He’s Back: Schwarzenegger Returns to ‘Terminator’ Franchise
Left to right: Emilia Clarke plays Sarah Connor, Arnold Schwarzenegger plays the Terminator, and Jai Courtney plays Kyle Reese in TERMINATOR GENISYS. ©Paramount Pictures. CR: Melinda Sue Gordon.

Left to right: Emilia Clarke plays Sarah Connor, Arnold Schwarzenegger plays the Terminator, and Jai Courtney plays Kyle Reese in TERMINATOR GENISYS. ©Paramount Pictures. CR: Melinda Sue Gordon.


Front Row Features

HOLLYWOOD—On the same day the U.S. Supreme Court made its groundbreaking ruling making same-sex marriage legal nationwide, former California governor and returning action star Arnold Schwarzenegger was promoting his new film, “Terminator: Genisys,” the fourth installment of the “Terminator” franchise. It’s familiar territory for the Austria native that made him an international star more than three decades ago.

As governor of the Golden State, Schwarzenegger initially opposed officially recognizing same-sex unions, but he changed his stand in the ensuing years, and in response to the High Court’s 5-4 decision, he took pride in the fact that his state was one of the first to recognize gay marriage. Of course, the charismatic former body builder also discussed reprising his iconic Terminator role and how he almost didn’t play the onscreen antihero he is most associated with.

Q: Do you have any comment on the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling today on gay marriage?

Schwarzenegger: When it comes to the Supreme Court, I am very happy that they made the right decision because we in California are, of course, always a step ahead. We made the decision already a long time ago. Our Supreme Court of California that it is unconstitutional to deny gay or same sex couples marriage. Everyone has equal rights, so this is the right way to go. I think it’s a great celebration for America. Sometimes I do have to say that judges in our judiciary system make better decisions then the politicians. I’m sad that they don’t have the balls to lead and work together on those issues.

Q: You’re back as The Terminator. Do you agree there are always more stories to tell in a sequel?

Schwarzenegger: It really depends so much on the writing. I think there are some people that are capable of making a sequel more special then the original; and we have seen that when the original “Terminator” came out. James Cameron outdid himself with the sequel. Then it became the highest grossing movie of the year when (“Terminator: Judgment Day”) came out in 1991. Since then we have been trying to outdo that. We haven’t always been successful, but that was always the attempt. This time I think (director) Alan Taylor, the writers and the producers have done an extraordinary job really living up the standards of “Terminator: Judgment Day.”

Q: How has your approach to your character changed over the years, especially since the first one started off kind of like a sci-fi/horror movie?

Schwarzenegger: In “The Terminator,” it was very clear that it was just a machine that destroyed human beings and anything that was in my way I would wipe out in the most brutal way, without any feelings or any kind of remorse. My mission was to protect the machines and to find Sarah Connor (played by Linda Hamilton) and to basically be successful with my mission. In this movie, it becomes a little bit more colorful because (SPOILER ALERT) I am again back to destroy Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke). I’m still this vicious cold machine that’s programmed to destroy Sarah Connor and nothing will get in my way except, in this story, something does get in my way, which is another Terminator.

It’s one that has been around for a longer period of time and is another T-800 model. But he was programed to protect Sarah Connor and the human race. There is obviously a major conflict too when they meet, and that’s what creates this huge, epic battle. Then, of course the Terminators, depending on how long they have been around—some of them are just straight Terminators, like the one from 1984—the one that has been around longer, have already adapted certain human behaviors. From an acting point of view, you have to really be very wise in how you use that and how to get that across—that he has certain human behaviors and that he has certain feelings, and stuff like that. But it also creates great comic relief when the Terminator tries very hard to be like a human and he fails miserably. You see that in the movie.

Q: How is it doing scenes in the nude?

Schwarzenegger: I think they are fun. Because they are embarrassing, they’re fun, and it leads to funny conversations and funny dialogue and great humor and everything like that. It’s inevitable. You have to do it, because it’s what the movie shows. There are certain times you can cover things up and there are certain times you can’t. And so what? We don’t have anything to hide.

Q: What was it like seeing yourself fighting your younger self on-screen?

