We chat to Linda Hamilton about her return to the Terminator franchise, Dark Fate, Sarah Connor, and action movie heroes.
After a wait of nearly 30 years, Linda Hamilton is finally back on the big screen, reseizing perhaps her most famous role. In spite of others stepping into the shoes of the character since, Linda Hamilton very much is Sarah Connor in Terminator: Dark Fate, the latest attempt to launch a new trilogy of Terminator sequels. And when she came to London recently, we caught up with her to find out what lured her back.
Note that this interview is spoiler-light, and any notable spoilers have been redacted. It accounts for the slightly abrupt start of the interview, where we chatted something spoiler-y up front, that we’ll run after the film’s release.
It must have been nice to have proper control when you as Sarah Connor finally came back on screen this time around in a great big sequence.
Absolutely. [A bit of mild spoiler redaction where she talks about an early scene in the film that brings her character back in]. I just rehearsed the crap out of it, we probably put a hundred hours of rehearsal into that sequence, because that is what sets you up. Here she is – and we just all knew that it really mattered, because it sets up the rest of the film for my character.
I mean I did all of [the sequence] and weapons would misfire. The first shot-gun with the drum of 30 shells was just something that they barely rigged up. A gun has to be fired a thousand times to really smooth out and there was nothing smoothed about this one! We were all just crossing our fingers that I could get 20 of the 30 shots off, because the gun would jam. Sometimes it would jam after two shots and it’s 110 degrees on the freeway and I’m wearing 35 pounds of weapons – I can barely get out of the car!
I mean it was so difficult, but you know we got some amazing takes and there are so many other moving parts.
But then they would send a stunt team, we would go off and shoot something else and then they would remain on that freeway and shoot for another week with a stunt double and then I’m like ‘but I did it all, you filmed it from the front, from the back, from the side!’ I mean it’s like, why?! I just hate giving up a moment, like ‘why do we need a stunt double, I’ve already done this!’ [laughs]
So, it’ll be interesting to see when I watch the film, how seamless it looks because on a film of this scale there will always be some version of you running around doing something that you have no control over and I found that really painful. I don’t have a lot of trust.
I mean our stunt teams were fantastic, but then they would bring in a new girl, because they’ve got the third unit off doing something and this girl is the one that’s going to … actually I don’t think we ever really used anyone as a double in the water scenes, but they would use stunt doubles because the work is dangerous so they couldn’t just have a stand-in do it.
They would hire stunt doubles to just do the rehearsal as stand-ins, but really they had to use stunt doubles and they’re like ‘well she’s only for the swimming stuff’. I would go over and they would thrash a lot. It’s sort of old school like overselling something, which is how things used to be done!
Like driving scenes where people are always moving the wheel from side to side!?
Oh yeah, or like car accidents and I’d be like ‘Sarah Connor does not thrash!’
You have to have some body control as we don’t want to see Sarah Connor like a rag doll, we want to see a strong woman, even if she’s in an uncontrolled moment. I was just constantly saying “Don’t thrash! Run faster! Hold that weapon better! Bend your knees! Bend your…” I mean I was terrible! But that’s because I wanted it all to represent me.
Well, she is yours.
You should have complete ownership, it’s only right. It’s the same when you think about the other people that have been Sarah Connor over the years, because you watch those performances and you go okay, they’re doing well, but it’s not the same. Like in Solo, Alden Ehrenreich’s doing a great job, but he’s not Harrison Ford so you always have a sense of detachment.
Yeah, you know there’s nothing to do about it, but it’s just the lay of the land, it’s a whole new world.
You must have had reservations about coming back, because I remember years ago when you were saying about wanting to do more comedy and even going back to when Terminator 2 had come out, you tried to avoid similar roles, you didn’t really cash in.
Like a lot of people did. I’m not saying that as a judgment against them, but you really made a conscientious decision to move away.
Yes, and I think it’s easy to just surrender to what people assign and as an actress, as a full-blooded actress who wants to play every kind of woman, I just resisted being Sarah Connor. Military officers, police officers, lesbians those were the kind of offers that I got and nothing that sort of branched into a whole new field of acting for myself and I wore dresses for years and cut off my hair and dyed it red and dyed it white and just anything to separate myself from Sarah Connor, only because I wanted to have other opportunities.
Not that it necessarily worked! [laughs] But you do have to make every effort if you want other work, to stand back from what you’ve done.
What was your gut reaction when they asked if you wanted to come back?
Well at this point in my life of 27, 28 years later, I don’t have much to prove, do you know what I mean? I don’t think coming back to play Sarah Connor is going to pigeon hole me because let’s face it, it’s not the final days of my career, but I didn’t feel that by playing her again that would be all that I will ever play, as I’m a woman of a certain age.
The fact that that time had passed gave me a big canvas to paint with. With the fact that we don’t know where Sarah Connor has been and 27 years have gone by and to be able to fill that in, it was a rich opportunity that I couldn’t ignore.
This is a complete side question – she didn’t smoke in the film, did she?
In this one?
Which I thought was interesting.
I noticed; it was conspicuous by its absence.
I know, because of the last one. Now she drinks instead of smokes!
It must have been strange in this one, because we’re forgetting a few decades worth of material and you’ve got the new people coming in and they have their own independent narrative strand. But how did you find the new interactions, especially with Mackenzie Davis? I thought she did a fantastic job.
I’ll take her any day. She was fantastic.
I love that she seems to be developing this beautiful, healthy relationship with science fiction cinema. But for many of us who grew up with Sarah Connor, Ripley and Princess Leia, there was never a question that women were heroes. I took it for granted that they were heroes, but then there was this void that followed, where a generation have grown up without those female icons and now they’re rebelling against women in action cinema, even in Star Wars. It feels like a good time to have Sarah back.
