Emilia Clarke and Jai Courtney interview: Terminator Genisys

The two stars of Terminator Genisys, Emilia Clarke and Jai Courtney, talk about their roles in this summer's sci-fi action movie...

Although neither of them are strangers to physical roles, the forthcoming Terminator Genisys represents a whole new challenge for Jai Courtney and Emilia Clarke. For not only will they have to suffer whatever gun- and explosive-related mayhem the latest film in the franchise will throw at them, but they’ll also have to create their own interpretations of two much-loved characters from the 1984 original.

Emilia Clarke, most famous for her work in Game Of Thrones, is the new Sarah Connor, the ordinary Californian waitress turned cyborg-fighting warrior originally played by Linda Hamilton. Jai Courtney takes on Michael Biehn’s old role as Kyle Reese, the resistance fighter from the future sent back to 1984 to protect Sarah from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s seemingly unstoppable T-800.

Two things were notable as Clarke and Courtney sat down to speak to us on the set of Terminator Genisys last July. One was that, with her figure-hugging black combat gear on, Clarke looks very much as Linda Hamilton did in 1991‘s Terminator 2. The second is that Courtney, who’s wearing combat gear of his own, looks an awful lot brawnier and more imposing than Biehn did 30 years ago.

Looks aside, what can we expect from the new Terminator film, and what will the film do to change the course of the franchise’s history? Here’s what the pair had to say…

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You play such iconic characters in this franchise. What do you guys bring to those characters?

Jai Courtney: As far as playing them differently – I know I’m stating the obvious – but with two different actors in the role, the approaches are going to change. There’s no aim to emulate the performances of Michael Biehn for instance, or Linda Hamilton. But what’s interesting about this installment is that while the characters might start out in the same place, or somewhere we’ve found them before, they become vastly different. The characters might be familiar, but they’re forced to confront a different set of obstacles, which changes who they are and what they’re capable of.

Emilia Clarke: Yeah. I mean I know for myself, it was a huge responsibility to take on a female lead who defined female action heroes for a long, long time. I think that while we have a huge respect for what happened before, as does the movie, the new circumstances we find ourselves in are very different to what you’ve seen before. I know for myself, Sarah’s doing a lot less reacting, which I felt Linda [Hamilton] did in the first two films, and doing more acting – she’s creating a lot more.

When was the first time you saw the original Terminator?

EC: My brother made me… I say my brother made me watch it, because I was kind of young I think. We watched it a lot. So now it’s cool to [be in one]. He’s very happy.

People already recognise you on the street for Game Of Thrones. Are you prepared for being recognised as Sarah Connor?

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EC: Mildly, yes. It’s wonderful to fly under the radar. But hopefully the movie will be all that we want it to be, and people will be saying good things. 

Did you feel the transformation your character had on television gave you a foundation for the transformation this character’s been through?

EC: Again, so lucky with this script. There’s a beautiful story we’re telling. While the enormity of this project is a little intimidating at times, at the heart of it there’s this beautiful story that deals a lot with relationships. And every character gets to have a beautiful journey, but Sarah Connor more so than others. Her circumstances are so vastly different, that her arc in this movie is pretty big.

Is there any difference in working with Alan Taylor in Game Of Thrones and this?

EC: Well, you just see more of him, really. It’s a longer shoot!

Would you say you’re the lead in this, or is it more of an ensemble?

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EC: Ah, it’s an ensemble.

JC: I wouldn’t say it’s a lead really, it’s an ensemble piece, is the simple answer.

What’s it like working with one of the most iconic actors ever [Arnold Schwarzenegger]?

JC: It’s great, working with Arnold. He’s very sweet, very generous, has a lot of fun with it. It’s inspiring seeing someone back doing something that was such a large part of his career. It’s so colourful, when you think about what he’s achieved as an individual in very different worlds. It’s cool to share the screen with him in a franchise, in a world that he’s known best for. It’s a privilege.

What’s your experience watching the original movies, Jai? You’re no stranger to dropping in on a franchise.

JC: It’s true. I’m no stranger to dropping in on a franchise. I hope this isn’t the last fifth film in a franchise I get to step in and do! Look, I remember watching T2 a ton of times as a kid. I was a bit young to catch the first one, and jump on board from the beginning and follow it, but I certainly watched that film over and over again. It’s not unlike the Die Hard experience; it’s something super familiar that you’ve seen involved, and it’s surreal to be a part of that.

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EC: It’s a totally different story, though.

JC: That’s absolutely right, yeah. It’s cool. It’ll be interesting to see where it goes from here. 

Have you been doing lots of training for this?

EC: Guns!

JC: Lots. 

EC: Lots of guns.

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JC: As you can imagine, an action film has a fairly heavy weapons component to it. There’s physical stuff as well. Getting in shape for this movie – it’s gonna include all the things you’d expect for a movie of this nature. 

[Inaudible question about acting in an action film]

JC: I was speaking yesterday about that. I think it’s easy to assume that might have been it, but given the way this film transcends the genre, and the dramatic stakes our characters are up against as well, I think the challenge doesn’t just lie in the physical demands on us as actors. The material we’re dealing with is just as challenging. It’s fun. It makes coming to work interesting and exciting, because it’s not just lines between stuff blowing up at all. There’s serious stuff at play. It’s been harder, but also more enjoyable. It’s been great to be able to do that.

Is it good to work with Alan Taylor again, to have that existing relationship?

EC: It’s always a beautiful relationship, the actor and the director. And knowing Alan and knowing his genius – it’s lovely to have that already established. It’s an exciting project to be a part of.

Did the different circumstances your characters are in preclude you from wanting taking inspiration from the mythology in the earlier films? Were there things you wanted to borrow from the earlier films?

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JC: I guess so. Kyle starts out in the same place as he does in the original film. So that’s a great launch pad for me, as far as preparing for the role and getting into the head space, thinking about what it might be like to be part of that resistance army. But things change fairly soon after that, and it’s no longer about necessarily mine another actor’s performance for clues as to how to play this guy. I mean, it’s there in the writing. It’s a complex piece, and it’s very well written. So there’s enough in there to explore without having to depend on something that’s pre-established.

The second film had a really strong anti-war theme to it. Does this film have any over-arching theme?

JC: It certainly deals with our relationship with technology. I guess we’ve seen that in others, but I don’t know if it’s been as relevant as it is now.

EC: Yeah. It’s approaching it a different way than the originals did, because the circumstances we live in now are different to the 80s. It’s a different kind of war they’re up against. It brings it to something current.

Are your characters more evolved than in the previous films?

EC: For me, Sarah is the most different, because when you meet her, the circumstances she’s lived in are different than you’ve seen before. Who she’s evolved into has taken a few different turns. Fundamentally, you’ve got some truths that will always remain throughout the Terminator timeline, and those are still there, but the circumstances are different.

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JC: Yeah, and my trajectory’s almost the opposite, in that he starts in the same place but he’s almost playing catch-up for the rest of the film, if you know what I mean. Where he thinks he’s heading isn’t where he ends up. 

Emilia Clarke and Jai Courtney, thank you very much.

Terminator Genisys is out in UK cinemas on the 3rd July.

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