What was the appeal of this film and this role, for you?
The world. You know, I’ve never done a science fiction film. And I always saw Terminator, the best of Terminator, as a science fiction adventure. And then, the script. I read it and it was clear that a lot of work had been put into it.
The time travel elements are pretty mind bending. It feels like there must have been a lot of work at the script stage to engineer all that.
There was. They came up with a couple of key things with Sarah Connor and, particularly, what happens to John Connor which raised interesting questions about artificial intelligence and mankind self-destructing. Now John enters the machine – and that’s a deal with the Devil. It gives us a platform to explore whether he still can in his own mind control himself or control who he is and what his destiny is supposed to be. And whether he still is gonna save mankind. But a mankind that he sees very differently now. Lots of big questions!
It’s difficult. Really difficult. Some of the hardest experience I’ve had have been on big films where you just go what the hell am I gonna do? But the script is the thing. It really is. And then you’ve got to find that balance between putting in the other stuff, but not putting in too much: You can’t overdo it: Clint Eastwood didn’t overdo The Outlaw Josey Wales, but he was perfect for that, you know?
So is it a different kind of acting in a way?
Yes and no. At the end of the day, you’re still in a close, a medium, a wide. But there’s a different way of working out how you let in and out information. I find that you have to be very specific with the director. He has to be able to communicate to you where he’s at and what he wants, in knowing the overall story and how it’s gonna be put together. Particularly with green screen or with motion capture and technology, you have to make a leap of faith and trust your director and be able to go big at times. Two things I learned from from Apes is they’ll build it around you if you go for it. And that there’s an appetite for intelligent blockbusters.
When you’re playing a character that you have seen played by other actors in other films, do you ignore it, pretend it doesn’t exist? Or do you watch it and come up with some dos and don’ts?
I got very specific. I went straight to the director and writers and producers and asked ‘What is our world? Okay, so 1 and 2 exist?’ Great. That’s perfect for me. Because in 1, you see him as the old, lonely warrior who’s taken on this mantle and he’s scarred. He’s talked about, but you just get a small glimpse of him. In 2, you see him as this little street kid who’s out there riding the PeeWee 50, playing video games, smart talking, doing his thing, living free – and having issues with his mother and no father. So I thought, ‘Great, I get the section of the war where you get to see the burden he carried of being the savior of mankind. You see that he can’t really have friends or can’t really be anything but what he is. Because he knows the future is certain and he’s still trying to change it.’ Then, by having John being part machine, part man in this one, it gave me an opportunity to bring back the Eddie (Furlong), you know? And he’s set free, there’s the child in John again: the cheek, the enjoyment, the endless possibility. Suddenly, to him, the future isn’t set, he can change things now that he’s made a different deal. That’s very liberating to him.
So you don’t think of him in terms of being a good guy, then a bad guy?
I never think about that. I’m always a good guy. That’s how I always saw John Connor. Something happens to John. And he goes down a tunnel of pain, understanding, denial, acceptance, and he’s come out a different being. He doesn’t entirely know what he is. So it’s not to say that John is wrong in what he wants. What he wants needs to make sense.
That was always important for the writers and for myself: that if you looked at it a certain way, you could agree with John. That makes it more demanding for the audience. It gives Kyle and Sarah a lot more to work against and a lot more to go through and a lot more complication and a lot more, even for Kyle, a lot more pull towards John.
The smart thing that James Cameron did, and this film does too is that he’s a destroyer, but yet you still root for him. In the first film, Cameron made an evil destroyer somehow heroic and followable – like Tony Soprano. In the second one, he becomes parent to this fatherless child. And then in our one, he’s actually raised a girl. So you find yourself going on this journey with the character. And yes, this actor in this role is something of a cultural phenomenon. He’s larger than life. He’s blazed his own trail. But, working with him, he’s not a guy you have to pussyfoot around. He’s easy to work with, he’s great actually. Really cool.
Terminator Genisys is out now on Blu-ray and DVD.