This Hamilton woman
Date: July 29, 1995
By: Ann Oldenburg
TV "Beauty" and "T2" babe Linda Hamilton softens up for the toughest role of her career Linda Hamilton still has decent biceps, but she'd rather prefer you didn't ask about them. "I am so sick of that," says the actress whose hard body was the talk of 1991's hit Arnold Schwarzenegger film, "Terminator 2: Judgment Day." "T2 should have revealed me as an actor, but that was just completely ignored. It was as though my body was all I needed to play Sarah Connor. And we're not just talking about Middle America. We're talking about directors, producers..."
Only in America can a blockbuster film stall a career.
Sitting in a Washington, D.C., hotel room, Hamilton runs a hand through her thick hair and stubs out a cigarette. She's just arrived from Richmond, Virginia, where she's on location shooting a feature film called "The Shadow Conspiracy," a thriller in which she plays a Julia Roberts-type Washington newspaper reporter. What she's here to discuss, however, is another project - this week's USA Network TV-movie "A Mother's Prayer" - and the reasons she virtually disappeared from public view after "T2".
"No one said that "T2" was great because Linda Hamilton was up to the job," she explains. "Schwarzenegger was the one who got credit for the box office."
And the offers that came in?
"Police officers, military officers, and lesbians - butch lesbian, right? Because I'm strong and tough. That shows no imagination," she says disgustedly.
Today the 38-year-old actress admits it's a "hard call" as to whether it was "T2" and its 1984 predecessor or the lyrical late-80's TV drama "Beauty and the Beast" that most affected her career. As Beauty's weepy Catherine Chandler - forlorn love object of a misshapen man/animal - she developed a devoted cult following. "I still hear about it all the time." And as the steely Sarah Connor, she was "pegged as the Body of the 90's."
One would think that would be a cool title to have, but Hamilton begs to differ.
"No, it's not," she declares. "I would happily throw that bone to somebody else. I want to be the being of the 90's - mind and body. I don't want everybody looking at my muscles every time I work and saying, ' Is she still buffed?' It's absurd!"
The $1 million she reportedly was paid for "T2" probably helped soothe the insult (although it was a pittance compared to the $11-$15 million Schwarzenegger is said to have received), and "Beauty and the Beast", which has enjoyed a nice life in syndication, is no doubt helping pay for the new house she just bought in Malibu. Still, she wants it to be about "the work," so she took a lot of time off, had a baby, and "carefully stepped back" from her career. "I turned a lot of work down," she says, until "A Mother's Prayer" - the story of a widowed mother with AIDS who tries to find a family to adopt her 8-year-old son before she dies.
Hamilton was the first choice of the movie's executive producer and writer, Lee Rose, but she wasn't even on the list of contenders, says Rose, "because we'd been clearly told by her agency that she won't do television." Rose sent along a script anyway, however, and was happily surprised when Hamilton "read it and - within 24 hours - said 'I'll do it.'"
"The lead character appealed to me because she's someone dealing with the most human situation imaginable," says Hamilton. "It's not about AIDS as much as it is about the relationship between a woman and her son."
To look the part, she lost 12 pounds of that famous muscle with the help of a nutritionist ("the one Dennis Quaid used for 'Wyatt Earp' "). "I knew I had to get sunken-in and smaller. I went through a physical transformation that I find integral. The voice, the body, all of those externals really work for me to help establish a character."
Hamilton feels that "A Mother's Prayer" is "one of the most satisfying jobs" she's ever done, even if it does represent another "loss and grief" role, her trademark. The difference is that this part wasn't as painful as those in the "Terminator" movies and "Beauty and the Beast". Her roles in those, she says, "always cost me something, really hurt me. Even the first "Terminator" cost me a lot. I went into a depression for months afterwards as a result of acting out the level of terror and grief Sarah experiences when she loses her lover, her roommate, and her mother. I remember having to fight my way back to the real world after I finished. But that doesn't happen to me anymore."
Ironically, experiencing loss and grief in her own life has helped. "I've lost a lot of people," she says, citing her grandfather's death, her father's death, her husband's leaving. A close friend had a fatal heart attack while bathing her children, just days before Hamilton started shooting "A Mother's Prayer." "I'm neither friendly with [loss] nor scared of it - it's just a fact of life and a real truth in mine."
For better or worse, Hamilton has been attracted to other kinds of projects since her professional debut in "Search For Tomorrow" in the late '70s, including last year's feature flop "Silent Fall." "I hated myself in that picture," she says. "I hated it. It was very much there on the page, but not on film." And there was also 1986's "King Kong Lives", which she calls "a fiasco. It was just the most ridiculous movie I've ever seen, but I didn't know that when I was doing it." She shrugs, "That's all part of the growth." And part of the learning curve that has taught her to trust her instincts. She will never again, for example, do a nude scene.
"I thought it was important in the first 'Terminator.' We conceived a child in the moment that saves mankind. It felt right. I went on to do one later in "Black Moon Rising" with Tommy Lee Jones, and it was a disaster. It was the first scene we had to shoot. I had on a G-string. He wouldn't remove his blue jeans. It didn't work. And I felt just embarrassed and used and demoralized, and that made really sort of sit up and say, 'I don't need this.'"
Hamilton insists that she's not one to issue edicts, but along with nude scenes, it would be tough to convince her to do another one-hour TV series like "Beauty and the Beast." Yes, it was good for her career - sending her "into all those households." And she is still friends with the Beast, Ron Perlman, but the show became "frustrating." Her character didn't develop. And the 16-hour days didn't mesh with being a single parent.
Now, she says, she "compromises" her career for her two kids. "I don't live with the father of either child." Son Dalton, 5, is the product of her marriage to actor Bruce Abbott. Daughter Josephine, 2, is the product of her relationship with "Terminator" director James Cameron. She and Abbott are now "better friends than we ever were as married people." And she and Cameron "love each other very much." Beyond that, "I don't want to talk about personal stuff, but we're still very present in each others' lives," she says. "We've taken a more untraditonal road in our relationship. But we are bonded in a big way. There's a whole lot of love there; we're just completely different human beings. We fit together like a puzzle, and I am extremely faithful."
She says both men are active fathers, "but it's basically my ball game, my rules. I get the kids to school in the morning. The nanny's in my employ." Nannies, she adds, have been another source of "loss and grief" - she's had 13 since her son was born. "It's a balancing act," she says, "as it is for every working mother." One of the reasons she said yes to "The Shadow Conspiracy", the feature film she's now shooting, is because she was able to fit it in between summer vacation from preschools and other kid activities.
Hamilton's children have made her more careful about roles. "I don't want to use weapons casually, or at all. I don't want to glamorize gunplay. I was offered the role of a woman who killed her own children. I couldn't do it. I wouldn't do it." She monitors what TV her children watch, saying it's "very little," and was concerned about her son when he seemed to be hooked on "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers." "The only good thing about the O.J. trial was that it eclipsed "Power Rangers," " she says. "I'd turn the TV on and say, 'Oh, no "Power Rangers" today, because there's a famous trial on instead, Dalton.' Day after day, there'd be no "Power Rangers", so he got out of that."
When she got the script for "A Mother's Prayer," she hoped it wasn't any good. "I really don't want to be doing television," she told herself, "but the character was there - a great human being." Finding great characters and acting them out, Hamilton says, is "a sexy thing - it's something I do for me alone, although I did "A Mother's Prayer" for other people as well, because there's a message there."
And how will fans of her "T2" commando babe react when they see she's only a shadow of her former self? "They're going to say, 'What happened to her? She's so ugly.' How many actresses are brave enough to look that bad on film?"