'Terminator' Star Natalia Reyes on Training in Tom Cruise's "Pain Cave" and Earning Linda Hamilton's Blessing

Natalia Reyes - Getty - H 2019
Han Myung-Gu/WireImage
The actor also looks at the final shot of the film and the six weeks of night shoots it took to craft that underwater fight scene.

[This story contains spoilers for Terminator: Dark Fate.]

The three female leads of Terminator: Dark Fate had one another’s back both on and off screen. When Colombian actor Natalia Reyes sent in an audition tape for the role of Dani Ramos, all she knew was that it was for a “big American movie.” While she didn't expect to hear back, she quickly landed a Skype meeting with filmmaker Tim Miller and soon found herself auditioning alongside Linda Hamilton in Los Angeles.

“So I got there, and there was this beautiful and amazing woman who welcomed me with water … and asked if I needed anything. I thought that she must've been a producer…. Then Tim came out and said, ‘Oh, you met Linda Hamilton,’" Reyes tells The Hollywood Reporter. “We just connected, and the scene went great. At the end, we were all crying. Just after I left, that’s when Linda said, ‘I don’t know if I get to vote, but she’s the one.’ Linda is a big part of me being here.”

Filming Dark Fate was an intense experience for Reyes, but she says it was even tougher for her co-star Mackenzie Davis, who played an augmented human soldier from the future named Grace.

"For six months, we were only sleeping for maybe three or four hours a day at most. She’d wake up and go to the gym every single day," Reyes recounts. "We had Tom Cruise’s gym trailer; it’s called 'the Pain Cave.' I would train for an hour, but Mackenzie would train for two hours every morning. And then she’d have three hours of makeup before we’d shoot for 12 hours. They were really long days, and she was such a trooper."

Even though the film faltered at the box office amid generally positive reviews, the Colombian actor cherished the experience, which also allowed her to work closely with Arnold Schwarzenegger, returning as a T-800 named Carl, and Gabriel Luna, who played the villainous Rev-9 Terminator.

In a recent conversation with THR, Reyes discusses the film’s big reveal, the final shot and the six weeks of night shoots that crafted the underwater sequence.

Let's start with the casting process. After you met with Tim Miller on Skype, I'm told you were surprised by a certain someone at your audition in L.A.? 

I came to L.A. and went to Tim’s studio, Blur Studio, after preparing the scene all night. I didn’t sleep much; I was really anxious about it. So I got there, and there was this beautiful and amazing woman who welcomed me with water and makeup and asked if I needed anything. I thought that she must've been a producer, because she was really into it. Then, Tim came out and said, “Oh, you met Linda Hamilton.” I was like, "What!?” I couldn’t believe it was fucking Linda Hamilton! I was not expecting Linda Hamilton to be there auditioning with me. I never would’ve imagined that. I didn’t recognize her. We went into a room with four people, and the scene was really emotional. She held my hand and hugged me. She was so loving. Suddenly, when it was action, she was Sarah Connor and so badass. It was love at first sight. We just connected, and the scene went great. At the end, we were all crying. That’s when I realized that Tim cries very easily. It was a magical moment, and I did my best. I didn’t care if I got the movie, because I got to audition with Linda Hamilton. Just after I left, that’s when Linda said, “I don’t know if I get to vote, but she’s the one.” Tim was like, “I don’t know; we’ll see,” but Linda is a big part of me being here.

Did the two of you audition a scene from the movie, or was it a fake side?

That scene is not in the movie anymore. It was part of a situation in the car with Sarah and Dani talking about her family. It was a sad moment, but it is not in the movie. With that scene, I just got a better idea of how Dani was trying to understand the situation while being chased by a big robot.

For the next audition I went to Ireland because Mackenzie was shooting a movie there. On my way there, they gave me the script; it was actually an app with a code. So I couldn’t read the script on the plane because I had no Wi-Fi. It was crazy. I had a two-hour layover, so I read the script quickly. I couldn’t believe I was reading a story with an important character who’s a Latina and a hero, without anything illegal or anything related to drugs. I was so excited.

