Terminator Genisys: Hybrid orr Stand-Alone Picture–Schwarzenegger as Character of the Past, Present, and Future

According to David Ellison, “’Terminator Genisys’ is not a remake, it’s not a reboot, it’s not a sequel—it’s really a reimagining based on the Cameron source material.  Viewers don’t have to be familiar with any of the previous films at all—this is definitely a stand-alone.  But that being said, for the fans who have seen the first couple of films, there are some great Easter eggs in there.  Exploiting the inherent nature of time travel, we go off on a divergent timeline to take these characters that audiences and I grew up with in a completely new direction.”

The title character is brought to iconic life again by Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

“I don’t think you can make a Terminator movie without Arnold,” says director Alan Taylor.  “Certainly, I couldn’t imagine it without him. There’s something about the way he and Cameron built that character and then within the two movies explored such different sides of that character that he basically set the parameters for that world.  That mythology means it would be really hard for me to think of a Terminator movie that let go of him.”

“I was very happy to be involved,” admits Schwarzenegger. “I got a phone call telling me that David and Megan Ellison had acquired the rights and the first thing I thought was, “Finally they are doing another one! And finally I am again in the movie! Also, I was very happy when I heard who was writing the script. I just liked the direction it was taking from the beginning.”

Schwarzenegger as the Ultimate Tin Man

Screenwriter Kalogridis says, “I considered Arnold’s character the ultimate Tin Man—how does he become the cornerstone and the heart of the story, for a character that essentially has no heart?

There was something really tantalizing about the idea of Arnold playing a Terminator who has aged—of not trying to do any crazy CG stuff, but to respect the change in the actor.  The Terminator was always very much of its time—so to be able to tell the story in the moment and the age that Arnold is…it interested us all.  The human tissue surrounding the cyborg ages, but he’s also aged on the inside through his very long experience with humans all this time.  We thought it would be so much fun to explore.”

“It’s like riding a bicycle,” grins Schwarzenegger. “You fall right back into it. I remember when I read the script and I started then practicing the lines. I started talking like a machine again. It was kind of like you slip into that character.”

Producer Ellison notes, “You can’t call a movie ‘Terminator’ without THE Terminator.  In this movie Arnold is playing a character that was sent back in time to when Sarah Connor was nine-years-old—he was not able to save both her parents, but he was able to save her and raise her since that time.  He’s been her protector, her warrior, her Guardian.  Fighting for that long, he has a little wear, a few glitches.

Also, his learning processor has been on that whole time, so by the time he’s traveled forward, he’s had more than 30 years to answer that question of can he actually be human? How does he interact with Sarah in that role, and then once Kyle comes along, how does Kyle’s falling in love with Sarah change that?  Of course, Arnold’s also in some amazing action scenes—he is Arnold, after all—and I think people are going to see that he’s back and he’s better than ever.”

“If you’re going to have Arnold you’ve got to use him in a brand new way,” insists Taylor. “You can’t just do the same thing again so in our approach it was very important to me that we see a whole different take on this character that we take him in places that he never was able to go before. You know, he’s evolving, growing, maturing and that led to a brand new version of his character.”

The evolution of the character was something Schwarzenegger considered carefully: “I protect Sarah Connor, and anything that is coming close to her, or is threatening her I terminate. So I’m the Terminator in some ways, and I’m the Protector in another way. So you have to be very careful in how you play that in each moment. It helped I think that I’ve had daughters — my first daughter was born when we did “Total Recall” I remember in Mexico, and she’s now twenty-five years old. And so when you grow up, and when you’re father of two daughters, I think you learn a lot including how to be protective. I think that experience helped me a lot.”

Deep appreciation of Schwarzenegger and his larger-than-life presence was shared by filmmakers and performers alike.  Jason Clarke offers, “I learned a lot from Arnold, not only while shooting, but just by being around him.  Not that he sets out to be a good teacher, but he’s a pro at what he does, and he has a wonderful joy about life—he’s a great conversationalist, he’s interested in a lot of things.  To see him again in this signature role, well, it’s been great.  He’s really the glue in this whole thing.“

As the Guardian’s de facto daughter, Sarah Connor, filmmakers chose Emilia Clarke for the role.  “We go back a long way,” smiles Taylor, clearly happy to be working with his Game of Thrones star again.

Producer Ellison interjects, “We all love Game of Thrones, and there is a strength, and a sense of honor and nobility to Emilia—those are things that can’t be taught.  You either have them or you don’t.  I think those attributes work perfectly for Sarah Connor, whom I consider a seminal female heroine in cinema.”

Clarke echoes her colleagues when she says, “Arnold is the first thing that comes to mind when you say ‘Terminator,’ and you can’t do it without him.  Probably what I love the most about this script is the relationship between the Guardian and Sarah.  It’s the heart.  It’s beautiful.  We get to see his character in this whole other gorgeous light.  Watching her all this time has kind of softened him—except, of course, when people have tried to kill her.  That hasn’t softened him at all!”

While the guardianship of Sarah has had an effect on the Guardian, the Guardian’s presence has also affected Sarah.  Jason Clarke feels, “Emilia brings a strength in femininity—the Sarah we pick up now is different.  She didn’t have to grow up without a strong parental presence.  I think there’s a bit more confidence in the woman, not just the paranoia of knowing there’s a future out there that’s trying to end her existence.  There’s a bit more ‘girl about town’ that I think helps—you can see her truly start to fall in love with Reese.”

