James Cameron and Arnie reflect on making a sequel that changed everything.
After six years of the property rights to any Terminator sequel being so entangled as to render it a pipedream, Mario Kassar of Carolco Pictures finally cut through the knots, emerging to dangle the enticing prospect before director James Cameron. He initially wasn’t interested, intent on pursuing other ideas. Then he was offered $6m to direct – the entire budget of his classic 1984 original, The Terminator – and said, simply, “OK!”
With a release date immediately set for 3 July, 1991, Cameron had just 20 months to come up with an idea, treatment and script, and then to shoot the damn thing and race through post-production. Being Cameron, he didn’t make it easy on himself, envisioning 52 computer-generated special effects that were literally ahead of the curve: effects-house Industrial Light & Magic would each week achieve something that the previous week hadn’t been possible. The plot, meanwhile, would focus on the first movie’s mythic resistance leader John Connor, not as a fully fledged fighter but rather as a kid, forced on the run with his mum, Sarah, when an advanced, liquid metal Terminator – the T-1000 – is sent back from the future to kill him before he becomes guerrilla godhead. Fortunately for him, his mum is no longer a poodle-haired waitress but a pumped-up warrior having spent seven years working out in a padded room, raving about killer robots. Better still, the T-800 of the first film also arrives from the future to protect him against this seemingly unstoppable foe.
The script, by Cameron and his old college buddy William Wisher, who had a dialogue credit on the first movie, explored traditional themes of good versus evil, sacrifice, mistrust of authority, and the dehumanising effect of technology. But the 186-day shoot pushed action cinema to new, vertiginous heights, and ILM, afforded a then-astronomical $5m budget, fashioned avant-garde images that defied comprehension. Everybody was working seven-day weeks, sometimes 18-hour days, with Cameron sleeping in the cutting room. Final prints were delivered just three days before the cut-off date for reaching cinemas in time. The final cost of Judgment Day was $102m – the most expensive movie ever made at that point.
Opening on its ear-marked date of 3 July, 1991, T2 attracted queues around the block and was the highest grossing film of the year, taking $521m. It went on to secure its reputation as one of the greatest blockbusters, science-fiction movies and sequels of all-time, and was this year re-released into cinemas in a 4K 3D conversion (overseen by Cameron, naturally) that highlighted just how remarkably well it has weathered the 26 years since it initially wowed viewers.
To celebrate its home entertainment release, Total Film revisits T2 with James
‘Terminator 2 was so far ahead of its time, it’s mind-blowing’ Arnold Schwarzenegger
Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Robert Patrick and Edward Furlong, talking through both its production and its lasting impact…
RISE OF THE MACHINES
Cameron had experimented with computer effects in The Abyss, and ILM had been in existence for 15 years, but T2 was the CGI showcase that shaped modern cinema…
James Cameron: We knew at the time that we were on a curve of willing something into existence. I can’t take credit for CG animation – the tool sets were being created by a whole bunch of people all over the place – but like any good surfer who sees the wave coming and knows when it’s time to take the ride,
I knew it was time to take the ride. There was the feeling that we could get to something extraordinary within the cycle of a single film production. We did that on The Abyss and then we did it on T2, and then the same people at ILM who were working on T2 went on to do Jurassic Park. It was such a fertile time. Everyone was so excited by it.
Robert Patrick: I was aware of Industrial Light & Magic and I was trying to wrap my head around everything they were doing. I had seen The Abyss. I understood the liquid thing. I was encouraged to really get an understanding of the fluidness of the character and the fact it was an artificial intelligence.
Arnold Schwarzenegger: Terminator 2 was so far ahead of its time, it’s mindblowing. It is one of those movies that people still talk about as if it came out yesterday.
SIZE DOESN’T MATTER
Casting the slender Robert Patrick as the updated Terminator was a bold move, with Cameron favouring agility and speed over brute strength… RP: Physically, I matched what they were looking for, and what I did in the improvisational audition was exactly what you see in the film. Jim was very encouraging. We stayed in the animal kingdom and thought about insects and predators. I didn’t have a lot of dialogue but I had an incredible presence, and that’s the gift of the moviemaking: the people I was working with, the way I was lit, costumed, the way we moved. I felt elegant and dance-like and with purpose and always in motion, and I think that’s why the audience accepted it. If I’d had a whole monologue, they might not have. Less was best. Still waters run deep.