Did you notice that void happen?
Not really because I’m not much of a film watcher oddly, I’m a reader. But by all accounts you’re absolutely right and it’s surprising to me that people make such a fuss over the strong female characters, and it’s not just strong females, but women fighters – because there have been strong women in film in the 40s, there were fantastic, strong women.
This franchise has always been about an empowered female, or the empowerment of Sarah Connor, so it’s always been a female-driven franchise, so what’s the big deal that we have two other fantastic women joining the team? Apparently, the world hasn’t quite caught on to all of that and I love the fact that… well what I love is Natalia Reyes and Mackenzie Davis whom I love.
If one of us had been the weak link the whole exercise would have gone down, would have absolutely gone down the wrong way and they absolutely stood up and owned their characters in such an amazing way, that we all just took turns inspiring each other.
Many times, Natalia and I would stand back, or be in a scene and say ‘how is she doing that?’ then Mackenzie and I would be sitting there watching Natalia and be like ‘how is she doing that?’ We all had our skill sets but we just kept on inspiring each other and marvelling at each other and that was the greatest acting experience of my life having those two women with me.
Says a lot.
It does and I forgot to mention earlier when you were talking about how the action looks, but I never questioned for a second that it was you, or them, or Arnold Schwarzenegger doing everything on screen.
Cool, so seamless is what you’re saying?
Yes, it was.
Good, because I’m worried! [laughs]
I wasn’t sure how much screen time you would have back with Arnold, or how your characters would interact, but it must have been strange to be back after all these years facing each other again with the same characters, or type of character?
That’s right, the same woman but with a different set of circumstances and she’s a different Sarah Connor, I mean she’s less human really that the T-800 in this film, because her life and her purpose have shrunk down to a very small seed, that’s cancerous. Really all she has now is revenge and that was very interesting.
Mostly because we want to see the characters that we know take a journey, I mean it wouldn’t be interesting or truthful, if it was exactly the same Sarah Connor, only 28 years later. I mean time alone changes us, much less time and a change of circumstances, so that’s why I was interested because there was another journey to make.
And it’s such a bitter pill that something inhuman, having robbed her of her future, has this idyllic life and she feels ‘how dare you’…
You have the life I should have had, yeah, you have a child and partner. But you know, Terminators have killed them all! Right?
Sarah is such a resilient character, but for me there was moment where I would have thought ‘I can’t do this anymore – I tried to save the world once, it didn’t thank me for it, do as you please.’
Yes, and that was really one of the big questions and is still unanswered – there is that ‘there is no fate, but what we make for ourselves’, right? And that’s pretty much the theme of the second film, but I enter this third incarnation of it and do I still believe that? Because I have gone and changed the future, but also didn’t necessarily really change fate, because it just comes back in an uglier, stronger form.
And several characters that I’m not even sure made it into the film, but Arnold asks me and the Dani character at one point “can’t we change it?” And I was like – it was not specified in the script, but I did not feel that Sarah Connor believed that any longer. Do you hold onto your credo when it hasn’t worked before? When you’ve gone and changed your fate, but still the damn machines come and destroy everything? Does she still have hope that we can make a difference? I don’t know, but I wanted to keep it nebulous.
Does she really believe this anymore, because it would be foolish to hold on to something, some idea and some hopefulness, when life has turned out this way for her? So it’s still a question mark and I’m still waffling! [laughs] Even though I’ve finished the film, I still don’t know! And maybe that’s good, because we don’t want a character with all the answers, because that would be boring.
When you came back to this character and when people are calling you by Sarah’s name again, do you ever have flashbacks to the first day on set from the first two films, does it throw you back through time, or do you tend to live in the now?
I very much live in the now. I mean it will always come up and people… I’ve been trying to forget the first one, just because of the hair.
The hair is magnificent!
[She roars with laugher]
I don’t go back to the first one much and the second one was, I guess, glory days, you know. I do remember feeling just so strong and just learnt a lot of life lessons from that film too, because it was hard and it was hard every day and it was probably the first time in my life where I really, truly, learned to live in the moment.
Because the crew would be saying “oh my god, I can’t wait to get out of this steel mill and it’s so cold and it’s so hard” and I knew internally that I was going to the mental hospital next and that was equally hard and there was absolutely nothing to do, except just work my ass off one day after the next and never think about where we’re going. So it was a very formative time for me.
And where we talked about the fact that there have been plenty of powerful female characters, they’re not as physically transformative as Sarah Connor. When you’re asked to become her again, you must be thinking about the physical exertion?
Oh yes and I’m still paying the price, I mean I cannot pretend – and it’s so funny because I just made a deal with myself that I’m not going to go out there and go “I’m old! It was hard! I still hurt!” [laughs]…
You know, it’s not what people want to hear but I’m paying the price, even though I trained really hard, but I am not like a young woman, it’s harder to recover when you’re injured. So [puts on an old lady voice] I get a little tendinitis in my right elbow and a little bursitis – I have the itises! [laughs]
Finally, when you spoke about wanting to do more comedy all those years ago, I hadn’t seen Chuck at the time, so I just wondered if you had fond memories of filming that, because it was such a great blend of comedy, emotion and action?
True, so much fun, so much fun. I wish that I had been on that show from the very beginning. And what was interesting and really significant about that TV show was that the women kicked ass and the men were the comedians. I mean Zachary Levi is so talented, but really the men got to be the funny men and the woman were just the ass kickers and that was ahead of its time and it was just so much fun and complete and I just wish I’d been on it the entire run!
Linda Hamilton, thank you so much!
Terminator: Dark Fate is in cinemas from Wednesday, 23rd October.
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