Schwarzenegger says he didn't ask his estranged wife, Maria Shriver, who has filed for divorce, to preview his memoir, Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story (Simon and Schuster), on sale Monday.
"It's my book, it's not our book," he tells USA TODAY by phone in his first newspaper interview about the memoir.
Does he expect her to read it?
"Of course," he says. "As soon as I can, I will get her a copy."
By Schwarzenegger's calculation, "less than 1%" of the memoir (five out of 646 pages) is about what he calls "my screw-up": fathering a boy, Joseph, with housekeeper Mildred Baena -- a secret he kept from his wife for 14 years.
In the book, he calls it "one of those stupid things I promised myself never to do. My whole life I never had anything going on with anyone who worked with me."
In an interview with CBS' 60 Minutes that aired Sunday, he called it "the stupidest thing I've done in the whole relationship. It was terrible. I inflicted tremendous pain on Maria and unbelievable pain on the kids." (The couple, who married in 1987, have four children: Katherine, 22, Christina, 21, Patrick, 19, and Christopher, 15.)
A publicist for Shriver, 56, who gave up her TV reporter's job when her husband ran for governor of California in 2003, says she has no comment.
Schwarzenegger, 65, tells USA TODAY that the memoir was planned before the scandal broke last year, and that he considered delaying the book. But he decided, "You can't run from your mistakes. You have to confront them."
He says he tries to answer the question: "How do you get up after a fall? That's what I've done my whole life."
Total Recall -- also the title of his hit 1990 action film -- is mostly a chronological account of how the son of an Austrian police officer turned himself into a bodybuilding champion, then went on to become one of Hollywood's biggest stars, earning more than $20 million a movie, he says.
And then there's his romance and marriage to the niece of President Kennedy -- he calls her "the perfect wife" -- and his seven years as governor of California. "If they thought I wasn't really a Republican for taking on climate change," he writes of conservatives, "they really lost it when I took on health care reform."
He also told 60 Minutes that as governor, he officiated at two sex-same marriages involving people who worked for him. He said he believes "marriage is between a man and a woman, but I would never enforce my will on people. ... If (gay people) want to get married, let them get married."
Along the way, he confesses to a "hot affair" with Brigitte Nielsen in 1985 on the set of Red Sonja, a movie he calls "too awful even to be campy."
Later, back in Los Angeles, he told Nielsen, "It was fun over there, but it wasn't serious. I'm already involved with the woman I want to marry."
He also confessed to other affairs on 60 Minutes, without specifics, saying only, "I'm not perfect."
But it's another part of the book, a chapter titled "The Secret," that's been drawing most of the early attention. In it, Schwarzenegger expresses "the hope that Maria and I can come back together as husband and wife. ...
"You can call that denial, but it's the way my mind works. I'm still in love with Maria. And I'm still an optimist. All my life I have focused on the positives. I am optimistic that we will come together again."
He says he wrote that a year ago, but "yes, of course," he still feels that way. "Then, it would be perfect."
His publisher and editor, Jonathan Karp, says that "once people read more of the book, they will recognize the enormity of Arnold's life" beyond the scandal.
"It is unquestionably the greatest immigrant success story of our time," Karp says. "For two years, I've been asking anyone to name someone who comes close. No one does."
Schwarzenegger says he never argues with people who underestimate him. That includes Karl Rove, the Republican mastermind for George W. Bush, who, Schwarzenegger contends, mocked his political chances in California: "He was a political genius, and he dismissed me!"
He also is relaunching his movie career, appearing with Sylvester Stallone in The Expendables 2 (which opened in August). Next year, he'll be a small-town sheriff battling a big-time drug gang in The Last Stand and a security expert who gets mixed up in a cyberterorrist plot in The Tomb.
Another movie project, Cry Macho, got derailed as "just too close to home," he says. The plot is about a horse trainer's friendship with a streetwise 12-year-old Latino kid, who might remind viewers of Schwarzenegger's 15-year-old son with his housekeeper.
Paul Dergarabedian, Hollywood.com's box-office analyst, doesn't doubt Schwarzenegger can stage a successful comeback: "In Hollywood, people get second chances and third chances and fourth chances."
But he adds that since leaving politics, Schwarzenegger has yet to take on a role "where he's carrying the whole movie on his broad shoulders. I think he can still do that. He's made himself into an icon. He's still an icon."
Schwarzenegger says acting at 65 isn't more difficult, "but you have to remember you're not 30 or 40 anymore." He says he works out 90 minutes a day, down from 5 1/2 hours in his bodybuilding heyday.
He sees himself as a "businessman first" who complains that "too many actors, writers and artists think that marketing is beneath them. But no matter what you do in life, selling is part of it."
And sell he does. He's quick to mention the new Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy at the University of Southern California, where he vows "to continue to promote the policies I care about, things like political reform, climate change and the environment."
He says he has been too busy to get involved in the presidential campaign. In the book, he recounts warning fellow Republicans: "We are dying at the box office. We are not filling the seats. Our party has lost the middle."
He won't say whether he's voting for his party nominee, Mitt Romney. "I'll tell you after the election. I'm eager to watch the debates."
He's not so eager to elaborate on the personal parts of his memoir.
In the book, he compares himself and his wife to Shriver's grandparents --the legendary Joseph and Rose Kennedy:
"Joe was a self-made man, and I was a self-made man. He was very aggressive in making money, and so was I. Rose had chosen him when he was penniless, and she was the daughter of the mayor of Boston, John Francis 'Honey Fitz' Fitzgerald, because she had absolute faith in Joe's ability to succeed.
"I was relentless, disciplined, hands-on, and street-smart enough to get there, too. That was what made Maria want to be with me."
Elsewhere in the book, he recounts a house-hunting trip with his wife in Beverly Hills when a real estate agent told them, "Do you know who lived here? Gloria Swanson!"
The agent showed them the basement tunnel that led to another house nearby and said Joe Kennedy used the tunnel during his affair with the actress in the late 1920s.
"Afterward, Maria asked me, 'Why did she show us this?' She was partly fascinated and partly mad and embarrassed."
Schwarzenegger won't say whether Shriver's family history, filled with heartbreak and scandal, may have added to the embarrassment and hurt she felt when his infidelity became public.
"I wrote about my life," he says. "I didn't write about anyone else's life. My marriage to Maria has been the joyride of my life. But I'm not writing about the Kennedy family. There are enough books about them."
The scandal broke after he left the governor's office, but he writes, "politically, I didn't feel it was anybody's business because I hadn't campaigned on family values."
He adds, however, "I blocked out the fact that as a husband and father, as a man with a family and wife, I was letting people down."
But what would he say to voters who say a politician who lies to his or her spouse isn't credible?
"That's between my wife and me," he replies. "End of story."
By Bob Minzesheimer