AS: It was brilliant that Jim decided not to have a guy who was bigger, or a stronger machine. Robert was brilliant at locking in that Terminator look.
JC: I got lucky with Robert, who completely fulfilled on his promise of what he showed me in the audition. He was so fast he could catch the motorbike when he was running!
RP: I wasn’t in the best shape when I turned up to audition. I was an exathlete but a heavy smoker at the time, and I was doing a play on stage where
I was playing a junkie and… I was not that healthy. I was very gaunt and lean. But when I got the role and started working out, my muscle memory kicked in, and I started building up. But they didn’t want me built up, so I had to cut it back. They wanted what they had seen initially but in better shape. So I worked out incredibly hard for four months. The cigarettes went on day one. I was like, “Oh fuck”
– I turned green at the first workout.
So I stopped drinking, I stopped… anything I was doing recreational that I shouldn’t have been doing. It was a sober experience. I worked out four times a day. By the time I got through with the training, I was in the best shape of my life. My trainer treated me like an AI and only
called me T-1000. He convinced me that I was the baddest thing walking the Earth. I lived in Hollywood at the time and I would practise stalking. I’d pick someone out of the mass of humanity and follow them. They were the only thing I focused on. It was fun.
Cameron recognised that John Connor was the heart of the story in a road movie focusing on a “warped nuclear family”. The casting of Edward Furlong was vital…
JC: The most daunting thing I faced was finding the right kid. I saw all the young actors and it didn’t work. They’d done too many TV shows and commercials and they weren’t genuine. There had to be an authenticity to John’s pain and his dissatisfaction with his family and society and so on. Mali Finn, my casting director, found young Eddie Furlong leaning against a chainlink fence at a club, with his eyes hooded and looking out through his hair. She went up to him and said, “Hey kid, you wanna be in a movie?” And his response, as conveyed to me by Mali, was, “Get lost, frog face.” [laughs] She lit up like a pinball machine, thinking, ‘This is the kid.’ She said, “No, I’m serious. Have you ever been in front of a camera?” He said, “Well, my dad shoots my birthday parties… but I’m not with my dad anymore.” He was from a broken home, he’d never acted, his diction was terrible, he couldn’t remember the lines, he had no training… but there was something.
Edward Furlong: I was in a place called the Pasadena Boys’ Club. She said, “Can I have you come and audition for a movie? I can’t tell you what it is, but take my number down and call me.” The first time I auditioned I had no script. I was supposed to be yelling at Mali, as my mum. The second audition, not so good – they gave me lines. Mali came to my house and said, “Jim almost wrote you off the list, but you’re gonna get another chance.” I took it very seriously and went balls to the wall. After I did my last audition, Jim said, “Don’t tell anyone this, but you got the movie.” That was awesome.
AS: We had this wonderful relationship. He had this really great time looking at me as this big guy he could have fun with. We really became buddies. I hung out with him not just on the set but off the set. That was extremely important.
JC: Arnold took him under his wing. He is very canny. He will do whatever is necessary to make whatever he’s set his mind to a success. For T2 to be successful, the kid had to bring his best game. So Arnold was a father figure to Eddie. EF: I looked up to Arnold a lot. You can’t be this little boy and not be
impressed. He had this presence.
