Arnold Schwarzenegger may have only had a handful of lines in 1984's "The Terminator," but he certainly made them count.
His experience as an actor and a politician over the ensuing 30 years have, of course, made him an even more skilled orator, so as the former Governor of California continues his return to the Hollywood spotlight, who better to turn to for a window into the behind-the-scenes world of the revival of his most iconic film franchise? At a recent press conference, Schwarzenegger, now 67, revealed the secrets of his comeback in "Terminator Genisys," fond memories of his first go-round as the T-800 in James Cameron's classic and a glimpse into the future for his much-hoped-for return as Conan the Barbarian.
On why he decided he'd be back:
Arnold Schwarzenegger: I think that it really depends so much on the writing. I think some people are capable of making a sequel more special than the original, and we have seen that when the original "Terminator" came out. Then James Cameron outdid himself with the sequel, so then it became the highest grossing movie of the year when it came out in 1991. Since then, we have been trying to outdo that. Not always successfully, but that was always the intent. So this time, I think [director] Alan Taylor and the writers and the producers have done an extraordinary job to really live up to that standard of "Terminator 2" again.
On the increasing shift toward a more nobly motivated model of Terminator:
In this movie, it becomes a little bit more colorful because now I am again back to destroy Sarah Connor. I'm still this vicious, cold machine that is programmed to destroy Sarah Connor and nothing will get in my way. Except in this story, something does get in my way, which is another Terminator! One that has been around for a longer period of time. It is also the T-800 Model, but he was programmed to protect Sarah Connor and the human race. So there's obviously a major conflict between the two when they meet. That's what creates this huge, epic battle.
Then, of course, the Terminators, depending on how long they've been around, some of them are just straight Terminators, like the one from 1984. But then the one that has been around longer, he has already adopted certain human behaviors. Subtle. So from an acting point of view, you have to really be very wise the way you use that and how you get that across, that he has human behaviors and he does have certain feelings and stuff. But also creates great comic relief when the Terminator tries very hard to be like a human and he fails miserably.
On the real-life body double and envelope-pushing effects used to create an authentic-looking 1984 model T-800:
I think the body builder that they picked for me to fight with was really an extraordinary champion body builder. He had terrific muscles. So it was great they used that approach. But even after three/four days of doing this fight scene and being thrown around and doing all the crazy stunts and this epic battle, I was always wondering while I was doing it, how are you going to do this face replacement? How are you going to do the head replacement? How do you make the body exactly like my body? Because his body was extraordinary, but it was not exactly like my body was. Everybody's different. So always on my mind was that. How is this going to work out? I really never knew.
The entire movie, there were various different fight scenes that were just huge battle scenes, but I kind of was not clear how it was going to work with the visual effects. Then I saw it just three weeks ago, the finished movie, for the first time -- because I made it very clear: I don't want to see it when it's just going through stages; I want to see when it's finished, so we can really see how it works. So I looked very carefully at the technical aspect when I watched it the first time. Then after that, I watched it a few more times from another point of view. How does the story work? But I looked at the technical stuff, and I just thought it was so seamless.
The technology has advanced so much that it was really extraordinary to get this kind of entertainment in storytelling that you can do that today. Because in the old days, you had to do split screens and all kinds of things, and you could tell that it was not the same, and it was not two Arnolds fighting, two Terminators fighting different ages and stuff like that. But in this movie, it totally worked. So I was really impressed.
I thought it was smart that from a scheduling point of view, they did that scene pretty much at the beginning of the movie, because I did not realize that it would take one year. It barley got finished on time. That is really amazing when you think about it: One year. That many people working on it. But with the technology that is available now, the CGI, it can be done. You have to have the money for it, obviously, and you have to have the time and really pace yourself and do the prepping in such a way that you start early enough with the scene so that you do have the time so you can finish the scenes. So that was the extraordinary thing.
On those pre- and post-time travel nude scenes franchise logic has required:
I think they're fun because they are embarrassing, but fun. It leads to funny conversations and funny dialogue and great humor and everything like that. It's inevitable, you have to do it because it's what the movie shows. And there are certain times you can cover things up, and there are certain times you don't and you can't. So what? I don't think there's anyone [in the film] that has anything to hide.
On aging up the benevolent T-800 to match his own real-life 30-years-later look:
I thought that the writers came up with really a great way, an organic way, to show the aging of Terminator. Because Terminator cannot go and do the time travel at a certain point, because his [metallic] hand is exposed: the flesh is gone, the metal is exposed, and therefore you cannot time travel, whereas the others can -- all the other characters can time travel. Within seconds, they are there in the future, and I have to go the old fashioned way, the slow way.
So I age, of course, decades, as time goes from 1984 to 2017. My hair turns gray and stuff. So this was a wonderful way of explaining how the Terminator ages, how the flesh ages, the human flesh, but the skeleton underneath is still the same, functions the same, it's the same size -- everything.