Schwarzenegger: First of all, I think the body builder that they picked for (younger) me to fight with was really an extraordinary champion body builder. He had terrific muscles and so that was a great idea to use that approach. But even after three or four days of doing this fight scene and being thrown around and doing all of these crazy stunts—this epic battle— I was always wondering while I was doing it, how are they going to do the face replacement (digitally)? And how do you make the body (on the younger Terminator) look exactly like my body was because (the stuntman’s) body was extraordinary but it’s not exactly like my body was? Every body is different. So all that was on my mind was that. How is this going to work out? I really never knew.

The entire movie had very different fight scenes with John Connor (played by Jason Clarke) and with others that were just huge battle scenes. But it wasn’t clear how this was going to work out with the visual effects. I saw the finished movie three weeks ago for the first time, because I made it very clear I didn’t want to see (the transformation) in stages. I wanted to see when it was finished so we could really see how it works.

I looked very carefully at the technical aspect when I watched it the first time, and then I watched it a few more times from another point of view. I looked at the technical stuff and thought it was so seamless and that technology has advanced so much that it was really extraordinary to get this kind of entertainment and storytelling that you can do today.

In the old days you had to do split screens and all those kinds of things and you could tell that it was not the same. It was not like two Arnolds fighting, two Terminators fighting at different ages, and stuff like that (back then). In this movie, it totally worked. I was really impressed. I thought it was smart, that from a scheduling point of view, that scene is pretty much in the beginning of the movie, because I did not realize it would take one year. The producer can tell you how many people worked on that scene for one year. From the time they shot it all the way to the end, because it barely got finished on time.

Q: What do you think about aging?

Schwarzenegger: I thought that the writers came up with a great organic way to show the aging of Terminator. Because the Terminator cannot go into time travel at a certain point because his (metallic) hand is exposed, the flesh is gone, and if we cannot time travel, the other can. All of the other characters time travel within seconds. In the future I have to go the old fashioned way, the slow way. So I age of course, decades, as time has come along from 1984 to 2017. My hair turns grey and I age and stuff like that. This was a wonderful way of explaining how the Terminator ages. He has human flesh, but the skeleton underneath is still the same. It functions the same and is the same size and everything.

As a matter of fact, Alan (Taylor, the director) asked me to gain 10 pounds in order to have the same size the skeleton (of the Terminator) had in 1984. So I gained that weight and trained twice as hard. I trained heavier to get more muscle size and so on, to keep the same frame and wear the same size clothing. But, other then that, I aged. I think the concept and the way it was written was really terrific because this way we don’t pretend that I am this old guy. I am what I am, which is I have aged. So that worked really well.

Q: Do you feel the effects of age?

Schwarzenegger: I myself don’t feel any older. I think because I have stayed in shape and I exercise every day.

Q: What do you recall about when you first signed up for the first “Terminator?”

Schwarzenegger: I was approached to play Kyle Reese by (producer) Mike Medavoy. He said he had this great project, an action flick. It was kind of low budget. He said, “The director is James Cameron. You probably haven’t heard of him. He has done one movie before. This is his second movie. As far as we are concerned, O.J. Simpson is going to play Terminator.” So this was kind of the dialogue. I said, “That’s great. Let me get the script.”

I got the script and read it and thought it was a really great script. Then I met with James Cameron during lunch and (producer) John Daly during lunch. I started talking more and more about the Terminator and how he has to train and how he has to prepare and act like a machine, and how he has to assemble and put together the guns blindfolded, and how he has to practice shooting so he doesn’t blink, and on and on. The whole lunch went like that. And, in the end, James Cameron said, “Why are you wanting to play Reese? You should be the Terminator.” And I said, “No, no, no. Look guys, the Terminator only has 27 lines. I don’t want to go backwards. I really like Kyle Reese. He really says a lot and he is the hero.”

I had just started out by being the leading hero in “Conan the Barbarian,” so I wanted to continue on like that. And he says, “The most memorable character really will be the Terminator. The way I’ll shoot it is this way,” and then he explained the whole thing. He said, “You should be the Terminator and I will make sure that you won’t have to think of the villainous aspect because he’s a hero anyway. He’s going to do cool things.” He talked me into it basically, and I said, “All right, I’m going to be the Terminator.”

What was supposed to be a B movie ended up being called a Top 10 movie by Time magazine. I was called “the ultimate villain” and at the same time “the ultimate hero.” So all of this great stuff started happening, which none of us knew would happen. And then there was a demand for a second one. Then we did the second one and that became the highest grossing movie of the year in 1991. That was the launch of this franchise and it just got bigger, bigger and bigger.