Left to right: Emilia Clarke plays Sarah Connor and Arnold Schwarzenegger plays the Terminator in Terminator Genisys from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions.

Terminator: Genisys on the Big Screen

Left to right: Emilia Clarke plays Sarah Connor and Arnold Schwarzenegger plays the Terminator in Terminator Genisys from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions.

Left to right: Emilia Clarke plays Sarah Connor and Arnold Schwarzenegger plays the Terminator in Terminator Genisys from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions.

Story by W. H. Bourne
Photos by Melinda Sue Gordon courtesy of MPC / Paramount Pictures

When Arnold Schwarzenegger iconically says, “I’ll be back,” he means it. He returned to New Orleans last year to shoot Terminator: Genisys. Schwarzenegger is no stranger to Louisiana; since his departure as governor of California and his return to acting, he’s shot multiple projects here including The Expendables 2, Escape Plan, and Maggie.

While everyone in New Orleans easily recognized Schwarzenegger around town last summer while shooting Terminator, Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke was able to enjoy anonymity without her dragons and her blonde Targaryen tresses; however, her lead as Sarah Connor in Genisys could change all that.

Left to right: Arnold Schwarzenegger and Director Alan Taylor on the set of Terminator Genisys.

Left to right: Arnold Schwarzenegger and Director Alan Taylor on the set of Terminator Genisys.

“Probably what I love the most about this script is the relationship between the Guardian (Schwarzenegger) 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,” says Sarah Connor actress Emilia Clarke. “Arnold is the first thing that comes to mind when you say Terminator, and you can’t do it without him!”

“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,” explains Schwarzenegger.

Action on set with Arnold Schwarzenegger for Terminator: Genisys.

Action on set with Arnold Schwarzenegger for Terminator: Genisys.

“I don’t think you can make a Terminator movie without Arnold,” suggests 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.”

Director Alan Taylor considers a shot for  Terminator: Genisys.

Director Alan Taylor considers a shot for
Terminator: Genisys.

Terminator: Genisys writer/producer Laeta Kalogridis remembers early meetings with Skydance Productions, “David (Ellison) and Dana (Goldberg) approached us (Kalogridis and writing partner Patrick Lussier) around Christmas 2012, and our first response was ‘No,’ as was our second and third response. We said no because of respect for James Cameron’s universe. I had worked with him for years; he’s an inspiration to me personally and cinematically, and I did not want in any way, shape or form to do anything that would not be respectful of what he had created. It’s some of the most amazing science fiction ever, and he is certainly an inspiration to me, and not just me; he’s one of the greatest living filmmakers, and possibly, ever.”

Left to right: Producer Dana Goldberg, Executive Producer/Co-Writer Laeta Kalogridis, Director Alan Taylor, and Producer David Ellison on the set of Terminator:  Genisysfrom Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions.

Left to right: Producer Dana Goldberg, Executive Producer/Co-Writer Laeta Kalogridis, Director Alan Taylor, and Producer David Ellison on the set of Terminator: Genisys from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions.

Writer/producer Patrick Lussier remembers that Skydance was persistent, so his partner Kalogridis checked with Cameron himself, who not only granted his permission and gave his blessing, but started the ‘idea bouncing’ chain reaction inevitable in any great pre-production phase, advising Kalogridis, “Make sure you write a good part for Arnold! Laeta became infected with the idea, and once we started thinking of the story possibilities and re-watching the first two Terminator films, we could see how to revisit that world and those characters in a present day setting… and not in a present day setting.”

“Time travel is embedded in the DNA of the material, which gives rise to the possibility of alternate universes and different timelines without affecting the original material at all,” adds Kalogridis. “Those stories exist and continue to exist; they still have happened, but you can tell a different story that branches off in a different direction using the characters that all of us love.”

Arnold Schwarzenegger has mastered the Terminator and can discharge a shotgun  four times in a row without blinking.

Arnold Schwarzenegger has mastered the Terminator and can discharge a shotgun four times in a row without blinking.

“The Terminator franchise, and really James Cameron, is a seminal part of why I got into filmmaking in the first place,” says Skydance CEO and producer David Ellison. “To me, he’s simply one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. I think Terminator 2 reinvented the modern day tent pole. So, for me to get to work on a franchise that is literally something I fell in love with as a kid, and which led to my wanting to become a filmmaker, is just a dream come true.”

