James Cameron on Why Audiences Love 'Terminator' 30 Years Later: "He Just Does Not Give a F—"
The director and producer Gale Anne Hurd talked 'The Walking Dead' and gender diversity in sci-fi
It’s been 30 years since The Terminator launched the career of James Cameron and a franchise that continues to generate new material.
With a reboot on the way from Paramount, Alan Taylor’s Terminator: Genisys starring Emilia Clarke as Sarah Connor and Arnold Schwarzenegger back in the title role, and two more films planned (Cameron is not involved in their production), the director told The Hollywood Reporter why he thinks the character has endured. In short: “He just does not give a f---.”
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“There’s kind of the wish fulfillment of the guy that's unstoppable and doesn’t give a f---. 'Cause the great thing about the terminator is he just does not give a f---, more than any other character in history before or since,” Cameron told THR. “I think it’s just a lean, mean thriller that works."
The filmmaker and his Terminator co-writer and producer Gale Anne Hurd appeared Wednesday at a panel discussion of the film hosted by the American Cinematheque. They spoke to the difficulty of making a memorable sci-fi pic without any of the budget (Terminator was shot for a stunning $5.6 million, Hurd said) or special effects that helped make Cameron’s Avatar into a multibillion-dollar franchise. "We had a kind of rebellious spirit," said Cameron. "We were ready to kind of take on Hollywood and show them that it could be done cheaper and faster."
Schwarzenegger was meant to appear at the panel as well, but the actor and former California governor was waylaid by the flu after a trip to Europe, as he explained to attendees in a video message. "I'll be back," he promised, quoting his character’s famous line.
Cameron wasn’t buying it. “I talked to him today. It reminded me of when I used to call people when I didn’t want to come to work,” he told attendees. “I said, ‘Wait a minute, a Terminator doesn’t feel pity or remorse or fear and doesn’t stop. So why are you whining like a little bitch?' "
Cameron detailed how the Austrian star, who was then known for little more than the title role in the Conan the Barbarian film, became attached to star in the fledgling sci-fi saga. It was thanks to Mike Medavoy, co-founder of Terminator production company Orion, who met Schwarzenegger at a party and got him interested in the film — only Medavoy envisioned Schwarzenegger for the role of Kyle Reese, which eventually went to Michael Biehn. It was O.J. Simpson he wanted to play the Terminator. When Medavoy pitched him the casting choices, “I think I was on my knees retching,” said Cameron.
He took a meeting with Schwarzenegger anyway. “I thought, ‘I'll just go and we'll talk, we'll have "creative differences," I'll say his accent's too thick or something,' " he said. "I had a roommate at the time, and I said to him, 'Do I owe you any money? Because I have to go have lunch and pick a fight with Conan.' "
But the director was struck by the bodybuilder’s enthusiasm for the script, and in particular the Terminator’s scenes, not Reese’s. "I was looking at him and thinking he could make a pretty good Terminator," Cameron said, adding, "He’s like a bulldozer."
Cameron and Hurd expressed their doubts that The Terminator would get produced today, in a film landscape crowded with franchises and other pre-proven intellectual property. “If you’re Jim Cameron you get to make original movies based on your own ideas,” said Hurd. “You don’t get a lot of that opportunity anymore, and often the notes you get from the studio are ‘less character, more boom.’ ”
That’s what led her to TV. Hurd has been an executive producer for every season of AMC's The Walking Dead, which premiered its fifth run on Sunday to record ratings. She praised the medium’s focus on character and storytelling. “The first time we got the notes from AMC, they were like, ‘Slow it down, let it breathe.’ I didn’t know if I’d ever heard those words before,” she said.
But there is a similarity between The Terminator and the zombie series, Hurd told THR. “I think that thematically, it’s the idea of having ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances,” she said. “If you’re going to change something, raise the stakes, you want to ground it in people the audience can relate to."
Hurd and Cameron also noted the relative lack of stories in any genre, including action and sci-fi, centered on female characters like the Terminator series’ Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton in the first two films). The Hunger Games is the rare recent example. “I think if someone had just written the script for Hunger Games and it hadn’t been based on a best-selling series of books, it wouldn’t have gotten made,” said Hurd. Nor would it have without the “perfect casting” of Jennifer Lawrence, she speculated.
“You have to literally get everything right,” said Hurd.