Date: April 2008
More than any other cast member of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Thomas Dekker is a big fan of the Terminator films upon which the Fox TV show is based. That's why Dekker -- who plays future hero John Connor in the new series -- was skeptical when he first heard that the franchise was coming to the small screen for weekly adventures in 2008.
"I grew up watching and loving the Terminator movies, especially John Connor's character and his storyline with Sarah," explains Dekker. "So, while that made the opportunity to play John attractive to me, I confess I was a little concerned about what a TV version of Terminator would be like. I decided to do it after I sat down with [executive producers] Josh Friedman and James Middleton and [director] David Nutter. I found out what the show was really about, what its message was and where they wanted to go with it."
Once he was convinced that The Sarah Connor Chronicles would strive to offer more than simply an action-packed thrill ride, Dekker enthusiastically signed on, joining Lena (300) Headey as Sarah Connor and Summer (Firefly) Glau as Cameron, John's Terminator protector. "Some people think this show is just an attempt to cash in on the Terminator franchise, but it isn't," Dekker insists. "Right now, the threat of computer and machinery intelligence is relevant -- maybe not in a litteral sense, but more metaphorically. There's a lack of human emotional connectin in politics and science and everything going on in the world right now."
"Our show seems more important and relevant now than in 1984 and 1991, when the first two Terminator movies were made. Some of the robots [in The Sarah Connor Chronicles] seem to have more heart than the human beings... almost. It's all about this strange ballance between feelings and machines. I can't give away too much, but we're going into these matters in far more detail than the films did."
The 20-year-old Dekker wasn't even born when James Cameron's original Terminator took theaters by storm in '84. He watched it on video, of course -- many times.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day was even more influential for the young thespian (and for the TV show). Surprisingly, Dekker hasn't yet seen 2003's Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.
"That's odd, I know, because I've seen the first and second movies probably 100 times," he laughs. "I got them on VHS when I was about 10 years old. I have them on DVD; they're in my trailer right now. The fact that I've never seen the third one isn't so important, because the mythology of our show takes off right after the second film. Besides, the whole point of the Terminator story is that the future is changeable. It isn't set. So we aren't really taking the third movie into account. People ask if Sarah's going to die [in our show], because she was dead in the third film, but we're ignoring that one."
As the third major actor to play John Connor -- following Edward Furlong in T3 and Nick Stahl in T3 -- Dekker says with candid frankness that he neither wants nor needs to reinvent the part from scratch for The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Here again, though, it's Furlong's portrayal of John in T2 that matters most.
"Absolutely, that performance affects my own take on the character," Dekker avows. "Everyone here knows that we're treading on ground that has already been established. It's our job to make the show new and exciting, but I know Lena cares about Linda Hamilton's prior performances as Sarah, just as I care about Edward Furlong's work as John and the writers and producers care about the entire franchise. I'm trying to capture John's essence [from T2]. I want to incorporate his instincts and his heart. He's wild, outspoken and impulsive."
"My John is older , and he's in a different situation than when we saw him in T2. In that one, he's about 10, and he thinks his Mom is crazy. John believes that it's OK to draw attention to himself. He doesn't care [about the future] at first. In our show, John has had to hide and put a damper on who he is. He's scared, and he isn't ready for this honor as 'leader of mankind's Resistance' that seems to be getting closer and closer. Those are new elements to the role that I'm trying to incorporate. But every day I play this part, I think about the original character and performance."
Dekker pauses a moment, reflecting further on his alter-ego, and then adds: "John wants to step up to the plate, because throughout his life, he has been told about his big responsibility. He struggles with wanting to get there already, to be the hero, while at the same time never wanting to get there. The teenage predicament for him is magnified a million times. Everyone tells John what he should or shouldn't be, and he isn't prepared for it. He hasn't had a chance to know what he wants, and he doesn't know if he's capable of these future heroics."
"Now, put that on the scale of having to save the entire world, and it becomes very stressful for him. I would like to see the character come to the realization that this [leading the Resistance] isn't only what he has to do, but that he has to do it now -- start building his army and making plans. I would also like to see John come to depend less and less on Sarah, and then see what that does to their dynamic."
According to Dekker, one of the reasons the show's producers liked him for the role was that, like John, Dekker and his parents moved around a great deal when he was younger. "We moved constantly," the actor notes. "My parents and I were never in one place for very long. That's a big link to the character for me -- the sense of having to reinvent yourself with new friens and new places in order to blend in."
Perhaps that's one reason why Dekker says his character is about the easiets one he has played thus far in his young career. "I don't know how that works, but normally when I play a part, I really have to immerse myself and lose most traces of myself in it," he ventures. "With John, it's pretty easy to jump in and out of character. We both make decisions too fast, we're both somewhat stubborn and we both take things head on."
In the end, throug, John is still a fictional role played by an actor who -- in some very fortunate ways -- enjoys a life much different than his alter-ego. "I feel more grounded and balanced than John does," Dekker points out. "He's more of an emotional yo-yo. He hasn't had a chance to be as close to his mother or family as I have. John is in a darker place than I am. I don't have Terminators trying to kill me!"
One of the trickiest elements that The Sarah Connor Chronicles deals with is also one of its most compelling: the relationship between John and his gorgeous robot body-guard -- when John doesn't yet know about Cameron's true nature -- it's evident that he has a crush on her. Then events conspire to dissuade him of his pleasant illusions.
"Once John finds out what Cameron really is, he's thoroughly disappointed," Dekker says. "It's such a weird thing, because in a way, Cameron is probably more dedicated to him than any real girl friend could ever be. If she had a heart and soul, she would totally give them to him. But what's the point of that emotion? Is it responsibility and dedication? Or is it passion and affection? John has some things brewing in school that I can't give away, but I will say that his struggle with liking Cameron is something I find very interesting."