“The Cameron films to me were really Cold War era films,” says Ellison, “where the analogy that was being laid on top of the story was very much the threats felt during that time period. The advancements in AI give us the ability to really update the franchise to today, to where Skynet no longer has to break free; we’re actually lining ourselves up and giving away our privacy, our freedoms, our information. We’re standing in line for the latest in technology and software. The canon lends itself to comment on what is actually going on today in a way that’s new and fun and exciting; it comes across in a big entertaining way. To me, science fiction is at its most effective when it’s actually taking real world events and placing them in a fictional setting.”

“We knew we had to have a director who cared about character, and the love story of this family,” continues Ellison. “Yes, there’s a lot of action in Terminator movies, and we definitely plan to live up to that promise. There are a lot of people who are great at shooting action, but only a handful or so that we thought could get true character-driven performances in the midst of it all. We all pray at the altar of HBO’s Game of Thrones, and we thought Thor: the Dark World was phenomenal. And, sure enough, when Alan (Taylor) came in, he said that we could talk about what the Terminators are going to look like, and how many of them there are, and the different types, and how the third act fight is going to look, but the love story and relationships have to work. He said that in our first meeting, and we thought, ‘Okay, this is the right guy.’”

Jason Clarke plays John Connor in a scene for Terminator: Genisysfrom Paramount  Pictures and Skydance Productions.

Jason Clarke plays John Connor in a scene for Terminator: Genisys from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions.

“I was looking at various potential projects but this was the first one that felt like I couldn’t at the beginning tell exactly how to do it,” says Terminator: Genisys director Alan Taylor. “It was a puzzle to solve it, and that made it exciting and interesting. There’s so much to love in the Cameron mythology, and so much that the audience we’re hoping to reach is already in love with. At the same time the story’s moving forward; it’s got to get bigger and go into new directions, and unlike other sequels, this felt like a whole new ballgame, and I wanted to see how we could pull that off.”

“Alan manages to get a beautiful marriage of old meets new, but also puts a very sensitive, intelligent spin on it,” says Emilia Clarke who has worked with Taylor on Game of Thrones.  “I think one of his goals with this movie is to ask, ‘What it is to be truly free as a human being?’ and the choices these characters have to make in deciding that. I think we are paying a lot of respect to the Terminator that has been before, and bringing it to this new audience today.”

Emilia Clarke trades in her Game of Thrones dragons and blonde tresses for  lots and lots of guns in Terminator: Genisys.

Emilia Clarke trades in her Game of Thrones dragons and blonde tresses for lots and lots of guns in Terminator: Genisys.

“What we’ve tried to do is to begin in timelines that we know from the mythology and then take them in new directions,” explains Taylor, “and do it in a way that makes sense so we see a future that we saw glimpses of in the previous movies, and then we dive to a past that we’ve seen glimpses of in the past movies, but this film tries to take us into new territory beyond that while not contradicting any of the things we already know about this mythology.”

“One of the things that really made me want to be in this project was to work with (director) Alan Taylor,” says John Connor actor Jason Clarke. “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.”

“We knew John Connor was going to be one of the hardest roles to cast, because he has to be charismatic,” explains Goldberg. “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.”

Left to right: Jai Courtney, Emilia Clarke, and Producer Dana Goldberg on the set  of Terminator: Genisysfrom Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions.

Left to right: Jai Courtney, Emilia Clarke, and Producer Dana Goldberg on the set of Terminator: Genisys from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions.

“The thing about John Connor is he’s tortured,” adds Ellison. “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.”

“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,” says Goldberg. “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.”

JK Simmons plays Detective O’Brien in Terminator Genisys.

JK Simmons plays Detective O’Brien in Terminator Genisys.

“We’d done the movie Jack Reacher with Jai Courtney and loved him as a person, and thought he was a wonderful actor,” remarks Goldberg, “but we weren’t sure he was Kyle 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.”

“To me, great science fiction is always more than just the bells and whistles of things blowing up,” continues Goldberg. “I still remember watching The Terminator and thinking, way back then, ‘Oh wow, this is a love story.’ It’s this amazing science fiction movie, and Arnold Schwarzenegger is this killer robot; it’s all incredibly cool, but to me, it all boiled down to the line, ‘I came across time for you, Sarah.’ Somehow, (James) Cameron figured out a way to present this love story to mass audiences as this unbelievable science fiction movie. In Terminator 2 one of my favorite parts of the movie was in a Sarah Connor voiceover, where she talks about how the Terminator that she hated so much (in the first movie) would be the perfect father for her son. He’d never abandoned him; he’d never hurt him; he would always be there for him. In Cameron’s movies, you have both the incredible visuals and the grounded-ness in reality, the emotional story at the center of it all.”

