Entertainment Weekly: He's Back...
Date: July 12, 1991
By: Donald Chase
The veins in Linda Hamilton's well-muscled forearms are bulging as she wraps explosive cord around a yellow drum marked "FLAMMABLE-Polydichloric Euthimol." Decked out in a utilitarian, all-black paramilitary ensemble and sporting a new steely physique, Hamilton seems almost nothing like the pleasingly rounded madonna of 1984's The Terminator.
In its sequel, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Hamilton's Sarah Connor character has become the complete urban guerrilla - tougher, stronger, and infinitely more intense than before. Surrounded by an enormous array of computer hardware she's intent on blowing to bits, she doesn't even look up as she barks, "Go ahead - I'll finish here." Her three male cohorts file obediently toward the exit. One is a scientist ,(Equal Justice's Joe Morton), who's nursing a bullet wound to his left shoulder. One's the son with whom Connor was left pregnant at the end of the first ,- film, now a punky, precocious boy of 10 (Edward Furlong). And most surprising - since Hamilton spent most of the original fleeing in terror from an android assassin from the future played, by Arnold Schwarzenegger - there's a new version of the Terminator himself, now dressed in biker leather and toting a gym bag that only partially conceals a seven-chamber grenade launcher.
The boy pauses and cautions Schwarzenegger. "Remember, you promised you wouldn't kill anybody." The machine with the human exterior stops, angles his head, and spits out what is sure to become one of Terminator 2's signature lines: "Trust me." "Good, good," director James Cameron enthuses over this rehearsal. "Only we need to time it more precisely so that the camera can see everybody's face at the pause." Lanky, blond, and bearded, Cameron steps forward to demonstrate what he wants. "Got that? Good," he says. "So: more rehearsage, then lunchage, then shootage." The attempt at humor provokes scattered laughs from the strung out crew.
After 103 days of shootage, they're at the stage where they'd laugh at anything. This March day on the movie's Valencia, Calif., set was supposed to mark the end of filming, but with Terminator 2 almost three weeks behind schedule and well on its way to becoming one of the most expensive movies ever made, Cameron wants to encourage levity. He joined in the laughter when crew members circulated a memo asking everyone to show up for this day's work in their pajamas - a gag meant to suggest that, had the movie finished on schedule, they'd all be heading for a long rest by now. Cameron's customary jeans, work shirt, and work boots contrast with the flannel nightshirts and sheer baby dolls that attire much of his crew.
"I always felt we should continue the story of The Terminator," Schwarzenegger says. "I told Jim that right after we finished the first film." Shot in 48 days on a stripped-down, $6.4 million budget, the sleeper Cameron calls "a lean street thriller" went on to earn a healthy $100 million in worldwide ticket sales and attract an enormous audience on video. To a post-apocalyptic theme The Terminator added the expected genre mayhem plus unexpected dollars of emotion (between Hamilton and Michael Biehn, who played the father of her child) and loopy, sociopathic humor (from Schwarzenegger). It's now seen as a sci-fi classic, but at the time it was simply the product of a team of creative people who had nothing to lose.
Seven years later, the people who brought that film to life have much more at stake. The Terminator helped make Schwarzenegger the most popular movie star in the world - and every misstep leads down. If Terminator 2 is anything less than a global blockbuster, his image of box office invincibility will be dented. Hamilton, though now a TV star thanks to Beauty and the Beast, has yet to prove her big-screen versatility: by returning to her old role, she risks being trapped by it. Cameron has the most risk at stake. Though he is respected in Hollywood as a gifted, original filmmaker (Terminator led to the 1986 blockbuster Aliens), his reputation for dependability suffered when he delivered his 1989 summer epic, The Abyss, a month late to mixed reviews and disappointing box office.
Terminator 2 has presented the director with an even more daunting challenge. With Schwarzenegger busy on Kindergarten Cop, shooting couldn't begin until October 8, leaving only three months for postproduction to complete the complex special effects and meet the release date of July 3, the very latest distributor Tri-Star could open the movie and still tap into the peak summer moviegoing months. Cameron doesn't need to be reminded that each extra day consumed by shooting means one less day for postproduction and that if he misses this deadline, T2, as everyone on the project calls it, could be the last big-budget movie he ever directs.
Even after trading his black leather and ammo belts for baggy purple-and-pink Bermuda shorts and a tight gray T-shirt, Schwarzenegger still looks massive lounging in his trailer amid photos of his wife and child push-pinned to the walls. He was drawn to the sequel, he says, because his new character is more complex and sympathetic. The first Terminator had been dispatched from the future to wipe out Sarah Connor, an L.A. waitress whose unborn son was destined to lead a revolt in the 21st century against the machines that rule the world. Terminator 2 picks up the story when the son, John, is 10 and more a delinquent-in-training than the hope of the race. This time - hang on, now - two Terminators are sent: a model T-800 (Schwarzenegger), programmed by rebels to protect John, and an even more powerful T-1000 cyborg (Robert Patrick), whom the machines have assigned to kill the boy.
