It’s Matt Smith’s day off, so he’s arrived on the New Orleans set of Terminator Genisys in his civilian gear – white t-shirt with the sleeves rolled up, tight jeans revealing lime pink socks. For anyone used to seeing Smith in a tweed jacket and fez, the sight of him in modern garb might seem a bit confusing. He’s in high spirits, though, even if – a little frustratingly – he can barely talk about his role in the film he’s meant to be helping to promote.
“My character has connections to John Connor,” he says, tersely, and that’s your lot. Is he a villain? An ally? He refused to be drawn. He remained an entertaining person to spend time with, though, so here he is talking about his experiences on the set of Genisys, his affection for the Terminator movies, and how the franchise is being reinvented for the present time.
What can you tell us about your character? Who are you?
Who am I? Well, my name is Matt. And I’m very excited to be a part of the new Terminator franchise. Obviously, I can’t talk in too much detail about the specifics of my character, but needless to say I have close interest and links to John Connor. So yeah. What else do you want to know? I love football!
Are you afraid of Skynet?
Am I afraid of Skynet? Everyone’s afraid of Skynet, aren’t they? Again, we’ll have to wait and see the actual specifics of what I am. But it’s going to be interesting, is all I can say. It’s a very interesting part for me to take on, and different to the stuff I’ve done in the past.
How did you land the part?
Well, it was quite strange, actually. I had a phone call from Dana and David, from the writers, Patrick [Lussier] and Laeta [Kalogridis]. It was a Skype call, and they asked me if I’d be interested. It was completely out of the blue and bizarre. Then I talked a bit more, and having been a part of Doctor Who, there are obvious hesitations. I mean, it’s a completely different world, but there are elements of time travel and stuff like that. So I thought, “Well, I don’t know.” But then I heard the scope and scale and ambition of the project, and the different formats it’s going to take, I thought it might be interesting. Then I read the script, and heard about where they wanted to take the storytelling, and I thought it sounded interesting. So here I am.
Is this a very serious role for you, when compared to Doctor Who?
Well, I think that Doctor Who probably put me on their radar. But this is a completely different role to the Doctor, which again is one of the things that appealed to me, and hopefully allows me to stretch a few different muscles. Also, to be part of this legacy is something that was very appealing to me. If you look at the first two movies, and the characters we get to explore in these movies, having come from different timelines in that world, or descendants from that world, it gives us a chance not to emulate them, but try to make films of a similar quality.
Are you part of the sequels?
I am part of the sequels, yes, so I’ll be around for two and three. Which is good. Keeps me employed for a while!
What’s the best thing about working with Arnie?
You’re English! Hurrah! Well, on my first day in makeup, I was sat there, and he appeared in the T-800 costume. That in itself was quite surreal. Sorry, I’m scratching because of the mosquitoes – they like my English blood. You know, those films are so seminal. I’m 31, and for people my age, those films were really ahead of their time. I think Arnie in those films – even the fact that we call him Arnie, the shorthand we have for him is a strange thing, and a wonderful thing, actually.
So it’s exciting, and I’m quite into training at the moment, and exercise, so I want to ask him about that – but haven’t dared yet. I’m sort of holding back. It’s like any great character, I think – there’s something exciting about working with characters you’ve known and admired from the past. That’s one of the benefits of this project.
What visual language from the series have you studied or embraced, and what parts could you discard?
That’s a good question. Blimey. Well, with any story that you inherit, you have to honour the legacy in some ways. I think that’s one of the great virtues of this script, is that characters like the T-800 and Sarah and Kyle are back in full force, and actually, as much as we loved those first movies, I think the first was made for $8m and the second was made for $100m. But actually, what we loved was Sarah Connor. I think it’s good that we can explore and use those characters again, but ultimately, this is a new era for these films, and there are new characters that are coming in, and one of them is mine. So, you know, I’m excited about the future characters as well.
I think you always have to reinvent, and you have to look forward, you know? Much like you do in Doctor Who. Or if you play Hamlet, you can’t go, “Well, I’m going to do Simon Russell Beale”, you have to do your version. For me personally, it’s the same with a film like this.
How much do you anticipate people will be asking you about the minutiae of this franchise, in perhaps the way they have with Doctor Who?
What does minutiae mean?
The trivia, the mythology…
What a cool word! Um, well, I… Doctor Who‘s been running for 50 years, and has a huge minutiae, as it were. I think, with this, the way we can explore the timelines with the different characters, the platforms we can work across, it absolutely has the scope and the possibility to get the internet buzzing, as it were, and get people asking, “How’s that happened? Who’s he? Where’s this coming from? What’s Matt Smith going to be doing in film three?” Etc, etc. So we hope it’s going to have a good… minutiae!
Which Terminator did you see first?
The first one. I didn’t see it in the cinema, actually, because I wasn’t old enough. And then T2. I was like, wow, what is this? How does a nightclub look so futuristic in the 80s? Yeah, I was really struck by it. [James Cameron] is such a wonderful filmmaker, and as I say, I think those films were really ahead of their time. Now, we hope to reinvent and honour, and make something that is just as cool.
Matt Smith, thank you very much.
Terminator Genisys opens on July 1st.