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“We won the Super Bowl twice, in ’84 and ‘91,” said James Cameron on Thursday as his image loomed over Hall H. He was opening the Comic-Con panel for the newest Terminator film, Dark Fate, via a live stream from the set of his upcoming Avatar movies. “So why would we want to go back?”
It was the question he asked himself and also posed to his longtime Terminator creative collaborator— and Sarah Connor, herself — Linda Hamilton. Cameron sent Hamitlon an email that outlined all of the reasons that she should and should not do Dark Fate, which was going to be directed by Tim Miller.
“I was very pleased that all of the years had passed, because I could fill the years up with so much backstory and inner life that could power the character,” Hamilton tells The Hollywood Reporter on why she ultimately agreed to the movie. “I thought there were a lot of crayons in that box that I can color with.”
Dark Fate, from Paramount and Skydance Media, is a direct follow-up to 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day and see the return of Conor, who joins forces with a female cyborg (played by Mackenzie Davis) to protect a young woman.
A day after her Hall H bow, Hamilton spoke with THR about several lines she refused to say from the script, early conversations with Miller and what perceptions have to change to get older actresses in major action movie roles.
When you first walked out on the Hall H stage, what was your immediate reaction?
It was really hard to cross that stage alone. I was so overwhelmed by the crowds and just the power in the room, of all those people. Everybody had said, “Just you wait! Just you wait!”
At the opening of the Hall H panel, James Cameron talked about sending you a long email about the reasons you should and shouldn’t do the movie. What were you thinking when you first received that email? What were some of the reasons he laid out?
He is very systematic like that — here are the pros, here are the cons. We were both worried about letting the fans down. Pros: If it is good, then we will both be happy. And, if it’s bad, then we are gonna look like assholes. There is also the shameless money grab. Then there was the life question: Do I really want to trade in my lovely, balanced life to descend into this madness again? But I am truly glad I did.
Did they have a script for Dark Fate that you could read before you chose to sign on?
No, no. And it was forever and ever. They wanted me to meet with our wardrobe designer and I was like, “I cannot meet with the wardrobe designer!” I don’t want to hear, “Well, then maybe you character is going to do this, so we will put you in that.” But we waited a long time for the script because they were having trouble getting it in shape and they didn’t want to send it out until it was in shape.
What was your impression of the script?
I apparently turned white. I was reading it and my friend came in from across the street and I told her, “Hang on. Hang on.” I was on the last five pages and when I turned around she goes, “You are white! What is going on?” I told her that I had just finished the script and said that we have to get my affairs in order because I will not be coming back. It was so daunting the amount of action. Some of it I could not even wrap my brain around, because it was so much bigger than anything I have read or done.
When did you first meet Tim Miller and made you think he was the right director to take over Sarah’s story from James Cameron?
It was not up to me but, according to Jim, I was in very safe hands. I had seen Deadpool and he is certainly a proficient and fresh voice. I met him at Shutter Hotel before there was a script. Tim is a Maryland guy, and I am a Maryland guy. We actually went to the same college, not that that really makes us any more alike, but there was some common ground there. You’ve seen Tim and he is that person everywhere he goes. He has remained so true to himself for so long. He does not pander and he doesn’t do anything but “Tim Miller,” and I think that is laudable in our work.
As the resident expert on Sarah Connor, did you feel emboldened to say things like, “Sarah wouldn’t do this” or “Sarah wouldn’t say that”?
Absolutely. And I’m not usually that actress that goes, “Oh my character!” I try to do whatever is asked of me and make it work. I’m not going to think it all to death. I have never been that actress, but I was a little bit on this film because I am the authority on Sarah Connor.
There was an approach thing that I had to sort out with Tim because Tim was shooting it like an independent, as he keeps saying. I still — because I haven’t seen it — barely understand what that means. (Laughs) But, in terms of approach, he wanted her “relatable.” That was the word he used. And I was like Sarah Connor has never been relatable! She was relatable in the first movie as a nice waitress, but what do you mean “relatable”? You are trying to make her softer? I just knew that with the time that had passed and as her situation changed, she ain’t relatable.
But I would go, “Nope, I am not saying that.” And a couple of times I was like, “I am not saying that. That’s stupid.” I have always been empowered to say those things but I just have never been that person. I just care so intensely about this character that I had to step up and toe the line about what felt right and what didn’t feel right.
Are fan expectations in the back of your mind as you were trying to continue Sarah’s story? Is it a burden, or is it something you are able to let go?
Both. I knew right away that the first thing some longtime fans may [think] is, “Aw she looks so old” or “Her arms aren’t the same.” But that is just human nature, now, everyone cares about the outside shells. I really don’t want to have anything to do with that. But one understands the immediate response will be: “Holy shit, she’s so different.” But, in the end, I embraced that. I know internally I have so much more experience and a rich life to pull from for Sarah Connor, so as long as I dug deep and bring out all of that.
I woke up one day and said, “OK, I am not what I was and I am not going to be what I was but I am so much more than what I was.” So, I explored that and everything else came from there. I can’t work for the fans. I am just going to dig my deepest and do what feels true to me.
In the lead-up to filming, what was your training regime like?
I was working with a fantastic trainer in New Orleans named Mackie Shilstone. He works with professional athletes but I got a spot with him because Serena Williams was pregnant. I bet Mackie Shilstone read about two hours a day on how to, scientifically, get more out of the older body. He works with young, professional athletes and not 62 year-old women, but we worked really hard. There was pilates but there was also nutrition and physical therapy. I mean, I had a village. He owned my butt for an entire year; I didn’t eat carbohydrates for a year. We did our very best to see how we could pull Sarah Connor from my body.
In Hall H, you talked about wanting to rock it “as a woman of a certain age.” We see so many male stars being able to continue action careers for decades but women are rarely afforded the same. What perceptions do you think have to change in Hollywood before we start seeing more movies centered around these women?
I think we have to make “skin” a four-letter word. We talk about skin having wrinkles and the color of skin. But skin is such a small part of a human but there is so much focus on it. I hate it. I always said I was like the velveteen rabbit of actress, where everything gets worked down to a very real shape. And I have been proud of that; I was saying it 30 years ago, I just don’t know why we can’t be our authentic selves. Eternally young and eternally beautiful is just so unreal. I do spend some time thinking about Clint Eastwood and so many actors, not actresses, who get to continue to kick butt.
It’s not all I want to do, to be the action star, but I have started to really begin to understand how much I love doing action movies. It’s acting, for me, on such a complete level — so physical, so emotional— it’s all inclusive. You have to know your weapons and yourself and the way you move, while remembering your lines.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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