Come with me... if you want to live
Date: March, 2008
By: Bill Florence
John Connor: "What model are you? Are you new? You seem.. different."
Cameron: "I am."
The Terminator was once synonymous with the physical brawn and square-jawed visage of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Now, the latest model in Terminators can be seen in the new Fox series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles as played by Summer Glau, who couldn't be more different from the former bodybuilding champion. Pretty, petite and younger in appearance than her 26 years, Glau is an unusual choice to succeed Schwarzenegger as an unstoppable machine from the future whose only purpose is to protect John Connor (Thomas Dekker). Glau herself admits that, initially, she wasn't sure she was right for the part of the Terminator dubbed Cameron.
"When I first got the sides to audition for the series, I was very reluctant," reveals Glau, who's enjoying a rare day off from the set. "I felt that I did not fit the profile of the kind of person I would choose for a girl Terminator -- you know, sort of a 'Wonder Woman' type. I thought, 'I'm going to look silly, and they're going to laugh at me.' That was before I found out that Josh Friedman had written it.
"Once I got the audition [and saw him there], I wished I had prepared something brilliant to show him, because I respect him so much. David Nutter, who directed out pilot and first episode, was there, too. After working with them and talking about what sort of a Terminator they wanted Cameron to be, I fell in love with the part. From that point on, I really wanted to do it."
With a sheepish laugh, Glau confesses that she hadn't actually seen any of the Terminator films when she was cast as Cameron. "None of them," she discloses. "My Dad said, 'I cannot believe my daughter hasn't seen the Terminator movies, and now she's playing a Terminator!' So he went out and got all three of them for me. I knew the basic story of the films, though. Everyone knows what a Terminator is, even if they haven't seen the movies."
"I had an idea of how Arnold Schwarzenegger played the role. I thought of this superhuman man who is so imposing, bigger than life, strong and tough. But when I watched him in Terminator 2, I was amazed by how touching his performance was, and by how much I cared about his Terminator. When he sacrifices himself at the end, it broke my heart! That's what I thought was great about his performance, and that's what I want to try to do with mine. It's fun to do all the stunts, it's great to be tough and beat people up and use guns, but what I loved most about Arnold's performance were his moments with John. He was trying to relate to him. I found that compelling."
Glau's Terminator builds on the same premise, in that Cameron seems to have a nascent ability to emphatize, particularly when interacting with John Connor and his mother, Sarah (Lena Headey). "She's still a mystery to me right now," Glau reflects. "Cameron is a machine, but there's something about her, a vulnerability and an openness, that is close to being human. I wouldn't be surprised if, in the future, she became almost human, in a way. I'm delighted with the character's growth. When I met with Josh to discuss the role, he talked about how Cameron is the most advanced Terminator model so far. And what makes her the most advanced is her ability to mimic human emotions, which is the most interesting thing about this character. Playing a robot is fun, but playing a robot that can mimic emotions is truly exciting."
Still, Cameron's emotions -- real or imitated -- are rarely glimpsed in the first few episodes, and even when they do emerge, the character's machine nature is never far from viewer's minds. That is what makes playing a Terminator challenging for Glau. "In the short time that I've been an actress, I've played emotional, wounded, vulnerable characters," she points out, referring especially to her work as the psychologically fractured River in Joss Whedon's SF-Western Firefly and the schizophrenic Tess in The 4400.
"So to play someone like Cameron is daunting for me. I'm not used to it. I have to approach it differently. I want people to be able to relate to her and feel something for her, even though she can't feel anything herself. The writers do such a great job, and Josh is such a great leader and coach, that it's working well. I'm just doing my best to develop Cameron to her fullest. She's definitely absorbing [new experiences] every week, with every new script we get. Cameron is like a child learning at a rapid pace."
