Premiere: A Kinder, Gentler Cyborg
Date: July, 1991
By: Rachel Abramovitz
It was four in the morning, and the woman wanted a drink, which must have been what drew her to the Corral Bar, a Valley hangout. As she wove her way through the many Harleys that crowded the doorway, she didn't notice the huge tractor-trailers parked nearby or the scurrying young men and women clutching walkie-talkies. Once inside, she surely saw the leather-jacketed tough guys who filled the room, which was lit like a Malibu afternoon.
In her haze, she did not spot the lean, intense man with reddish hair and a trimmed beard who was hunkered down in front of a set of video monitors - not that she would have recognized James Cameron, the screenwriter-director-producer-Supreme Being behind the $88 million filmic extravaganza Terminator 2: Judgment Day. She did not see the weary, ragged crew members - a bit less seedy than the bikers - manning the dollies and the cameras that night. She did not hear Cameron yell "Action!" as she staggered into the frame or the growing cackles of the crew members who finally noticed her.
She stumbled her way to the bar and tried to order a drink; the bartender looked at her blankly. In exasperation, she turned to the guy standing next to her, who was huge, incredibly muscular, and, except for a tiny pair of weight-lifting trunks, totally naked.
"What the hell is going on?" she asked finally.
Arnold Schwarzenegger smiled. "It's male-stripper night."
Just another night on the town, Arnold? "I would never even think about that being unusual," says one of the world's highest- paid stars. "Especially when you work in Venice, and things like that happen on a daily basis." The actor is perhaps the only participant in the Terminator 2 enterprise who remains unfazed by the project's daily tribulations or by the Schwarzenegger-size scope of its script. Coproducer B. J. Rack recalls the day it arrived. "We all looked at it, and we were horrified," she says. "It was going to be the biggest picture ever made. Every sequence was like the ending of Die Hard." And they had less than a year to get it done, a little more than half the time a big-budget extravaganza often gets.
"There's a certain thrill in doing something you know nobody else around has the balls to do," says Cameron one Friday night in his trailer. Still wearing his parka, the director slouches against the wall and knocks back a beer. He is a fierce, single-minded, slightly unsocialized techno-visionary whose brain cells seem to process data far more swiftly than those of others, including cast, crew, and journalists. While the misery of his past sets - notably The Abyss - has become public record, Cameron seems to relish the sacrifices that he and his colleagues make in pursuit of his thrilling (and extremely violent) creations. At the outset of Terminator 2, "we looked each other in the eye and said, 'Now we plunge into hell,' " he remembers with a self-mocking grin. "Why do people jump off bridges with bungees? Because they're nuts!"
The crew of Terminator 2 has not been forced to bungee jump en masse, though they have orchestrated 22-wheel oil-tank-trailers chasing down the Terminal Island Freeway, helicopters ducking under overpasses and through tunnels, motorcycles flying out of exploding office complexes. There were long nights of shooting in a freezing steel mill, from 50-foot-high cat-walks over crucibles of molten steel.
In the futuristic world of Terminator 2, the supercomputers of Skynet still rule the post-apocalyptic world, opposed only by a rabble of resistance fighters who are led by the adult John Connor. In The Terminator, the supercomputers attempted unsuccessfully to kill John's mother, Sarah (and, ergo, her still-un-conceived son), by using a time machine to send back to the "present" a cyborg killer: a Terminator. In round two, Sarah (Linda Hamilton) has spent the past decade training her son (played by twelve-year-old Edward Furlong) to become the ultimate rebel leader. Yet visions of nuclear destruction haunt her, and she ends up in an insane asylum, with John relegated to foster care. Meanwhile, Skynet strikes again, sending back a more advanced model Terminator, the T1000, to pulverize the son, while the rebels send back a more primitive model Terminator, a T800 - a Schwarzenegger model - to protect him.
Now firmly atop the Hollywood ziggurat, Schwarzenegger finds Terminator 2 less than a do-or-die career move. "You know, I rarely ever feel pressure," he says, relaxing in his trailer. "I hate all this nonsense. It's not bigger than life. It's not like the world. I think that with a director like this, I don't have to go home and say, 'I better work up this scene for tomorrow,' because you don't need to with him. He has worked it already ten times over. It's not like with some directors where you have to second-guess. You don't have to do that with him. There is no pressure."
