Are you Sarah Connor?
Date: March, 2008
By: Bill Florence
"The unknown future rolls towards us. I face it for the first time with a sense of hope, because if a machine, a Terminator, can learn the value of human life, maybe we can, too."
That narration by Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) -- set to an image of asphalt rolling by in a car's headlights -- brought Terminator 2: Judgment Day to a close in 1991. Sarah had reason to think positively: The Terminator threat seemed to have been terminated once and for all. However, the future has turned out to be less hopefull than Sarah expected. Fox's new mid-season show Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles -- which opens with s similar shot of striped pavement rolling by -- picks up the story four years after the events of T2. The show premieres January 13 (Sundag, 8 p.m. and then shifts to its regular time slot (Mondays, 9 p.m.) January 14.
The killing machines are back, so Sarah and her son, John, are constantly on the move, fearful of another attack. Sarah is consumed by the need to remain hyper-vigilant at all times and protect her son from any danger. Robbed of a normal family existance, it's not surprising that mother and son find their relationship strained. What's more, Sarah must allow Cameron, a "good" Terminator, into their lives -- the better to assure that John fulfills his destiny as leader of tomorrow's Resistance. Cameron sends all three of them forward in time to the year 2007, hoping to get the upper hand on Skynet.
That's a lot for anyone to endure, even the tough-as-nails Sarah Connor. "There's a surface to Sarah which sort of belies what is really going on beneath," offers 300's Lena Headey, who takes over the role in the TV show. "I think she could possibly go crazy. She's just barely hanging on to her sanity. Sarah is an ordinary woman in extraordinary circumstances, through which she develops into a very complex human being.
"Women are good at holding a thousand things together. They have a strength that goes deeper than most men. Women can deal on many, many levels. You know the saying, 'Behind every good man is a fantastic woman' -- I believe there's truth in that. Sarah is just a great character. She's an interesting, layered, strong woman. And that's always appealing."
Mother of Tommorow
The Sarah Connor Chronicles -- which also stars Thomas (Heroes) Dekker as John Connor, Summer (Firefly) Glau as Cameron and Richard T. Jones as FBI agent James Ellison -- takes all of its cues from the second film, while steering clear of any connection with Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003). After all, time is fluid in the Terminator Universe, and the events of T3 seem to belong to an alternate (and thus ignorable) timeline.
Headey hasn't even seen the third film. In fact, she only saw T2 "all the way through" after the series started lensing. "I watched it with Thomas about four weeks ago," she reports. "But I knew the Terminator premise [before that], and it's sort of current with where we are now as far as technological developments go. The notion of man vs. machine is quite relevant. I understand it on an emotional level. The second movie is the most informative one [for our series]."
She calls the trio of Sarah, John and Cameron a "dysfunctional family." "Sarah loves her son above and beyond [the norm] for many different reasons," Headey remarks. "John is the key to the survival of mankind, so there's an added pressure. Meanwhile, Sarah is learning to trust Cameron, who is sort of her adopted daughter. Cameron has to be in the family, and although Sarah isn't happy about that, they learn to live with each other."
If Terminator fans are to embrace the new show, they will have to get over the recasting of Sarah and John. Headey says she is working hard to make the TV Sarah her own while not ignoring Hamilton's performance. "There are some viewers who are never going to let me in as Sarah Connor, and I can't do much to change that," she reflects. "I'm still giving Sarah strength that the original character had."
"Since we're doing an hour every week, there are going to be developments and differences for her [compared to the movies' Sarah]. People may say, 'That's not Sarah Connor!' But that's because I'm doing 22 hours of this, not just two. To hold the audience's interest and develop the characters and make things interesting, Sarah must go places that the films never went. But Linda Hamilton's portrayal -- particularly in the second movie -- does influence my take on the character. Sarah has been pushed to her limits as a female and as a human being."
The complexity of the role, and the physicality of the show in general, were two elements that attracted Headey, 34, to The Sarah Connor Chronicles. "The pilot script [by Josh Friedman] was great, and we continue to get new scripts and ideas that are intriguing," she declares. "I love all the physical stuff I get to do on this series. Plus, Sarah is pretty intense. If she were a real person, I would have to get her drunk or something to get her to lighten up. She has a lot on her plate."
