Here he is: the star most of us have flown thousands of miles to see. Even at the age of 67, Arnold Schwarzenegger still looks like a formidable Terminator. As he strides into the press area during our visit to the set of Terminator Genisys, he brings with him an electric hum of charisma – little wonder he’s long been so effective as a killer cyborg from the future.
Having taken a few minutes from filming to speak to us, Arnold is still, disconcertingly, in his full Terminator get-up: clad mostly in black and grey, his face is pockmarked with flecks of damage from some violent encounter or other while a patch of green on his jaw is a telltale sign of a special effect yet to be added in by Paramount’s digital effects wizards.
When we visited the Genisys set last July, it was (appropriately) 30 years since the original The Terminator came out in 1984, thus launching a franchise which Arnold has been linked to ever since. So, what can we expect from Terminator Genisys, and what one-liners will he crack this time? Here is what the former Governator had to say.
So are you basically playing the same character as before? Are you playing him differently in any way?
He’s the same character. There are some subtle changes, but he’s basically the same character. It’s been fun to do that again. The last one I did was in 2002, I think it was. So it’s 11 years since then, so it’s nice to play that character again.
Are there any challenges in getting back into the mindset of the character?
I don’t think there were any major challenges. One has to recognize that [the T-800] is a machine, and machines do things differently than human beings. So you have to practice those things, so you can take a gun apart in a way that looks like you know every move.
If you talk about anything technical, you wouldn’t be searching for the words, you’d be rattling them off like a machine. If you shoot, you don’t blink. As simple as that sounds, it takes a lot of practice – anything like explosions, anything unusual, the Terminator doesn’t blink. He’s not surprised by anything.
There are certain rules we established early on, so I had to go back and look at the other Terminators and then do the same thing. I had to physically do the same thing again – weight training, bulk up a little bit so that it’s the same body weight as it was in 1984. Those were the challenges. But other than that, there’s a great support system here, and this director has thoroughly researched the character, and the producers are very passionate about the project. So it’s been a really nice joyride with a lot of work and struggles. But I always enjoy it when it’s difficult and challenging. It’s been great.
What kind of input did you have into the story?
I actually had very little input. When the story was presented to me, I thought it was a great script, I felt that there were a few things that could be tweaked and improved on. Some of them, they did. But I think it was 95 percent there, I would say.
How did you feel when they started talking to you about the movie?
There was a discussion period of a few years. I first heard about it, I would say, the day after I finished my governorship, which was in the January of 2011. And since then they’ve been working on it. There’s been a lot of discussion. It’s been a collaborative effort, I would say. The thing I remember most is the great enthusiasm of everyone involved, from the studio to the director.
Alan [Taylor, director] has been great, the actors have been really enthusiastic about it – they’re really well trained, talented actors. It’s been a pleasure to work with them.
In the first film, you were very much the villain. In the second, you were the hero. Which are you in this one?
It’s the same character; he’s doing what he was programmed for. He was programmed to both terminate and protect.
Did it take long to form a bond with the other actors?
Well, again, I think the director did something very smart. He had us come together very early on and we rehearsed. We talked about the characters. We had dinner, had lunch, hung out together. We really became a family. I think that’s a very smart thing to do, because when you come to shooting, you don’t think, “Oh my God, this is the first day.” Because you’re always on edge.
I think Sly always says, “Wouldn’t it be great if you could shoot the first week on every movie?” There’s a reason for that, because everyone’s a little uptight until you get a flow going. It’s the same as in sport – when you’ve warmed up, you can get into a rhythm. The more time you spend together, and the more time you spend test shooting – which he did, with the prop guys, the gun guys – everyone got used to each other, even though I worked with a lot of them in the past. So the first day of shooting, we had a certain rhythm.
How did that compare to your experience on the first two [Terminator] movies?
Well, the same. Jim Cameron, he does the same thing. He loves rehearsing, loves going over things in his office, sitting around, reading the parts, and all that. Going out to the shooting range with the pistols and the shotguns, and the automatic weapons. So you develop relationships. On some other movies, that doesn’t happen. But for me, it doesn’t take long anyway – it doesn’t take long for me to get familiar with the actors. It’s easy for me to work with various different people. There’s never been a problem for me – the bodybuilding, the fitness or the political thing – especially in politics – you have to learn to work with people who think differently than you. You have to still respect them the same way and find a groove because you have to work together. Not like now in Washington where nothing gets done – that’s terrible. I was always a believer in doing the people’s work.
I only think of one thing – what is good for the screen. How do we make [sure] the best picture is up there?
How daunting was it to get back into the shape you were in 1984?
Well, there are some movies where age is an issue, or they make it an issue. In Terminator, it’s not such an issue at all – action-wise, he’s exactly the same. He may have human flesh, and his hair might be going gray, but he’s still exactly the same mechanism. So you have to be ready for all the action the way you were 30 years ago when I did the first one.
The key thing is to keep training. It’s like the adverts on the television – a body in motion stays in motion. That’s exactly what it is. I believe very strongly that as long as you train every day, it isn’t that difficult to change, to say “Okay, instead of working out for an hour a day, I’ll work out for two hours a day.” And let’s work out all those fight scenes and start rehearsing that. Then you look at the script and see where the challenges are coming. You see all the parts where you have to act like a machine, and then you practice that. So if the basic foundation’s there, and you’ve been training all along, I don’t think it’s that challenging to do.
Have you been doing your own stunts on this one?
No. With stunts, we have a rule that if you can get injured or killed, you let a stunt guy do it, because they are much more skilled in how to do the falls, being on fire, how to deal with all those things. They’re the professionals. Some actors turn around and say they do everything themselves; I think it’s nonsense, because the fact of the matter is, that’s why we have a director – you let him direct. You have experts in wardrobe. You have publicists that deal with the media. You have the stunt people with the ways of making this crazy action a reality.
That’s the way it is. The key thing is, you do as much as possible, because people know the difference between visual effects and reality, that’s why a lot of people like the old, traditional movies, because there’s more of the actors and the stunt people rather than just visual effects. So we’re trying to push it, but we’re always trying to be safe. You know what just happened to Harrison Ford, with his ankle [on the set of The Force Awakens]? That’s just because of one little mistake, and you twist your ankle.
Normally, for us in real life, when you twist your ankle it’s fine – you can just walk around with a limp. In a movie you can’t do that. You’ve got to be on, you’ve got to run. You can’t come on with a limp or a crutch or something like that. That’s why you’ve got to be very considerate, take your ego out and just say, “This is what I can do,” and rehearse and practice then you do as much as much as you do, and you let the stunt actors take it from there.
You’ve had some iconic lines that people love like “I’ll be back.” Can we expect something like that in this one?
Yeah. As you know – or maybe you don’t know – we don’t know whether a line’s going to be iconic or not. When I said, “Hasta la vista baby,” I didn’t have the foggiest idea that this was a line anybody was going to quote, right? The same with “Stick around” when you hit someone with a knife through the chest and they get pinned, uh, against the building. Then you say, “Stick around.” It sounded to me like a funny line, but then people repeat it.
Or, “Sully. Remember I promised to kill you last? I lied.”
You don’t know! The lines in this movie, I couldn’t tell you right now what that would be. It’s like, “It’s not a tumor. It’s not a tumor at all!” [From Kindergarten Cop].
I said, “Where’s the funny line here? I didn’t think it was funny”. I mean, the kids laugh, but I didn’t think anyone would laugh at that!
Arnold Schwarzenegger, thank you very much.
Terminator Genisys is in theaters July 1.