Writer/producer Kalogridis enjoyed not only shaping these altered versions of the characters, but also creating what the filmmakers named “callbacks” (or homage references to the original films).  She explains, “In the first film, Kyle takes Sarah on a car ride and gives all of the exposition—now we have Sarah doing the ex-pos with the guns.  It’s an homage to the first film, but also an extension of what would Sarah have been like if her life had been radically different—if she had realized who she was and what she was supposed to do at a far younger age.  What would she have been like when she and Kyle first met?  It would have been very different, and exploring that was a lot of the fun of it.”

The chemistry between Sarah and Reese was at the forefront of producer Goldberg’s mind when filmmakers began to audition actors for the part.  She says, “We’d done the movie ‘Jack Reacher’ with Jai Courtney and loved him as a person, and thought he was a wonderful actor.  We weren’t sure he was Reese.  He came in and he tested with Emilia, and I remember standing on the stage watching his audition, and I emailed someone and said, ‘We just found our Kyle Reese.’  It was clear their first read together.”

“When I heard there was going to be a fifth installment to this franchise,” says Courtney, “I didn’t freak out to begin with –  I’ve been involved with pre-existing things before – and then I read the script in a locked room, you know with cell phones handed in and all that sort of stuff. That’s when I got pretty excited! I realized that that the guys behind this had the intention of making something pretty cool.  That’s when I became invested in the idea. It was a pretty funny process getting the role, I was on a film in Australia shooting so I got on a plane Saturday morning, landed in LA, went straight to the audition with Alan and the producers and Emilia, got back on a plane to Australia that night back, missed Sunday and showed up for work Monday morning.  So, just because of the 30 hours I had to spend in the air that weekend I was pretty sure I wanted this role just to make it worth it and fortunately it all worked out.”


Casting the part of John Connor—particularly for this John Connor, whose character runs the gamut from messianic to maniacal—was an acknowledged challenge among filmmakers.  Dana Goldberg begins, “We knew John Connor was going to be one of the hardest roles to cast, because he has to be charismatic—here’s the guy people who have no hope choose to be their hope. These are people who’ve had everything taken away from them, and yet, when this man stands up and says that it’s time to fight, they’ll go to the ends of the earth for him.”

David Ellison continues, “The thing about John Connor is he’s tortured.  For some, he’s a prophet, but he says in our movie that he cheats, that his mother raised him and told him everything that was going to happen.  That’s a huge burden, and something we’ve found fascinating about John Connor’s character—he will lead all of these people and, in reality, he knows that a great deal of them are going to die.”

Adds Goldberg, “There’s a moment in the film where John wishes a soldier good luck, and the soldier says that he doesn’t need luck—he has John Connor.  When we shot it, David and I traded smiles, because we knew that Jason would just fill that moment with everything going on inside—appreciating what the soldier said, but also wishing that there was another world in which this was not his position to fulfill.  We think people are going to be blown away by Jason Clarke in this movie.”

Clarke himself says, “One of the things that really made me want to be in this project was to work with Alan Taylor.  He’s a very smart man, he knows story and he knows actors, and he’s done some of the greatest TV ever done—‘The Sopranos,’ ‘Game of Thrones,’ ‘Mad Men.’  He’s got a wonderful doggedness, but also a gentleness.  Going in, you know a film like this will be a long, big tough shoot, and it requires a director that’s going to support you and keep you going, and also just keep an eye on everything and know that it’s done properly.  He never moved until we got it, and it’s been a pleasure to work with him.”

In setting out to honor but also break free from the first movies, Goldberg acknowledges that some of the original imagery is all but impossible to forget.  She says, “You say T-1000, and you immediately remember Robert Patrick in that police uniform—it’s an instant flash.  We knew we didn’t want to copy it.  It seems deceptively simple to cast, but we needed to move in a way that is specific yet different, creepy and scary all at the same time.  There needs to be a real physicality for the role, and we knew from ‘G.I. Joe: Retaliation’ that Byung-hun Lee had it in spades.  Turns out he is a huge fan of the originals.  We knew he’d be great, and he surpassed all of our hopes.  When we were shooting his scenes, people on the set just started referring to him as ‘creepy goodness,’ because every scene he did something really creepy and really good, all at the same time.”

Byung-hun Lee admits, “I have some history with this movie.  I was really influenced a lot by it when I was a teenager.  When I was in high school, everybody called me Terminator, because they thought I looked like him and because I was the champion of arm wrestling.  So it was kind of a coincidence to get a part in this project—it was really great.”

Matt Smith also has teenage memories of the series: “Growing up in the 80’s I think, for anyone who’s about my age, these movies, the first two in particular, were seminal films and just really ahead of their time. When the opportunity arose, I couldn’t wait to be involved.”

Slotted in the role of San Francisco Police Officer (later Inspector) O’Brien—who encounters Sarah, Reese and the Terminator in 1984, and then crosses paths with them again in 2017—was J.K. Simmons.  He remembers, “I got a call about the project, and I asked to read the script, which I did, and which turned out to be really great.  I knew about all of the talented people involved and the new actors.  And I saw that Arnold was back, and I thought the way they handled his character being older than he was in the original—it was wonderful and I jumped onboard.  My character’s spent the last 33 years being ridiculed by everyone on the police force, because he’s been telling a story about robots and strange people since 1984.  So he has a lot going on, but he is also redeemed somewhat, and it has been great to play.”

“The dynamics of this film are real and urgent and intimate,” says Taylor. Fortunately, we have the actors who can pull it off. Kyle and Sarah are played by young actors who are just starting to become massively recognized and then the ‘middle generation’, our John Connor is Jason Clarke who is a masterful actor, as is of course J.K. Simmons. And then you’ve got Arnold who sort of keeps everybody else in line because he just nails it every time.  It’s funny, we’d be doing a scene and he’s got this character so down that he kind of forced everybody else to get their characters down too.”