There is, however, the weight of seven Schwarzeneggers on Cameron's shoulders. The director has pared his life down to one objective: the completion of the film in time for a July 3 opening. He spent Christmas Eve editing. He bought an RV so he could hold meetings on the way to the set. There is also financial pressure, thanks to a budget that the Hollywood rumor mill has gleefully trumpeted as the highest in Hollywood history. Carolco Pictures has already gone to several European investors to raise more operating capital and needs an early-summer opening to have the best shot at recouping its $88 million investment.
"It's a lot of dough," admits Cameron. "Carolco seems to trust me. They want me to make more movies for them, so how upset can they be? Everyone wishes that they spent less money. Let's face it, they wish you could do this picture for $5 million. They wish you could do it for $10. They wish it were free, but wishing has nothing to do with it. It's what you can accomplish."
And Cameron's aim is no less than "the first action movie advocating world peace." He could have done a simple recap of Arnold the annihilator, but "is that a good message?" he asks. "Is it something worth dedicating a year of your life and dedicating all this money and time and energy to show Arnold, who's looked up to by millions of kids, blowing up people with a machine gun? I say no. Many films guide you toward admiration of a violent character, and they can never recover from that on a moral level. This film says, 'You like that action? You like that violence? This person pays the price.' They pay the price at an emotional level. Sarah Connor pays the price. It's the story of her redemption and the Terminator's redemption."
And Cameron - the man who is famous for saying, "That's perfect. Let's do it again"; whose producer remembers fondly the one occasion he actually complimented her by remarking, "Well, that idea wasn't so terrible" - is this his redemption? Perhaps, say his coworkers, who note a somewhat kinder, gentler Cameron at work here. "They must be pretty tolerant if they've come around for a second time," jokes Cameron. But it's still relative.
"He pushes everybody," says Hamilton, who would jump through a fair number of hoops for a director she admires. "He never puts us into a danger that he wouldn't go into himself. He's a great one for saying, 'Look, it barely burns at all when they shoot me in the back. It barely burns. Do it again, Chuck.' " She laughs. "Like I'm supposed to feel good about it because it barely burns. But he wants the shot that he wants, and that's contagious."
"Arnold, change your hands," Cameron is telling his star, who is supposed to sit rigidly, one arm outstretched as he gazes unblinkingly into a mirror inside a garage. However, the five-time Mr. Universe has gone limp, his hand curled downward in an effeminate manner. "Your friends might get the wrong idea."
"I'm such a stuuud, Jim, I can do whatever I want, and I wouldn't look gay," Schwarzenegger responds. "Not like some people in this room."
"Make it longer," says Cameron as Schwarzenegger curls his arm flirtatiously. "It's your career, pal."
"It's just one movie for me," says Schwarzenegger, laughing.
The Terminator, by contrast, was hardly just one movie for Schwarzenegger - it was the little no-sleeper that catapulted him beyond the Viking pigtails and into super- stardom. Shot on a shoestring budget of $6.4 million ("Now a down payment on Arnold's salary," grunts Cameron), The Terminator was built by the combination of Schwarzenegger's will and Cameron's sweat. "Arnold was the one true believer," says Cameron. "He was the only one who really thought it was going to be a hit." Cameron did everything else: co-wrote the script, sketched storyboards, designed machines, drew blueprints of the endoskeleton and the miniatures. Schwarzenegger recalls Cameron asking him one night to meet on a street corner (where the crew did not have permits), so that the killer cyborg could smash in a few cars while Cameron filmed surreptitiously.
Audiences took note of the film's dark humor and identified less with Hamilton's putative heroine than with Schwarzenegger's deadpan, death-dealing quipster. "Every time I went out there - in the police station, they were screaming and cheering because I mowed down the whole police station and blew up everyone," remembers Schwarzenegger. "Everything I did, they just screamed and loved it, you know, like I was the hero." The Terminator went on to become a surprise hit, grossing $35 million, landing on many critics' top-ten lists, and blazing the trail for the weapon-rich sci-fi movies of the '80s, many of which featured Schwarzenegger, along with his trademark quip, "I'll be back."