As a matter of fact, Alan asked me to gain the pounds in order to have the same size as the skeleton always had in 1984. So I gained that weight, trained twice as hard, trained heavy and stuff to get more muscle size. To keep that same frame and wear the same kind of size clothing and all this stuff. But other than that, I aged. I thought that concept and the way it was written was really terrific because this way we don't pretend that I'm the 40-year-old guy, but what I am -- which is: I have aged. So that worked really well.
I myself, don't feel any older, I think because I've stayed in shape and I exercise every day. So when I started the movie, I did the prepping two months before. I worked with the stunt coordinators. I worked with the director and with the special effects people and everybody. And we exercised and trained for it so that we could do the movie and do all the stunts that were necessary. And then whenever there were stunts that were dangerous, then the stunt people took over and then did the stunts for me. I was delighted to be able to do the movie without getting exhausted or feeling old or tired or anything like this. I felt I was in great shape and I felt really young.
On his feelings about technology today:
I praise technology. I just think in 1984, when James Cameron wrote about the technology, everyone thought it was totally way out there and it was science fiction. But now, we've gotten to the time where it's almost reality, what he talked about. It's like the machines have taken over, except they have not become self-aware like the Terminator -- so this is one thing that we have to watch out for! But I think technology is good. It can be abused, as everything else. But I think it is good, and I hope that we will continue getting smarter and getting more interesting intelligence. We are going in a direction of artificial intelligence or hybrid intelligence, where part of our brain will get from the cloud information and thing we can use. So all of this stuff will happen in the future.
On his memories about getting involved with the first "Terminator" movie in the early '80s:
I was approached to play Kyle Reese by [former Orion Pictures head] Mike Medavoy. He said, "We have this great project with Hemdale and Orion. It's kind of an action flick, kind of low-budget. James Cameron -- you probably have not heard of him, but he has done one movie before, some little movie, so this is his second movie. As far as we are concerned O.J. Simpson is going to play Terminator."
So this was the dialogue. I said, "Wow, that's great. Let me get the script." And I got the script, I read it and it was a really great script. Then I met with James Cameron and during the lunch period with him and with [executive producer] John Daly, I started talking more and more about the Terminator and how he has to train and how he has to prepare for this part and how he has to act like a machine. And how he has to assemble and put together guns blindfolded, and how he has to practice shooting, and on, and on and on. So the whole lunch went like that.
Then, at the end, James Cameron said, "So why are you wanting to play Reese? You should be the Terminator." And I said, "No, no, no. The Terminator only has 27 lines. I don't want to go back with my career. I like Kyle Reese and he really says a lot. And he's the hero. I just started out being the leading man and being the hero in the 'Conan' movies. So I want to continue on like that." He says, "No, but the most memorable character really will be the Terminator. The way I shoot it is this way..." He was explaining it, explaining the whole thing, and says, "You should be the Terminator, and I will make sure that you don't have to think about the villain's aspect because it's a machine, so everyone is going to think that he's a hero anyway because he's going to do cool things."
So he talked me into it, basically. So I said, "All right -- forget about Kyle Reese! I'm going to be the Terminator!" And so that's how that happened. It was a small project with Gale Anne Hurd being the producer. We went out and shot it in six weeks, seven weeks -- really the cheap way. Stan Winston was helping us with the special effects and visual effects and all this.
And what was supposed to be a B-movie ended up one of the ten top movies for [the year in] "Time" Magazine. And I was called the Ultimate Villain, and then, at the same time, the Ultimate Hero. So all this great stuff started happening which no one of us knew would happen -- it was all kind of like exploding.
On whether he's looking to team with James Cameron again in the future, and why their collaborations have worked on and off screen:
Oh yeah. I would love to do something like that any time. I think [we share a] mutual respect. If you think about it, he's a great environmentalist, and he always fights for a better world -- it doesn't matter in which direction we're talking about -- so he really feels responsible to give the world to hand it over to the next generation in better shape. This is work that we have done together for a long time. Especially when I was Governor, he was very helpful in a lot of areas when it comes to environmental issues, and other issues of infrastructure, stem cell research and so on. So we just really have a lot of things in common.
On plans to reprise another iconic role, Conan the Barbarian:
[The script] turned out really great. It needs some tweakage, but really, they've done an extraordinary job. Very thoughtful. I'm looking forward to working with them on that. As soon as this gets out of the way now, because I'm very focused on one thing at a time.
I was hoping to do another one, and I was hoping that the idea of Conan having been king for a long time and then just threw it all away and went into retirement and went off into the mountains -- that whole idea always appealed to me. Then of course, he gets asked back because of some idiots and unbelievable things that happened to the kingdom. So that's when the battle begins again.
On what would do with personal access to time travel:
Well, I don't know if I would be that interested in 1984. I think if I had the chance to go back, why not just go back all the way in history to the times of the pyramids? Or to the Roman days. I think there are so many great historic times throughout until now that I would like to get a little peak of those periods rather than just 1984. Why limit yourself? If I had the chance to time travel, might as well go all out. What's your second question?
On the timeline changes he'd make in his own life:
I'm perfectly fine with my life. I'm very happy. I want to keep it that way!
"Terminator Genisys" is in theaters now.