Interview: Arnold Schwarzenegger on the Past, Present, and Many Futures of ‘Terminator’
Time is very much cyclical in the Terminator franchise. The future sends robots back to the past to alter the timeline, which then changes the future, which then sends different robots back to the past. The making of The Terminator films works in much the same way. In 1984, the first Terminator became a breakthrough for its co-writer and director, James Cameron, and for its stars, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton. Now, 35 years later, all three return for Terminator: Dark Fate, the sixth entry in the franchise and the first with Hamilton and a major creative contribution from Cameron in decades. (He produced the movie, and contributed to the screenplay.)
Unlike his colleagues, Schwarzenegger has appeared in every Terminator except one. (Everyone loved his iconic delivery of “I’ll be back” from the first Terminator, but I’m not sure anyone in 1984 thought he meant it quite so literally.) In Dark Fate, Schwarzenegger plays another variation of his classic killer robot from the future, this time caught in the middle of a war between more evil machines (led by Gabriel Luna as the latest model of Terminator) and their target, a young woman named Dani (Natalia Reyes) who’s protected by her own future warrior (Mackenzie Davis) and Hamilton’s Sarah Connor, still fighting Terminators 35 years later.
Improbably, I spoke to Schwarzenegger about Dark Fate on the actual 35th anniversary of The Terminator’s release on October 26, 1984. We discussed what the series’ longevity has meant to him, how his latest Terminator character compares to the others, and whether he thinks this is his farewell to the franchise. (Note that the first couple questions have a few minor spoilers about Schwarzenegger’s Terminator character from the film. There’s nothing that will ruin the experience or even explain how he’s in the movie, but if you want to go in totally cold, skip ahead past the picture of Schwarzenegger and Luna fighting.)
For some reason, it’s very funny to see you playing a Terminator named Carl. How was that name chosen? Were there other contenders for the name of this guy?
I think it was a name chosen for the story, so that when I talk with that accent, that I blend in easier by saying my name is Carl. The only thing is they should have spelled it with a ‘K.’ That's what they’d normally do, but that’s okay. But I think that’s the reason, to give it a German background type of thing, for the neighborhood in the story, so that no one discovers that I am a machine.
There’s a moment where Carl is getting ready to leave his house and he walks to his dresser and he sees the classic Terminator sunglasses, and he starts to put them on ... and then doesn’t. I thought that was a very interesting beat for your character. I’m curious what that moment meant to you.
Absolutely nothing. I’ll tell you why: We shot it two different ways. We shot it with me putting the sunglasses on, and we shot it with not putting the sunglasses on. After we shot it both ways, and I went out of the house, the director realized “Wait a minute, if we’re doing both choices, then we’d have to reshoot everything, because we already shot with him not having sunglasses on. We’re gonna be f—ed on that one.”
We realized “Now what do we do? What’s the next move when we’ve already shot the next scene?” So I’d have to take them off again. But how would I explain it? “Oh the sunglasses, have got to go.” So why don’t we make the choice right away. So that’s how we decided. Let’s just go with he picks up the sunglasses and puts them back. He doesn’t really need them.
Carl runs his own drapery business. Did you do any research into drapes? How Method did you go playing a robot who works with drapery?
I didn’t have to do too much Method on that, or maybe Method came very naturally, because I’m into decorating anyway. I’m into beautiful things. I’m into drapes, wallpapers, rugs, everything. I study everything. I study fireplaces, how to build old fireplaces. How do you get those old French fireplaces that are 200, 300 years old and then put them back together over here, and all this stuff. So I deal with this all the time. It’s something that I love doing. That came natural.
I’ve always enjoyed the different variations of your Terminator in all of these sequels. At least to me, they very much speak to the arc of your whole career, or maybe your feelings about your career. In Terminator: Rise of the Machines, you talked about how you were an “obsolete design.” In Terminator Genisys, you said you were “old, not obsolete.” In the case of Dark Fate, how do you see Carl fitting into that arc? How does he reflect on you as a person now?
I think that he fits very well into that age thing. The whole idea of it is to kind of go with it rather than avoid it. When you go with it, you can have some fun with it.
In reality, obviously when you’re 72 you feel older than when you were 40. But I don’t feel “old.” And I definitely don’t feel obsolete. I think it’s a good line for the movie, to play that character.
Has anyone pointed out that today is the 35th anniversary of the release of the original Terminator?
No, no one pointed that out, but now we know. I was in the middle of shooting Red Sonja when the movie came out. I was not here. Because I remember a week later I came home, and then I did a bunch of publicity a week later when I came back from Italy.
How does it feel to be involved with a franchise that has had that kind of longevity? We’re sitting here talking on the 35th anniversary, and in a week or so you have a new Terminator coming out.
Well, what’s amazing about it is that no one thought when we did the movie that this is going to be a franchise. No one thought the line “I’ll be back,” would ever be repeated again. The studio, the way they looked at it was it was a B-action movie.
You have to understand that a year or two before we came out there was this stupid movie called The Exterminator. So when I heard I was offered The Terminator, I said to myself “Oh no, this is like The Exterminator, people will look at it that way. Is that were my career is going? B movies and then it goes straight to video, end of story?”
No one really knew. I just had faith in Jim Cameron because of the way he explained how he wanted to shoot it, it would be creative, it would be different. And I bought into the idea of playing the Terminator, based on what he was telling me. Then when the movie was screened, and was tested and all this, all of a sudden we got this unbelievable buzz, that wow, this is smart movie, this is intelligently written, and the action was unbelievable, and the female hero, all this stuff. So there were so many things there that Time Magazine picked it as one of the top ten movies of the year.
All of that caught the studio by surprise. Then they started putting more money into the movie, into the advertising, and into the marketing, which they normally never do after the first week unless they think they have something really interesting. Then they put more money into it, and it made the same amount of money the second weekend and the third weekend. Then they realized it was making more money than they thought, And then of course everyone said “Well, we knew we had something good on our hands,” which was total bulls—. They made it up as they went along. But everyone was obviously very delighted with Jim Cameron’s work. The movie kept having a life. Years later they decided to do a sequel, and that was the beginning of this franchise.
If this one is a hit, and they want to make more again, do you think you have more Terminator movies in you?
Y’know, that’s really not up to me. It’s really up to the audience. If the audience decides it’s time to move on, and to have a new Terminator, then they’re gonna go in another direction. If the audience decides they like to see me, and they think it’s cool for me to be in this franchise, to continue being in it, then I will be written in. Because Cameron is clearly going to be more and more in charge of this franchise, because it’s all going to revert back to him and [The Terminator producer and co-writer] Gale Anne Hurd, probably.
Oh right, that’s coming up, right? They will get the rights to the material back?
Yeah, because the 35 years are up. [Note: For more on on this rule and how it will impact movie franchises in the future, read this article.]
I was a fan of Terminator: Genisys, and there were several dangling plot threads left unanswered in that movie, and since it doesn’t look like we’ll ever get the sequel that was intended, I have to ask: Who sent your Terminator back to protect Sarah Connor as a young girl?
I am so stuck with my mind on this sequel, on Dark Fate, and what the timelines are, and who did what, that I’d have to look back again on Terminator 5 to see who sent me back.
It does get a little confusing.
Yeah. Who sent me back? I can’t think of it right now.
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