Cameron's star was also ascending, and he went on to film the smash hit Aliens and co-write the Sylvester Stallone megahit Rambo. Next, in The Abyss, he demonstrated both his brilliance at placing human-size emotions onto vast, supernatural canvases and the pitfalls of a sometimes overweening ambition. The Abyss went on to make back its not-inconsiderable budget but hardly nailed down the blockbuster status needed to quiet the complainers.
Discussions about a Terminator sequel began almost immediately after the release of the first but were put on hold for more than five years because of the creators' antagonism toward Hemdale Film, which owned the rights. "We wanted to stay away from them as far as we could," remembers Schwarzenegger, and the star and the director vowed that neither would do a sequel without the other. When Hemdale had financial difficulties, Schwarzenegger urged Carolco head Mario Kassar to make a bid for the project. "I reminded Mario that this is something that we've been looking for four years, and that it should be him that should go all-out, no matter what it takes to make this deal."
Carolco paid at least $5 million to Hemdale, and it also paid Gale Anne Hurd, a producer on both the Terminators and Cameron's ex-wife. By May 1990, the paperwork had been done, and Cameron was netting more than $5 million. Carolco decided to aim for a July 3, 1991, release.
Cameron and his childhood friend and writing partner, William Wisher, banged out the script in six weeks. Since then, it has been shrouded in secrecy - even the crew must sign nondisclosure oaths to get it. (One of the producers gave Cameron a paper shredder for Christmas.) According to Schwarzenegger, the technically detailed script reflects Cameron's ambition. "Tankers don't just travel. They 'pierce the wind.' Who writes like that?" he says. In addition to toning down some of the scenes, the production team threw out several budget-busting sequences.
Unlike some directors who rely on special-effects houses and stunt coordinators, Cameron and several associates spent a week locked up in a conference room playing with toy cars and trucks to choreograph the stunts. "We'd sit there for literally twelve hours," recalls coproducer Rack, "with grown men holding trucks going, 'Wheee, and then he jumps off the truck and goes bang, bang, bang, bang.' " Cameron would film the proceedings with a tiny snorkel camera that spit the images onto a computer screen and then printed them out for several storyboard artists in the next room.
Cameron began a massive casting search to find an appropriate adolescent to play John Connor, who appears in almost every scene of the movie. "What was Julius Caesar like when he was thirteen?" asks the director, defining the scope of the task. "Did he know then that he was going to be emperor of Rome? And imagine if such an important leader was from the Valley." After interviewing hundreds of candidates, casting director Mali Finn discovered Eddie Furlong playing baseball at a Boys Club in Pasadena.
From the beginning, there has been a struggle to keep Terminator 2's cost - and the rumors about the cost - under control. Carolco, which doesn't want to unnerve possible Wall Street investors, has instructed production members not to discuss the budget. "B. J. Rack had a good idea for dealing with this," says Cameron. "When someone asks how big the budget is, we'll turn and say, 'What position do you like making love in?' " He laughs. "It's none of their business!"
"I'd love to tell people that it cost $900 million, so they'd think they were really going to see something great!" remarks Larry Casanoff, head of Cameron's production company.
As the production wanders into the final stages of principal photography, it is at least two weeks behind schedule. All involved admit that it's costing more than they thought - but, they insist, nowhere near the reported $100 million mark.
With its own cash-flow problems, Carolco has apparently allowed Cameron considerable creative freedom. "They hire people they trust, and they let them lead," says Cameron. "The movie studios always have opinions. They sit in plush offices, and they talk about ideas and character arcs and third acts. It just drives me crazy. They don't have a clue how movies are made." There is also no one to slap the filmmakers' hands as costs rise, since all the producers answer to Cameron. "You're basically allowed to give yourself enough rope so you can hang yourself," he says. "I give myself enough leash, and I run until I choke." Cameron theoretically answers only to Kassar, who makes sporadic visits to the set.
"Mario comes for the support and to the dailies and to check out where the numbers are and where are we," says Schwarzenegger. "But they are not hanging out on the set, by any means." On Carolco's Total Recall, Schwarzenegger stepped in to mediate growing hostilities between the studio and director Paul Verhoeven, yet he says "that very rarely has happened in the situation here, because there were only a few instances in which Jim felt because of him they went a day over in work.
"The main concern we had on this film is the July 3rd date," he adds. "It was not that Jim stopped shooting ten days late of what was originally scheduled, it was that the ten days cut into when we release. So I kept always reminding Jim about the July 3rd release date."
