By: Will Murray
A self-described "naive, smalltown girl," Linda Hamilton never imagined that she could act for a living. Her ambitions ran from archeology to fire-fighting. She first dabbled in acting in community theater, where, as a lark, she and her twin sister worked together.
Following her actor boy friend to New York, she trained for three years at the Lee Strasberg Institute, and then began getting work in film and on TV, including a recurring role on Hill Street Blues. Eventually, it was Terminator that made Hamilton into a star and science fiction icon. Being reduced to a shivering mass of fear pretty much describes her rols as Sarah Connor. And running away from a relentless Arnold Schwarzenegger over the course of a physically rigorous is an experience that she looks back on with a mixture of affection and horror.
"It was insane," she recalls. "Our special effects man was very much out of control most of the time. The director (James Cameron) wanted big, big, bigger, bigger, biggest! I broke my ankle three weeks before I started to shoot. I was a small break but I just killed all the ligaments in my foot. I was laid up on the couch until the very last day (before production began). The first day that we shot I was still limping. I literally couldn't walk. They almost let me go because they didn't think I would be well in time."
The injury nearly turned Hamilton into a victim for real during the first night of Terminator's lensing. "It was the scene where I'm coming down the little hill, supporting Michael Biehn, all of his dead weight in my arms, with a truck behind us. Jim came up to me and said, 'If you fall down, roll to the right - because the truck can't stop in time.' And sure enough, coming down that hill, I didn't fall, but I would have. It was sheer will that kept me up. I mean, I just screamed on film because of the agony was shooting up my leg. I would have gone down, but I knew I would die."
But the most harrowing experience, according to Hamilton, was the oil tanker truck explosion in which the Terminator is seemingly destroyed. "It was 10 times bigger than anyone thought it was going to be," she marvels. "And the last thing the special effects man said - they were running to get earplugs - was, 'No! It's not going to be a big one. Don't worry!' So, they roll camera, and this thing blows! I was sure the stuntman inside was dead. And it rained down fire. A crew member, the boom, the camera and the script girl's book coaght fire - everthing!"
"There was a point where I counted three dozen bruises on my body," Hamilton adds. "We're not talking little pinpoints; we're talking major bruises. They had to cover me for two hours to get the bruises not to show. It was torture. It was harrowing. But I loved it. I just loved it."
In Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Linda Hamilton brought a new, tougher edge to her role as Sarah Connor, the relentlessly persued waitress who eluded a cyborg assassin in James Cameron's original film. "It was a wonderful sort of completion for me," she says, "starting something years ago and then coming back and playing the same woman - but someone who has taken a different direction. In T2, Sarah only has two purposes in life: Look after her son, and try and help the world."
"A woman who grows and transforms on screen is always a wonderful thing to play. Sarah goes from a vulnerable normal girl to someone who finds her deep reservoirs of strength and comes through it," Hamilton continues. "The first film succeeded not just because it was a great action picture, but because it was a love story as well. It was more than just shoot-'em=up and blow-'em-up."
The actress was eagor to work with Cameron again on another Terminator. "We're very well partnered," she says of the director, whom she eventually married in 1997 but then later devorced. "We worked together before shooting and made sure we had the same sense of character and movement of the story."
A much more physical performance was required of Hamilton in T2. "I put myself through a lot," she admits. "Before we started shooting, I worked out six mornings a week, two to three hours every day. It was pretty intense." Hamilton also had to train in weapons handling, judo and mental discipline. "It was really like entering the militairy. I couldn't handle it sometimes and wanted to drop out."
Having Arnold Schwarzenegger back as the Terminator made matters easier. "He's very professional, pleasant, smart and funny," she remarks. "Of anybody, I weas probably the hardest on Eddie Furlong. I'm a major perfectionist. I didn't drive and yell, but I made Eddie work. I'm real fond of him, and I thin he did a great job."
Hamilton believes that the failure of war, weaponry and killing is at the heart of Judgment Day. She also views T2 as a film about the triumph of the human spirit. "We see how out of touch Sarah is with her human side," she observes. "It shows that the macho, big-gun stuff doesn't work. Here she is, proficient with all these weapons. She's a highly-trained, great warrior - but for what? So what? She does not have anything that makes it worthwhile."
"Nothing makes it worthwhile," Linda Hamilton points out, "if you don't have the love for your fellow man."
Some critics have pointed out that Hamilton has become typecast as a victim. It's an observation she disagrees with. "I think there's something that's certainly similar in many of the roles that I play, in terms of being a victim," she says/ "And everybody comes up to me and says, 'Why a victim?' But I'm not a victim, because I survive very well in almost everything I've ever done. I think that there's something in me that's very vulnerable and can get to that very strong place. It's just a range that I'm very proud to be able to put on screen."
Among Hamilton's other genre efforts are TV's Beaty & the Beast series, T.A.G.: The Assassination Game, Black Moon Rising ("a very unhappy experience for me"), Children of the Corn, Mr. Destiny and 1986's silliest sequel, King Kong Lives. "I always hope that what I see in my mind will coney from the page onto the screen," Hamilton explains of some of her forgettable flicks. "But my imagination seems to be much more significant than the final product. Actors just aren't in control of the end product. I always hope that it's going to be good. At this point, I won't venture to say that any film is going to be good."
"I didn't even know if Terminator was going to be good," she admits. "I didn't take Schwarzenegger very seriously as an actor at that time. I said, 'Oh Lord, why cast a man who looks like a machine as a machine? Cast somebody who's very thin to do these superhuman acts.' And I was wrong. He was used tremendously effectively, and he was served very well in that film. And many of the scenes felt right. But you never know until it's put together. It was only when I saw it that I said, 'Ooh, we got a winner here.' I really didn't know up until that point. I knew that I had done some very good work, but that doesn't make a movie."
Hamilton has nothing but praise for her other co-star, Michael Biehn. "I live him very much," she says. "He and I had to work very hard to make some of it work, becasue in an action-adventure film, you don't get the attention from the director that you need. It's just part of the syndrome. They have an enormous thing to take care of and the actors are pretty much left on their own. And the script read a litle corny in places. They were always going for jokes. So, we would find ourselves going to Jim - and Michael was much more tactful than I was - and Jim would say, 'Why don't you want to work it this way?' I would say, 'Because it doesn't work! Because it was written wrong!' And Michael would say, 'Because we kinda worked it this way.' I would never try to shred someone's ego, but I get a little eager and forget that people are sensitive. So, Michael was great. We were very good partners."
Thanks to Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Hamilton will always be viewed as a tough SF heroine. Does that bother her at all? "I really like doing those kind of films because it's instinct," she remarks. "I'm a very instinctive actress. That's what I do best. Just put me there and let me go!"
"But," Linda Hamilton adds, "I have had my fill of it and would really like to go in a different direction. Of course, I'm offered all kinds of Terminator roles. It's flattering, but that was the ultimate role for me and I don't need to do it anymore. I've done it to death."