After the nail-biting events of the first two episodes, the series finds opportunities to lighten up here and there. "Much to my surprise and joy, after those couple of episodes, there's some real humor that comes in," Dekker maintains. "When we were shooting the first two scripts, I was like, 'God, this is so dark and miserable.' But when we got the scripts for episodes three and four, sometimes we would all laugh out loud. The humor is coming, and it stems mainly from Cameron learning to exist in a world that has some strange social rules."
Viewers can also look forward to "a really interesting evolution" for eacj of the main characters. "Sarah finds herself in several situations where she isn't sure if she's doing things to satisfy her own emotional desires or for the mission [to destroy SkyNet]," Dekker explains. "It's a battle within herself and with other people, which involves lots of scandalous things going on. Meanwhile, Cameron is like a newborn child discovering the world. There are endless possibilities concerning how she might be taken advantage of, what she sees and what she figures out."
"And for John, who maintains the core Terminator story, there are things that happen at his school and in other parts of his life that are very dark and intriguing. He discovers a big mystery that doesn't seem to be linked to the Terminator prophecy of Judgment Day. So, there are lots of curious things happening, and complicated places to go."
Behind the scenes, the Sarah Connor Chronicles set is as loose as the on-screen events are dire. "It's absolutely insane how well the three of us get on," Dekker says. "It's crazy. I've been acting for 14 years, and I've never had anything like this [chemistry] on a set before. Lena and I pretty much hand out every weekend. We go out to dinner, and we drive each other back and forth to work. Summer is often doing other unit stuff, but when the three of us are together, we have a blast. We take the show seriously, but we also laugh the whole time we're on set. The crew is excited to be here, too. I know this all sounds phony, but it's true. From the creative team of writers and directors down to the [various departments] and us actors, the vibe on the set is enthusiastic, warm and very pleasant."
In fact, the hardest thing about the role has less to do with John and more to do with the situation of working on a weekly TV show. "When you're playing the same thing for so long, 12- to 14-hour days, every day, for a year, you have to make sure you don't lose sight of why the character is saying something this way or why he's feeling a particular way. It can become easy to just go in and become repetitive. The challenge is to keep up with yourself and make certain that you're playing everything for a reason."
Before tangling with Terminators, Dekker earned notice amongst genre fans for his role as Zach in 11 episodes of Heroes. "Doing that show was a strange thing for me," he confesses. "I auditioned for a part in the pilot, and was told it was never intended to go any further. I didn't really know what Heroes was -- I didn't read the full script. I was just given my sides and the breakdown. All that said was, 'Artsy, gawky kid with an intense crush on Claire.' So I read for them and did that, and I was hired for the pilot. I was never signed as a regular, but they began to hire me per episode. I was continually surprised to keep coming back."
"That's jow I was able to leave Heroes and do The Sarah Connor Chronicles: I was never under contract over there. I guess it was a compliment in a way, that they kept asking me back. I've gotten more fan mail for that role than I ever expected. Zach was a polar opposite to John, and the truth is, I feel more akin to John. Zach was more of a challenge, because he had a special voice, a walk, a whole style I triend to invent. I'm having a much more pleasant time on this set."
Though few fans would recognize him, Dekker played Captain Picard's seven-year-old son, Thomas, in Star Trek: Generations. Dekker returned to Trek a year late to appear as the Holonovel character Henry Burleigh in a couple of Star Trek: Voyager episodes ("Learning Curve" and "Persistance of Vision").
"Those were all fantastic experiences," Dekker recalls. "Generations was the first movie I ever did. I was just a little kid at the time. I remember very clearly the little girl who starred in Voyager with me [Lindsay Haun]. She and I had just played the leads in a John Carpenter movie [Village of the Damned] that same year, so Voyager was like a big reunion for us."
"I've done lots of science fiction and horror in the measly time I've been in this business," Dekker adds. "I love and respect the genre. Honestly, if I could only do SF, horror and occult projects for the rest of my life, I probably would. As a child, I not only loved the Terminator movies, but also the ALIEN series, which I probably watched every day. And the people I've met at conventions have been fantastic. Science fiction fans really love the genre and come out to talk about it."
Dekker is looking forward to starring in writer-director Tim Sullivan's Brothers of the Blood -- a movie that "is and isn't about vampires" -- later in 2008. "They're working on funding and casting right now," he explains. "We should start filming during hiatus on The Sarah Connor Chronicles. It's an interesting project, very original. I guess it is about vampires, but in an operatic way. Tim is tapping less into the violence and death aspect of the vampire mythology, and more into the sexuality and romanticism of it."
Besides acting, Dekker's other love is music. He's a singer, songwriter and guitarist with soundtrack contributions to the CW's 7th Heaven and several of the Land Before Time and An American Tail movies. I'm hoping I get to perform something for Sarah Connor Chronicles," he says. "Although I do play guitar, that's probably misleading; my music is very electronic, and would fit the tone of our series pretty well. The producers have my [two] albums right now. I'm planning to create a piece of music that takes one of the musical themes from the first Terminator film, and then I'll add orchestra and Nice Inch Nails-style electronic drums for an upbeat action piece. I'm excited about it, but I don't know if they'll end up using it."
In any case, Thomas Dekker believes The Sarah Connor Chronicles already has plenty going for it -- more than enough, in fact, to keep viewers tuning in each week. "The show has an enormous heart. And the idea of this small group of people fighting to save the entire world, and no one else knows, is scary, sad and beautiful. There's lots fo action and science fiction, but in the end, people will come back every week for Sarah, John and Cameron and the strange emotional bond they have. I really like these characters, andI think the audience will, too."
Starlog, April 2008