So when I got to Dublin, I did this screen test with Mackenzie, and it was great. So I knew I was getting closer, but I didn’t know how close. The whole process was a month and a half, and it felt like forever. Finally, Tim called me and said that I was the one. I still have a hard time believing it. 

Did you audition or screen test for Jim Cameron eventually?

No, but I think he was always there, in a way. He was not present on Skype or in L.A. or Dublin because he was shooting Avatar. But he was watching all the tapes, and of course, he got to vote along with the studio and the whole team. And they agreed.

Since he cast Linda Hamilton, Kate Winslet and Zoe Saldana, it’s probably better that he wasn’t there, given the pressure he would add.

Oh, gosh, yeah. Even more pressure would be insane.

The movie is really about three different generations of women looking out for one another. Did the three of you build rapport off screen so that connection could show up on screen?

I don’t think you can force those things; you always try and do your best. But we truly love each other. We spent so much time together, and between the three of us, there were no egos. It was three women trying to tell a story, creating this world and working hard. We’d inspire each other and support each other whenever one of us needed it. Everyone had a “cry day,” whether it was me, Mackenzie or Linda. It was just great to have an amazing group of women around me, along with the best captain we could have in Tim Miller. We were crazy lucky.

When you’re on set for weeks or months at a time with Linda and Arnold, do you eventually reach a point where their star power fades and they become everyday people to you?

Of course. I was really nervous when I met Arnold. I wondered, “How is he going to be? Is he going to talk to me? How should I behave?” When you get to set, he always has the crew or friends around as he loves having fun, telling stories and cracking jokes. He also loves talking about politics, and we just talked for hours and hours about climate change. He really cares about the world, and I love that he uses his power to actually create change. I also loved watching Linda read 40 books when she wasn’t on screen and listening to her family stories and jokes. They’re human and have problems like everybody else, but beyond their legends, they’re both loving and generous people.

Can you attempt to describe your first reaction to the reveal that Dani would be the new John Connor and not the new Sarah Connor?

It was insane. When I was trying to read the script really fast and finish it before I got to Dublin to see Mackenzie, I was so shocked and so amazed when I read that. I was really excited as an actor. I was like, “Oh my gosh! This is the thing! I get it!” I feel like it’s not just about me; it’s a collective effort and achievement. Finally, the Latina is the hero. It’s so different from what we’re used to seeing, and this character is not what I was expecting. I thought she was going to be a maid, prostitute or drug dealer who was killed in the second scene. I was so surprised and thankful. I was like, “Yes! This was finally it. This is the moment.” The world is changing, and Hollywood is changing. It’s about time. I felt surprised, proud and excited to be a part of James Cameron’s story.

The franchise has always changed the rules. Sarah Connor was a single mother and waitress in the first movie, and suddenly, she was a big action hero in the second movie. That was a big change back then. Now it’s 2019, and we’re talking about immigration with a Mexican girl as the hero alongside two other women. It’s amazing.

The movie ends with Sarah and Dani driving off in a Jeep, much like a pregnant Sarah in The Terminator. Dani vows to not let Grace die for her again, and Sarah responds, “Then you need to be ready.” In the event of a sequel, are you, Natalia, somewhat dreading the inevitable trip to Sarah Connor's boot camp?

(Laughs) We’ll see. We loved shooting this movie together, and Sarah Connor is definitely not over. She’s an icon. I would love to see the journey of Dani continue, which I think is different from Sarah’s. I loved seeing Sarah’s transformation between the first and second Terminator, and I would love to see how Dani becomes a leader. I also want to know how she’s going to be different from Sarah. There are different types of strength. Grace also has different kind of strength from Dani and Sarah. So I would love to see Dani’s transformation and evolution with Sarah by her side.

Dani evolves throughout the film as she becomes more and more of a leader. There are several points where she puts her foot down and basically tells these iconic characters, "No, this is what we’re doing!" Since you shot the film out of order, did you and Tim keep careful track of where Dani was in her arc?