As apparently did the studio. Quips Rack, who is the company's point person on the film, "Carolco thinks it takes nine men to get a woman pregnant, and she has the baby in a month."
"I don't know why Cameron has to do this scene so many fucking times!" groans Schwarzenegger uncharacteristically. It is 11 P.M. on the 101st day. The mood on the set is tense as the sounds of thunder and rain echo through the locale - a stark, white postmodern mansion nestled on a bluff over the Pacific. Stalking around the hallway in his leather biker garb, the usually cheerful Schwarzenegger passes the time playing a vicious game of slap-hands with Peter Kent, his equally enormous double.
Twenty feet away, Hamilton is shooting one of her character's pivotal moments. From a soft young waitress, Sarah Connor has evolved into a tiny, superfit guerrilla warrior: now she is holding a pistol to the head of a scientist who will someday create the technology behind the evil supercomputers. She must decide whether to kill him or not. Hamilton has been doing this scene for five days and is finally getting to do her close-up. Incredibly enough, all the other actors - the scientist and his kids - have been dismissed long ago; she must play the scene entirely alone. The makeup man pumps glycerine tears into her eyes. Cameron yells "Action," and screaming with fear and rage, Hamilton aims her gun at a mark on the floor, climaxing her torrential speech with a shriek of "You motherfucker!" before she crumples into an exhausted heap. And then she has to do it again. And again. And again.
Through it all, Cameron offers no discernible encouragement or advice. The director is suffering from a headache and is annoyed that the storm is ruining his sound. "I don't have time to show you the videotape," he barks at Hamilton when she asks for a playback, so she gets an assistant director to cue it up for her. Smoking a cigarette intently, she watches her breakdown, muttering under her breath about something that "sucks."
"I felt alone by the end of the night," she remarks several weeks later. "Yet that's the nature of the moment, too. All of a sudden, I just got really angry about the way that it had been shot. You need all your actors there - by the time we got to my part, I had to look into the lens to do the moment, with no children, no Joe Morton [the scientist], no nothing. I hated it. I hated the night's work. I'm not sure the work was good," she reflects, adding, "but I think a lot of that is kind of the character seeping through a bit.
"He's a tough man on people," she continues. "Just really tough on people. He sees things that others will never see. He's gifted and hard to please."
She is not alone in her assessment. On Terminator 2, the crew T-shirts read I'M NOT OPINIONATED, I'M JUST ALWAYS RIGHT. (One crew wag remarks that they should have read IF I WANTED YOUR OPINlON, I WOULD HAVE GIVEN IT TO YOU.) The crew keeps a giant plastic dog bone to throw at the latest person who screws up big-time. "He has still the two personalities when he shoots," says Schwarzenegger of Cameron. "When he shoots, he doesn't care for anything. It's not that he's mean-spirited; he just likes to have everyone at that point of being scared. So he will scream and go crazy, and then, as soon as the shot is over, he will be casual with everyone and very sweet and nice. There are two sides of him, and you better know it, so you don't always get hurty feelings about every incident."
Schwarzenegger gives an example of Cameron's sense of humor. "Like one day, Linda goes to him, and she says, 'Listen, in this scene, I switched this thing around a little bit.' Before she ever could even finish, he was screaming at her: 'What the fuck are you talking about? I'm the writer, I wrote it specifically a certain way, and don't change anything at the last minute. I wrote the scene, you do it. Okay?' And she was just looking like this -" Schwarzenegger looks aghast.
"And then he looked at her, and he says, 'Ha! Almost got you.' He loves it."
Cameron is also an incurable do-it-yourself filmmaker. "Every detail he wants to be a part of," explains Rack. "On the set, if somebody's painting something, he wants the paint can and the paint if it's not just the way he likes it. He designs every vehicle, every prop. The cameras, the stock, the lighting, the gel, the number on the gel.... It's very, very demanding, and that makes him, to some people, difficult. But he's not unreasonable. He actually understands things he can control, which is why he is more demanding."
Cameron says that his body-on involvement is the only way he can truly enjoy the process. "Filmmaking's a tactile experience. I have to get in there. I help break the wall. I put on the blood. I find myself doing that more and more as time goes on because I'm just trying to hold on to that feeling of the early days, when you did everything yourself because there was no one else."