Hamilton, returning as Sarah Connor, not only pumped up but was given fighting and weapons training by a former Israeli commando…
JC: I challenged her to become a warrior. But she also challenged me. When
I called to ask if she’d be interested in doing another
‘I was in the best shape of my life. My trainer treated me like an AI and only called me T-1000’ Robert Patrick
film, she said, “I’ll do it, but I want to be crazy.” I said, “Alright, you wanna be crazy, I’ll put you in a mental hospital.” And I started writing it, and it just flowed. It made so much sense. Sarah knew, with absolute certainty, that four-fifths of the human population was going to die, so she’s living like a ghost in a material world – or maybe vice versa, the only real person in an immaterial world. So you see, seven years on, the impact of that psychologically. It just all made sense and allowed me to drive to the core of the apocalyptic angst. She had this really profound effect on the female audience. She was one of the first truly empowered female characters. She’s physically strong, mentally strong, psychologically strong. And there’s no sexuality about her character. You can say the same thing about Sigourney Weaver in Alien right up until the last scene where she’s in her nice little tight panties, and you say, “OK, OK, at the very last second they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.” Because before that she’s a brass-ball bitch.
AS: Linda not only changed her attitude, she changed her look. It was not like she had five years to get ready for this
– it was a few months. I come from the physical fitness world where you re-shape and re-sculpt your body. But what I saw there was extraordinary. I said “Look at how ripped you are!”
The T-800 was already appearing high on polls of the movies’ greatest ever villains, so turning him into the good guy in T2 was an audacious tactic…
AS: My first thought was, “Bullshit – this isn’t going to work.” Then James Cameron explained to me that for the kid, I was the good guy. But for everyone else trying to get to the kid, I was a bad, bad guy. I thought, “Wow, that is a really new twist.”
JC: The key to making a good sequel is not throwing more of the same at it. You have to swerve, surprise the audience, yet not pull the rug out from under them. You have to pay off on the things that they do want. So part of it is you have to analyse what did work. It wasn’t hard for me to do that on Alien because I was a fanboy. [laughs] When you’re working with your own stuff, you have to apply a bit of objective analysis and not get high on your own supply – not convincing yourself what people responded to, but going out and really talking to people. The surprise factor: well, now the Terminator is a good guy.
It was a leap forward and something fresh.
RP: I’m the bad guy and when we reveal how bad I am, it’s the Guns N’ Roses song, where I come around with the Baretta and I mean business. Well, what happens? He fires on me, I take the hits, I fire on him, he takes the hits. The hits knock me off my feet but I get up and regroup. Now we’re in a clench and he realises, “Whoa, hold on, he’s as strong as I am – how can this be?” And then we bang each other into walls and I grab him and spin him around and throw him out the fucking window. That’s badass. Arnold gave me a pat on the back. He really appreciated how I was moving.
IT WILL NOT STOP…
Twenty-six years on, T2 is regarded a classic. But did its perfectionist writer/ director feel it still stood up in today’s VFX-drenched market when he returned to it for the 3D conversion?
JC: I cringed a bit at the thought that it might be very dated, even thematically, because society had moved on. I was surprised to see that despite the limitations of that time, in terms of what we could do with computer animation, it actually held up rather well. And I think the reason for that is because we used CG so sparingly. We did a lot of practical effects and a lot of prosthetic effects to surround the CG. That’s a tribute to Stan Winston and his team. I think it still stands up. Thematically it stands up more than ever, if you think about predator drones and things like that. We’re now actually having serious discussions at high levels about the ethics of autonomous kill vehicles, segueing seamlessly from science-fiction into a daily reality of robotics and artificial intelligence. I’ve been involved in serious discussions with top AI people who assure us repeatedly that such things as the Terminator could never happen. But they can’t say exactly how they would prevent it. Because if you talk to any top AI researcher they say that their goal is to create a sentience, a consciousness. To essentially create a person. And once a machine is a person, what does that mean – can you then constrain it and make it do only what you tell it? I think we call that slavery.
RP: I was just amazed at how young and beautiful we all were!
TerminaTor 2: JudgmenT day is released on dVd, 2d Blu-ray, 3d Blu-ray and 4K uHd on 30 ocToBer.
lean and mean James Cameron threw a curveball by casting Robert Patrick as a smaller, more agile Terminator than Schwarzenegger.
Ready eddie edward Furlong was plucked from the street to play John Connor, as Cameron wanted someone without an acting background.
new woman linda Hamilton wanted Sarah Connor to be a very different character to her poodle-haired self from the original movie. So she put herself into training.
i’ll be dad Schwarzenegger became something of a father figure to Furlong, mentoring him through the production of T2.