If you’re an up and coming actor, do you want to land a part in a franchise like the Terminator movies? After all, those films have long been dominated by the presence of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s title cyborg, and the last two or three entries in the saga have taken their fair share of knocks (and arguably then some).
But there is still something cool about getting involved in one of sci-fi cinema’s most acclaimed and groundbreaking (both visually and thematically) franchises, which is how Mackenzie Davis (Blade Runner 2049), Gabriel Luna (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) and newcomer Natalia Reyes came to star in Terminator: Dark Fate alongside series icons Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton — the latter returning to the role of Sarah Connor for the first time in 28 years.
Davis plays Grace, a cybernetically enhanced super soldier from the future, who is sent back to the present to protect Dani (Reyes), a young woman who holds the key to that future — although not exactly as you might expect. “It was amazing when I finally got to read the script,” says Reyes in our interview below. “Because, you know, they don’t really say much when you’re auditioning. So when I actually read the script, I was just amazed by, you know, I thought it was a great story but also that my character, I was expecting it to be these Latino characters that we are all used to seeing.”
She continues, “It was one of the main characters. She was not related to drugs, prostitution, or nothing illegal, and it was like a big surprise. It was like, you know, this is great. I think this is a reflection of how the world has changed and Hollywood’s changing, and we just want more and bigger representation.”
Davis agrees with Reyes that until she read the full script, she had the impression that Grace was a much more straightforward and physical role. “You go through this process and the last thing you do is read the script,” she explains. “So initially it was Tim (Miller, director) and his enthusiasm and his vision for the movie and him showing me some of the (pre-visualization) realizations of the stunts and my character. It just felt really like, ‘Okay, I can’t believe you want me to play that.’”
But like Reyes, Davis found more than she expected in the script and character. “You’re just sort of hoping the script is good the whole time,” she adds. “When I read the script, I was very pleasantly surprised and loved the dynamic between Linda and Natalia and my character. But yeah, I think because we didn’t have that at first, it really was just this totally different, athletic role to play.”
For Gabriel Luna, his role was even more mysterious and different — that of the Rev-9, the newest killing machine from the future which has a liquid ectoskeleton and an armored endoskeleton, both of which can separate and fight at the same time. How did they explain all that to Luna?
“They didn’t really,” replies the actor, who had to deal with extensive visual effects as Robbie Reyes/Ghost Rider on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. “The main thing early was they wanted him to be a charming guy. They wanted him to be a friendly face, one that could lure people close to him and then, you know, cut their head off. That was always there.”
Luna elaborates, “I started to see some previz, some of the fights and I could see, oh, he has blades or he can form two blades in his hand and it’s kind of wielding it almost like a double-sided sword. I was like, “Oh, that’s cool. But that’s not really much of an advancement or a technological advancement from the previous (movies).’ I was just curious what else was possible. Then, sure enough, I got the script the day before I left for Madrid and I read it. I read the scene where I’m driving the truck and then my endo is driving the truck and my exo goes out onto the hood. I was like, “Okay, yeah. Now, that is really cool. Now, that’s something that people will see and be like, ‘Yeah, that’s bad ass, dude.'”
As the Rev-9 pursues Dani and Grace, the battle is joined early on by Sarah Connor, whom neither Reyes nor Davis had met prior to their auditions for the movie. “I met her here in LA,” says Reyes. “I came for a callback, so I was not expecting that Linda Hamilton was there, but she was there, and I was shocked. I couldn’t believe Linda Hamilton was auditioning with me. She’s so loving and generous, and she held my hand, and she was hugging me. You know, it was like this love at first sight.”
“I met Linda first at a screen test that she flew to Ireland to do with me because I was stuck there shooting a movie and couldn’t come back to LA,” says Davis. “Which is such an indication of her character and generosity…I think it’s so cool of her. But yeah, I met her in a very small town in Ireland in the conference room of a hotel, and she immediately pushed my shoulders back and told me to stand like a soldier, which scared and thrilled me. She was just the warmest, loveliest collaborator.”
Of course, it also wouldn’t be a Terminator movie without the T-800, and Arnold Schwarzenegger is back in action with a somewhat different variation of his classic character. For Gabriel Luna, however, this was still a chance to soak up some advice from the legendary actor on playing a fearsome cyborg.
“I talked to him a few times,” says Luna. “He was always like, ‘Just do it. You’ve got it. You move your body very well,’ he would say. He’s a wonderful dude. He’s one of my heroes. One of his superpowers is he makes us all feel like we’re superheroes. You know what I mean? That’s the tale of a great leader and a winner, is he wants to instill his great qualities in those around him, so that we can be better and that we can be elevated and equipped to do the task.”
But the most important question is, does Arnold stay in character when the cameras are not rolling or does the T-800 stand down?
“He’s funny,” say both Reyes and Davis, with the latter adding, “He just wants to tease and joke and have a good time. I feel like he’s sorted his life out in a really nice way. He has a group of friends that come with him wherever he works, and they explore new cities. It feels like if you’re going to work as much as he has over the course of his life, do it with this group of people that you love and make it fun.”
Luna says he tried to spend as much time with his co-star as possible. “I usually always eat lunch with the crew. I always do,” he says. “But in this instance, he always had these really great chess games, chess matches, challenges going on. I was like, ‘Man, well, I got to go play some chess with Arnold.’ So that’s what we did at lunch — play a lot of chess and talk and really, no words, man, no words to describe it. It still kind of freaks me out.”
Terminator: Dark Fate is out in theaters now.
Don Kaye is a Los Angeles-based entertainment journalist and associate editor of Den of Geek. Other current and past outlets include Syfy, United Stations Radio Networks, Fandango, MSN, RollingStone.com and many more. Read more of his work here. Follow him on Twitter @donkaye