In Aliens, Cameron demonstrated the power of a child to "rehumanize" an adult who'd lost her capacity for compassion. That theme resurfaces in Terminator 2, as John Connor reawakens his mother's emotional core. Several members of the production believe that Cameron's relationship with Furlong has softened the director's sometimes maniacal zeal. "He focuses his attention better," says Hamilton. "You can't be angry and demanding with someone who knows you like Eddie. It's good to realize that you can't scare a performance out of people. And he's learning that you have to give people room."
As always, the guy who commands the most room is Schwarzenegger, who is sitting in his trailer, which is three times the size of anybody else's, surrounded by pictures of his darlings. On one wall hang pictures of his baby daughter and his wife, Maria Shriver. On the coffee table lie snapshots of his beloved "Humvee" an all-terrain vehicle used by the Army in Kuwait that has been at the top of Schwarzenegger's must-have list ever since he spotted a convoy of them while shooting Kindergarten Cop in Oregon. Schwarzenegger is undoubtedly one of the few private citizens in the world trying to borrow one - without a gun turret - from the Army. "I can't wait to drive up to premieres in it," he says with a hearty laugh. "Everyone will stare, and I'll hand the keys to the valet, and he won't know how to drive it!"
Despite his extra room, Schwarzenegger has also been affected by the production's time restraints, though in less mundane ways. Asked at the last minute by Cameron to be available on December 22 so the production could remain closer to schedule, Schwarzenegger at first refused but then reconsidered carefully and agreed. He began to cancel his plans. He reportedly asked a staffer to see if Bruce Willis could reschedule the use of his plane. He canceled his appearance at his office Christmas party, to which he had invited many friends and business acquaintances. He called the Shrivers to say he couldn't make their Christmas party. Finally, Rack says, he called the White House to tell President Bush he wouldn't be able to go visit the troops in Saudi Arabia with him.
Since the first Terminator, Schwarzenegger's role has grown, on and off the set. In the first film, he spoke only six lines or so; now he delivers entire paragraphs. He is also a phenomenal marketing cyborg. "My job, unlike other actors, is not finished with the day that will be the last day of shooting," he explains. "My job continues with meetings here every week - two, three times - about marketing and merchandising. Should there be a doll, or should there not be a doll? Should there be a video game or not? I'm going all the way through with the project, including the marketing and the publicity campaign. So it's, like, literally a year-round job. I feel that if they trust me and if they pay that amount of money, I will make sure that the money comes back. In this industry, they know me well enough [to know] that I will take care of them."
Of course, the selling of the movie is intimately linked to the selling of Schwarzenegger. "Because you're going around and doing this [President's Council on Physical] Fitness thing and all that stuff," he says, "you want to make sure that no one misunderstands and says, 'Well, I don't want my kid to idolize someone that goes around and kills.' "
For his efforts, Schwarzenegger will take home a compensation package of $11 million to $15 million up front (largely in the form of a Gulfstream G-III jet), with gross profit participation that is sure to push that figure much higher. With Hollywood's cost cutting, some have started to question whether Schwarzenegger has priced himself out of the market. No way, he says: "I have right now standing offers from four major studios for any money that I want."
Schwarzenegger offers a privileged viewpoint of Hollywood's Byzantine accounting practices. "In this town, they always like to talk about it. 'We pay the actors too much money. We are going to stop now. Our studio policy is this.' Studio policy? It's all nonsense. What they do is to say to you, 'Studio policy is to pay to you so-and-so many millions of dollars, and then you have a side agreement that we put in a safe.' So then they go out, and they make all this noise: 'We never pay anyone more than this, and we will pay Schwarzenegger only this,' and it's true, officially. But then there's 40 other side agreements, and when they kick in the plane, and where they kick in another million - but it doesn't matter to me, if they want to keep their record clean that way. Everyone knows in this town that I ask for my share. But how I get that share, it makes no difference to me."
During a break, Schwarzenegger leaves his trailer and ambles over to a crew member who spends a considerable amount of time keeping the actor happy. "Open your mouth!" he shouts, and begins tossing almonds. Eager to please, the crew .member jumps around like a dog trying to nab biscuits.
The next day, he meets Schwarzenegger again. "That was incredibly humiliating," he complains. "I couldn't believe that."
The world's biggest box office draw laughs. "That's what separates leaders from followers."