I would only consider becoming an advisor if it does not interfere with my law practice. You don’t want to tell your clients that you cannot attend to their deals because you are busy shooting a reality show. Fortunately the show was moved from NYC to L.A. So we shot everything here, and production was absolutely amazing accommodating my schedule, and I was able to do both seamlessly. The only thing which suffered was my personal life, as I barely saw my wife and four little kids during the production period, and I have to applaud my wife, Bliss, for being such a trooper.
Have you learned anything from the experience that you can apply to your law practice?
I learned a lot. Take on new challenges and take yourself out of your comfort zone. You will feel your heart pounding again, the way I felt it the night before our first shoot day and the way I felt it in the past during the bar exam or that first important meeting with a studio head as a junior associate. Also seeing athletes and entertainers like Jon Lovitz, Vince Neil, Porsha Williams, Snooki Nicole, Boy George, Carrie Keagan, Eric Dickerson, Carson Kressley, and so on in action confirmed to me how business-savvy they are and that it is not a coincidence that they have managed to turn themselves into very successful and valuable brands and businesses. And, finally, I learned a lot about what makes people and teams succeed. Of course you need individual talent, effort, perseverance, etc. But in a team context you also need great leadership, someone who can rally his or her team and can create great teamwork, which allows everyone to play to their strengths. And unless someone sets the right goals and direction, you miss your target. All of the above applies as well to our law practice and to any other business, family, sports team, endeavor, society, country, etc.