Left to right: Jai Courtney plays Kyle Reese and Emilia Clarke plays Sarah Connor in Terminator Genisys.

Left to right: Jai Courtney plays Kyle Reese and Emilia Clarke plays Sarah Connor in Terminator Genisys.

“We wanted to be incredibly respectful to the characters Gale (Anne Hurd) and James Cameron created,” continues Goldberg, “so we finally arrived at the place of whatever timeline you’re talking about. When you’re talking about the Terminator world, there’s always going to be a Sarah Connor, a Kyle Reese, a John Connor, a Terminator; they just might not be the identical people they were in the prior films. That’s the attitude we started and stayed with going into the development of the script. They are all here; just not exactly the people that have been represented in films previously.”

“The 1984 that our characters travel back to has been altered since the original movie,” explains Ellison. “Events have transpired that have driven it in a completely different direction. Also those films were always set in present day, not in the future, not in the past. Ours bends that set-up. And so, through a series of events, our characters find themselves traveling forward to 2017 in an attempt to stop Judgment Day from ever happening.”

“I considered Arnold’s character the ultimate Tin Man,” says screenwriter Kalogridis. “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.”

Left to right: Jason Clarke and Director Alan Taylor on the set.

Left to right: Jason Clarke and Director Alan Taylor on the set.

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

“If you’re going to have Arnold, you’ve got to use him in a brand new way,” explains 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.”

According to Skydance’s David Ellison, “Terminator: Genisys is not a remake, it’s not a reboot, it’s not a sequel; it’s really a re-imagining 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.”

“It’s a big, big movie. We shot from April through to mid-August, with a lot of six-day weeks,” says Goldberg. “We had a phenomenal crew who just killed themselves to bring this thing to the screen. No one ever quite understands how much work goes into everything you see on the screen: from hair and makeup, to stunts, to visual effects, to special effects, to rigging, to grips, to lighting, and on and on.  It’s a giant undertaking, a movie of this size, and you need all of those pieces working in unison to get it right, and we were beyond fortunate to have a crew that did it right.”

“It’s just epic,” adds Emilia Clarke who is no stranger to elaborate sets, CG filmmaking, and fantastic crews on Game of Thrones. “For every three minutes of footage onscreen, it has taken something like two weeks of shooting. Every minute detail has been thought through and beautifully executed. Every member of the crew is incredible; the sets are insane; the costumes are amazing. There is just so much, and I also have to keep reminding myself, while I’m in the middle of this epic scene and I think it couldn’t get any better, that these are totally without special effects, that we’re only filming about 60%; it’s going to look that much cooler, with lots of crazy stuff happening…and no tennis balls on sticks, either!”

“We all worked very hard to be true to the story’s heritage, but also keep it imaginative,” says Jason Clarke. “It’s some of the most enjoyable action I’ve ever done: great fighting moves, spinning around, pile driver maneuvers; it has just been so cool.”

“There was training every day with guns, lots of guns, and then some more guns, and then a few more guns thrown in,” adds Emilia Clarke. “I didn’t know anything about guns before this film, and now, well, I know a lot about guns! Since I had done some stunt work before, they also had me preparing to get a physical understanding of what was going to be needed. This Sarah was brought up by a Terminator to be a warrior, so she has a huge body of knowledge when it comes to fighting and survival. So a lot of what was done was to help me feel comfortable embodying that part of Sarah, always being prepared. I worked with an amazing military advisor, and a weapons specialist, and then stunts and just physical training.”

“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,” says Ellison. “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.”

“The dynamics of this film are real and urgent and intimate,” explains 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 (who plays Inspector O’Brien). 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.”

“Cameron’s first movie uses Arnold’s character in one way, and then he completely inverted for the second (movie), and nobody saw it coming. You can go into new territory with characters that you already have a feeling for, but they take you somewhere that you never saw coming,” muses Taylor. “That’s something that goes deep into the DNA of the Terminator movies.”

Check out Arnold, Emilia, Jason, and Jai in Terminator: Genisys in theaters now.

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