Cameron passes herself off as a high school classmate of John's in order to stick close by him and protect him from attacks by other Terminators. Acting the part of peers, John and Cameron enjoy a comlicated relationship. "We all talk and laugh about whether they might develop feelings for each other," Glau relates. "I don't know if they will. It's up in the air right now. I do know that Cameron lives only to protect John, and even though she can't truly love him, the way she treats him and speaks to him is as close to love as a robot can get. I think that element of their relationship will continue to grow. I've been asked by fans, 'What is the one thing that you want Cameron to do?' My answer is, 'I want her to fall in love.' That would be the most challenging, exciting possibility to me."
"The relationship between all three characters -- Sarah, John and Cameron -- are strained at the moment," the actress adds. "They're feeling each other out, and trying to understand one another. Right now, they're like a dysfunctional family. But there's also a sense of belonging to each other, which I hope will continue to grow."
Most likely, the series will explore such relationship dynamics in greater depth as it moves away from the one-not, life-and-death situations of the first few installments. "The third episode is actually much lighter [than the first two]," Glau declares. "Obviously, we have an action-oriented story, so it's going to be dark and dire at times, but I've been amazed at how our writers have been able to balance the action with drama and humor."
"We keep the action going strong, but you'll be surprised by the humor. I know that as actors, when we're sitting on set reading the new scripts, those lighter moments are the ones we look for and talk about: 'Did you read that hysterical moment that we get to do in Scene Six?' We're getting the chance to lighten things up."
Things are already light behind the scenes, according to all three cast members in separate interviews for Starlog. "We're having so much fun!" Glau declares. "I've only had one other experience like this, where I've had so much fun with the people I work with. That was Firefly. And I've never been part of such a small cast before. There are really only four of us in the main cast [including Richard T. Jones as FBI Agent Ellison], so if we didn't get along, it would make the long working days even longer -- excruciatingly long. Thomas, Lena and I constantly laugh. Those two are both really funny. I'm not very funny, but they are and they make me laugh all day long. We're supportive of each other, too. It's a blessing to work with people I get along with and care about. We're together five days a week, and I actually dream about them on the weekends. I miss them when I'm not working. We're very bonded."
A ballet dancer in her youth, Glau particularly enjoys the many opportunities she's getting to demonstrate Cameron's physical strength and durability: from exchanging blows with other Terminators to getting thrown our of windows or through walls. She is quick to point out, however, that the physical demands of her current role are quite unlike those required of her in the 2005 Firefly big-screen adventure, Serenity, in which finely-tuned martial arts moves were the order of the day.
"My favorite thing about playing Cameron is all the action," she notes. "I love doing the physical work. But Cameron's fighting style is completely different from River's [in Serenity]. I went from playing a girl who is human, small and helpless looking, to playing a girl who is stronger than any human. There are no martial arts for Cameron. She doesn't know finesse. Working with the stunt team is kind of the sae, though. You have to know how to make the hits look real. In that respect, my past experiences have helped to a certain extent on Sarah Connor Chronicles. Mostly, I rely on Joel [Kramer], our stunt coordinator, who also worked on Terminator 2: Judgment Day. He's brilliant, and I love working with hi as much as I can."
On the subject of Serenity (beloved by many Starlog readers), Glau -- who won a Saturn Award as Best Supporting Actress for her role and discussed the film in issue #340 -- asserts that it was successful despite its poor box office performance. "After Firefly was cancelled, all of us [in the cast and crew] were dying to have some kind of closure," she states. "Serenity provided that. I don't know if we have complete closure, though, because we were so in love with that story, each other and Joss. I don't think it's ever really a closed book. But it was important to everybody to close out Firefly in a way we were all comfortable with."
Later, Glau had "a great time" playing Tess Doerner in several episodes of The 4400. "I love that cast," she says. "They're fun, talented and down-to-earth. I enjoyed my character, too. I was happy with the way Tess progressed. As a guest star, it's nice when the writers take time to develop your character."
Now, though, she's solely focused on The Sarah Connor Chronicles. "We have all of the iconic elements that the Terminator films are know for: big action, a compelling story and an overall exciting ride," Summer Glau remarks. "The great thing about doing it as a TV series is that we have more time for quiet moments, funny moments and character development that you can't always do in a film. I think there's something for everyone to relate to. Viewers can live with these characters every week."
Starlog, March 2008