One of the challenges she faces in playing Sarah is to avoid being "too dramatic," Headey says. "You know, screaming and crying and other emotional extremities are interesting, but for now, for this first season, I want to keep a lid on Sarah. I'm trying to let her be interesting in a subtle way. We're just finding our where we (the characters) all fit and who we are. We need to have somewhere to go with them, so we want to keep a few surprises in store."
Headey pauses a moment, reflecting on the challenges in acting, and then ventures that she isn't quite comfortable with the notion that acting includes challenges. "It's a strange word, 'challenging,' because it's not challenging -- it's a great job," she replies. "If there's anything challenging about it, it's focussing and concentrating when you're tired. I guess you could say that playing Sarah is challenging in a fabulous way, because I get to work out all these things -- like how to make it brilliant, hopefully. I feel really blessed to have this job."
The series' early episodes are intensely dire and grim, as any story about killer robots and the end of humanity is bound to be. There's nary a smile or joke in sight. However, Headey insists that lighter moments are coming. "Again, you need somewhere to go. There needs to be humor in this show, but we don't want to ake it lighter right now," she muses. "Actually, there are humorous moments in the early episodes, but it depends on what you think is funny."
"On the set, when we're filming, we're like, 'This is really funny,' but perhaps the audience won't see it that way. For example, we throw Cameron though a window [in the second episode "Gnothi Seauton"]. There's a look between John and Sarah when they do it, and Sarah's like, 'Screw you and your friend.' Those moments may not be outright hilarious, but I don't believe we should be doing hilarious right now."
Woman of Yesterday
As grim as things are on screen, life on the Sarah Connor Chronicles set seems to be just the opposite. "The mood is very relaxed," Headey notes. "We all get on wonderfully. I love Thomas and Summer. Thomas is like someone I've known for my entire life, and possibly previous existences, too. We have a great bond, which just happened naturally. He's an amazing man, a ball of energy."
"And Summer is an extraordinary being. I've never met anyone like her. She has been given this role where she's playing a robot, and yet you fall in love with her. She's quite something, Miss Glau. I'm incredibly fond and protective of the two of them. The material is so serious, but we screw around [when the cameras aren't rolling]. We're all very silly and camp. We usually rehearse in a musical style, and then we bring it back down."
Considering her own part in the behind-the-scenes hijinks, Headey quips, "I'm hilariously funny. I don't think Sarah is particularly humorous, though. Her humor comes out by accident. If you ever asked her to stand up and make a joke, it would probably be awful. But I'm a comic genius."
Headey is reticent to discuss upcoming episodes except to say that, "There are lots of interesting guest stars, and some unexpected new and old appearances. And we have some amazing action," she attests. "Our action sequences are of feature-film quality, and that's exciting. It's like we're shooting a movie every eight days. Plus, I'm getting some great oppertunities to develop Sarah. I love the episode we just shot, 'Heavy Metal.' It's so crazy! We did lots of location stuff for that one, and it's very action-packed."
Before The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Headey co-starred in the movie adaptation of 300, the Frank Miller0Lynn Varley graphic novel. "That was awesome," she says of her time making the film. Headey was also in director Terry Gilliam's The Brothers Grimm (2005), but her remarks about that experience are altogether different. "It was grim," she says tersely. Any reason why? Headey laconic reply: "Because Terry Gilliam is a shit!"
Another 2005 genre film that featured the actress was The Cave, about bloodthirsty creatures terrorizing divers in an underwater cave. "Thank God there wasn't a sequel," Headey mutters.
In 2008, movie audiences can see Headey in The Broken, writer-director Sean Ellis' pshychological thriller about a woman who encounters herself on a busy London street. "It's finished, and I'm about to go see it for the first time," Headey remarks. "The Broken was a tough shoot, but I'm hoping it will be something quite original."
Offering some final thoughts on why she expects Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles to be a hit with viewers, Lena Headey observes, "We're bringing an action-suspense drama to TV that is unique and has an intriguing plot. The scripts are so exciting, and hopefully we'll transfer that excitement to the screen. The series has this huge sense of the unknown going on, which is pretty cool. Even if I had nothing to do with the show, I would watch it and probably get hooked!"
Starlog, March 2008