One of Terminator's central jokes was how easily the assassin succeeded in passing for human by means of a few basic phrases, delivered without affect (some critics charge that role was the only one Schwarzenegger has played that was fully within his range). But the performance wasn't as easy as it looked. "It's very difficult to say things without emotion," Schwarzenegger says. "We show enthusiasm or excitement even when we're talking about matter-of-fact things." Cameron recalls that originally "the Terminator was a very innocuous individual, an infiltrator who could be any face in the crowd. [The director revived that concept with Patrick's T-1000.] But then the possibility of working with Arnold arose and, as I was having a meal with him, I studied his face and realized it projected a sense of unstoppable forward motion. And I thought: 'This could be a really interesting way to play the Terminator.' Some of the subtleties get lost, some of the logic gets lost, but what we got instead was so much more valuable to the audience - they got it like that," he says.
"The thing that worried me most about this film," Cameron continues, "is that by reprising the humorous elements of the first Terminator we would seem derivative. People might not remember that we set the ball rolling - he didn't quip much as Conan. What's interesting is that these lines - 'I'll be back' and 'Fuck you, asshole' - were in the script of the original. But the chemistry between Arnold and those lines took everything to another plane." After playing T-800 in a single key in Terminator, Schwarzenegger notes, he must now keep track of how far along his new character is in the process of "adopting certain human behaviors, of showing emotion," and keeping tabs on his evolution was complicated by the sequel's wildly out-of-sequence shooting schedule. (The shots that would need the most extensive effects processing were done first, to give a team at George Lucas' Industrial Light & Magic as much time on the task as possible.) "The taming of the Terminator," as Cameron calls it, is just one of several inversions the director has made on the original, and the biggest switch involves Hamilton: While T-800, under the tutelage of young John, grows more human, Sarah develops an almost inhuman intensity. "The irony of this film," Hamilton says, "is that Arnold is a better mother than I am, and I'm a better Terminator than he is."
"This has been the most difficult, exhausting, physically and emotionally stressful experience of my life," Hamilton says, slouching wearily in a canvas chair. "But I've learned so much about focus and discipline that the role has changed my life - and I've never said that before."
The role may be new for Hamilton, but this type of heroine has become a Cameron trademark: Sigourney Weaver's bug-blasting Ripley in Aliens and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio's competent pro in The Abyss are sisters under the skin. Cameron's respect for capable women extends offscreen as well. His former wife, Gale Ann Hurd, cowrote and produced The Terminator and produced The Abyss; he is now married to Point Break director Kathryn Bigelow. Cameron brushes off the idea that he's striking a blow for feminism, but he's proud that Weaver became the first lead actress nominated for an Oscar for a sci-fi action film. "Piercing that barrier was very important to me," he says.
Back on the set after the lunch break, Cameron poses a question himself: "Did I, because I was obviously going to have a lot more money to make this film, give my imagination free rein in writing the script? Well, at first I didn't really think that much in terms of budget but in terms of what the film should be to satisfy the audience's expectations. And my anticipation of their expectations was based almost entirely on what I personally wanted to see." But even with almost 15 times the money spent on the original, T2 could not accommodate all of Cameron's vision. "Given the time considerations and the state of the art of special effects, it had to be scaled back," he admits.
One of the grander schemes to fall by the wayside, according to coproducer B.J. Rack, was Cameron's opener. "It was an eight- or nine-minute prologue that explained how people could come back from the future," she says. "It was elaborate - massive sets and unbelievable visual effects. We looked at it and said, 'No, we just can't have it.' So even though people say the shooting script is the biggest thing they've ever read, the first script he wrote was even bigger."
Even with such concessions to reality, Cameron's T2 handily outdazzles his original. When Hamilton and her cohorts blow up the computer complex, it's not a model but a real San Jose, Calif., office building (scheduled for demolition anyway) going sky high. A highway chase required shutting down a 21/2-mile stretch of the Long Beach Freeway for two weeks of night shooting and finding a stunt pilot willing to fly a helicopter under the overpasses.
Most striking of all are the computer-generated effects for the protean T-1000, who regularly reconfigures his free-flowing metallic form into shocking new shapes. Industrial Light & Magic developed many of those sequences on a high-resolution computer graphics system, then transferred them to film.
Cameron, who majored in physics at Cal State at Fullerton, is legendary for his inventiveness in special effects. But bringing his visions to life can be a trying experience for actors. "It hurts him to call 'Wrap!' " says Patrick. "He'd like to shoot all night." Still, Cameron veterans say his hard edges have softened just a bit. "He's a demanding taskmaster - it's what makes him James Cameron," Hamilton notes. "At the same time, ' this has been a more collaborative experience than the first Terminator." Adds Schwarzenegger, "He has the same fanaticism for physical and visual detail. But now he'll do a shot 10 times over for the acting. Before he would be doing it eight times over for the look."
"How would you come into a situation like this?" Cameron is asking a group of real LAPD SWAT team members who will soon be bursting into the building in pursuit of Hamilton and her demolition team. The director is determined to learn every detail of the tactics the team uses in real life, but in the end he decides to embellish reality, staging a "more visual" but riskier style of attack. Then he puts in his earplugs.
As three cameras run, the SWAT team breaks in and empties its machine guns at Hamilton, who dives for the shelter of a desk. "Linda, that's great," Cameron says. But the bullet hits are off by just a beat; they'll have to try again. The clock is moving on toward quitting time as the director crouches on the littered floor to confer with his explosives specialist. "We're going to finish this shot," he says. "Today."