Linda Hamilton is Sarah Connor
By: John Sayers
In Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Linda Hamilton brings a new, tougher edge to her role as Sarah Connor, the relentlessly pursued waitress who escaped the clutches of Terminator in the original film. "It has been a wonderful sort of completion for me," she says, "starting something years ago, then coming back and playing the same woman -- but the same woman who has taken a different direction. You get to have a closure of sorts in your performance."
The striking actress admits that the changes in Sarah were the drawing card for her participation in this explosive sequel. "Now, she has only two purposes in life: Look after her son, and try to help the world -- save it from itself a little bit."
But in doing so, Hamilton notes, Sarah has sacrificed much. "She has lived a very rough-and-tumble existence -- hanging out with terrorists, gun runners and crazy ex-military Green Berets -- trying to prepare her son John for his mission as the leader of a future rebellion. As a result, she has lost her ability to deal with his emotional needs, including the love that a mother should provide. So, she's lost, and he's lost.
"She has so little, and no one really believes in her and her story -- including her son," Hamilton continues. "By the time you discover them in this film, he doesn't really believe that any of it was real, either. Everyone tells him, 'Your mom's crazy,' and he has bought into that. Sarah's also living with the spectre of nuclear war. She knows when it will happen, so she's bitter and broken. She's pretty hard inside."
This new twist on an old role represents another success for the versatile performer. Born and raised in small-town Salisbury, Maryland, Linda Hamilton originally had her sights set on less dangerous careers than acting alongside homicidal robots -- firefighting and archeology. However, after dabbling in local juvenile theater groups in her hometown, she became enchanted with acting as a career.
After high school and two years of study at Washington College, she followed her actor boy friend to New York and trained for three years at the renowned Lee Strasberg Institute. Hamilton also worked with prominent acting coach Nicholas Ray. Following her professional debut on the soap opera Search for Tomorrow, Hamilton drew notice from her performances in several TV movies, notably Rape and Marriage: The Rideout Case with Mickey Rourke. She also had a recurring role on Hill Street Blues.
Her feature film career began with T.A.G.: The Assassination Game and included Stephen King's Children of the Corn, The Stone Boy (with Robert Duvall), Black Moon Rising, King Kong Lives and, of course, The Terminator. Although Hamilton may be best-known for her starring role as Catherine Chandler on the popular TV series Beauty & the Beast, The Terminator was her breakthrough performance -- not only for audience recognition, but for her own growth as an actress.
"A woman who grows and transforms on screen is always a wonderful thing to play," the actress says. "Sarah went from a vulnerable, normal girl to someone who finds all of her deep reservoirs of strength and comes through it all.
"The first film succeeded," she adds, "not just because it was a great action picture, but a love story as well. It was more than just shoot-'em-up and blow-'em-up. The love story drew many people who ordinarily wouldn't have liked the picture; the whole chase, the whole struggle -- it was all for a purpose. It was a message picture."
Hamilton confesses that when director James Cameron approached her about another bout with killer cyborgs, "I was scared to death -- you're never really ready. But I was thrilled and eager, and I had ideas and input into the creative process."
Working with James Cameron was once again a joy. The actress was pleased with the level of collaboration they shared on the T2 film. "We're very well partnered," she says. "We worked together before shooting started to make sure we had the same sense of character and movement of the story. I haven't felt as understood by a director in a long time, if ever. He treats me with great respect, and I respect his vision. It's a real romance!"
Cameron and Hamilton shared the vision of a radically changed Sarah Connor. Both agreed that the first thing to do was to "get a trainer." After all, the actress playing Sarah Connor, mother/warrior, would be have to be in pretty good shape, both mentally and physically.
"Yeah, I put myself through a lot," Hamilton admits. "Three months before we started shooting, I began working out six mornings a week, two to three hours every day -- pretty intense."
To get the actress into the warrior mindset of Sarah Connor, another type of training began. Though she prefers to be vague about the details, Hamilton spent time working with an "Israeli commando, more or less," in weapons handling, mission training, judo and mental discipline.
"We worked very intensely," she recalls. "It was really like entering the military. As an emotional person, I'm passionate, warm -- there's no room for that in the military, you know? You can't get mad at your gun when it jams, or you'll die. You have to just clear your weapon and keep focused on your target. It was rough; I couldn't handle it sometimes and wanted to drop out, but Sarah wouldn't let it beat her, so neither could I."
Does all that preparation -- both Hamilton's and Sarah's -- prepare Sarah for what is, after the end of the world, her second biggest nightmare -- the arrival of yet another terminator from the future? "Well, she's ready for him, but she's still stunned when he shows up. She doesn't really trust him until the very end, when they're fighting side-by-side," she says. "Do you blame her?"
The actress enjoys working with the man behind the metal, Arnold Schwarzenegger. "He's very professional, pleasant, smart, funny -- it has been very easy. He's just amazing to watch in the dailies," Hamilton says. "Ive worked a great deal with him on just focusing, creating things for himself, reminding him of where we are and what he should have on his mind.
"Of anybody, I've probably been the hardest on [Furlong]. I'm a major perfectionist -- I don't drive and yell, but I make him work. Arnold plays games with him all day long, and Eddie loves him. With me, I think he doesn't quite know what I'm going to make him do next. I'm tough, but I'm his mom -- it's my job! I'm really fond of him, and I think he has done great."
Hamilton may be happy with what she has done with Furlong, but in the film, Sarah believes she has failed in her second mission -- changing the future that she knows is coming.
At one point," Hamilton explains, "Sarah decides the only way that she can stop the horrible apocalypse that's going to happen is to kill the man who builds the microchip that starts the war. It's her fate, and she seizes it. She just tightens up and goes to do it. In that sense, she's unstoppable, and becomes kind of a terminator herself. It's odd, because the Terminator (Schwarzenegger) in this movie is edging towards a bit of humanity, while Sarah turns hers off just a bit. In that sense, she's just a brutal, deadly killing machine -- more so than he is."
And that, Linda Hamilton says, is the heart of the second Terminator film: the failure of war, weaponry and killing, and the triumph of the human spirit -- and the struggle between the two in Sarah Connor.
"We see how out of touch she is with her human part. It shows that the macho, big-gun stuff doesn't work. Here she is, proficient with all the weapons. She's a highly trained, great warrior -- but for what? So what? She doesn't have anything that makes it worthwhile.
"Nothing makes all that waring worthwile," says the actress, "if you don't have the love for your fellow man."