Yes, that was tricky. In general, we tried to shoot the movie in order, but you can’t always do that with every scene. So I kept track of it in a diary for my character and in my script. Tim and the script supervisor were also very helpful. We were trying to create the story and the characters on set. We would do almost three versions of a scene. “Jim Cameron thinks we should do this, and maybe we should try this.” Since we took so long doing many versions of each scene, the editing room had many options to choose from, like a stronger Dani or a more naive Dani. So we played around with it, and they did a great job shaping the transformation in the editing room.

Did you actually shoot those watermelons?

Yes, I did! It was fun.

When you stabbed the Rev-9 with Grace’s power source, were you performing alongside a stunt performer in a green suit?

It was Gabriel [Luna] and his double in a gray mocap suit. It’d be crazy to have no one there with so much rage in that moment. 

Which action sequence was most difficult for you to do?

It’s so frustrating, because people will think it’s absolutely silly when they watch the movie and see the underwater scenes that are like ten seconds on screen. We were in a huge water tank in Budapest for a month and a half. It was night shoots, so we were shooting from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. Sometimes more. I didn’t have any underwater acting skills, but now I do. It’s a completely different world when you’re scuba diving for 12 hours at night. It’s so hard. It was insane. It was really hard for me. By the end of the month, I became a fish. Then Linda and I were in this Hummer inside a waterfall. It was really intense and took forever, even though it looks really short. I’m really proud of it.

Did you have to adjust your way of speaking Spanish, since you’re from Colombia and Dani is from Mexico City?

Yes. Actually, between Colombian and Mexican Spanish, there’s not a huge difference, but it is a different accent. I’ve lived and worked in Mexico; I love Mexico. There’s a really strong connection between the two countries, especially now. I worked hard for it, but it was not that hard because I have so many Mexican friends and a great coach. It’s part of my challenge as an actor, not only speaking English but speaking Spanish with a Mexican accent.

I read an interview with Mackenzie where she admitted to feeling "insecure" and "uncomfortable" during production. She also questioned the believability of what she was doing and saying. Since she played your protector, did you constantly feel like you were safe and in good hands?

Yeah! For sure. It’s weird, because casting someone that was not the obvious option was kind of Tim’s idea. She’s not a traditional action star; she’s an amazing actress and a beautiful woman from Canada. It was a challenge for Mackenzie as an actress and for Tim as a director. I think that’s what’s interesting about Mackenzie’s character. She didn’t think it was possible, but she made it possible because she’s so hardworking. Every morning she’d wake up at 3:40 a.m. or 4 a.m. For six months, we were only sleeping for maybe three or four hours a day at most. She’d wake up and go to the gym every single day. We had Tom Cruise’s gym trailer; it’s called “the Pain Cave.” I would train for an hour, but Mackenzie would train for two hours every morning. And then she’d have three hours of makeup before we’d shoot for 12 hours. They were really long days, and she was such a trooper. She was so committed and disciplined. We were all pushing each other, and we all wanted to be the best we could. But she actually did. Sometimes she’d joke, “I don’t get it. Why did you cast me, Tim?” And he’d say, “Because you look amazing! Look at your arms! Look at your movements!” She was so into it, and it was very inspiring. But, it was definitely Tim’s idea to not just choose the obvious choice. So I felt safe, for sure, not only on screen but off screen, and with Tim and Linda, too.

Has it sunk in yet that many Latin Americans are going to refer to you and Dani as the first time they saw themselves as the hero in a big Hollywood movie?

Yes! It is so exciting. It’s not only being the hero; it’s a collective feeling of “yes we can.” We need to stop thinking that we’re not capable or that we don’t deserve this space. We, as Latinos, can be doctors and lawyers. There are so many Latino lawyers and doctors, but we are not used to seeing ourselves on screen like that. You can not only be the leader of the resistance, but you can be whatever you work hard for. It is possible, and it’s really exciting for me to be representing an entire community that deserves more representation in Hollywood. The recent studies are insane, as Latinx representation in Hollywood is around 2 percent and yet Latinos are 33 percent of the box office. And that 2 percent representation that we have right now is not only small, but it’s mostly filled with stereotypes. So this is just the beginning, and I hope I’m part of a group of people that helps create a path for many more to come.