Sarah Connor – mother of John Connor and leader of the Resistance in the Terminator franchise – is a role that has defined actress Linda Hamilton’s career.
Ever-present throughout The Terminator (1984) and Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991), Connor’s dogged, badass survivor formed the beating heart of the story. As a result, her absence in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Salvation and Genisys was keenly felt.
After years of subpar sequels, creator James Cameron knew he had a tough job on his hands convincing the now 63-year-old to return. When he finally got the green light for Terminator: Dark Fate – film number six in the series – the triple Oscar-winner emailed Hamilton a list of pros and cons. “I really have to go find that email”, she grins. “All I remember were the cons because those are the things you’re really struggling against in order to accept the job and he kept saying, ‘shameless money grab. If it’s not a good movie, it’s going to look like a shameless money grab. Like, oh, she’s just back because they offered her a ton of money’.”
But Linda insists, this is just James being “clever”. Ultimately, she made her own mind up, deciding the time was right for a reunion with Arnie. “He likes to tell people that he gave me all the reasons not to do it because he knows my very nature is to go, ‘Fuck you, I’m doing it’, but that’s not true,” she smiles. “Ultimately it was the passage of time that allowed me to go, ‘hmm, I get to fill in 27 years here’.”
This ‘fuck you’ attitude is something we’ve grown to expect from Hamilton. Badass on screen and forthright off it, the veteran of 77 roles has curated (purposefully or not) a sassy Hollywood persona. Sitting in a plush hotel in swanky Knightsbridge, however, she’s open, honest and incredibly friendly. When Hamilton speaks, she’s totally at ease, but there’s still a magnetic energy in the room. “I have a good healthy ego, but not an ego that needs to be stroked,” begins the Maryland native. “Other than having my children, well, to know that there’s one strike up there that will exist long after my demise… well, a lot of [actors] don’t even get that one film.”
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For most of our conversation, each and every insight is delivered with a smile. But Linda’s face really lights up when co-star and longtime pal Arnold Schwarzenegger is mentioned.
Surprisingly, they didn’t get to talk much on 1984’s The Terminator, due largely to separate shooting schedules. “It’s funny how little we got to interact on screen,” explains Hamilton. “The second unit would have him [Schwarzenegger} off blowing things up and killing people and I’d be acting with Michael Biehn [who plays Kyle Rheese in The Terminator]. That’s the sad thing about the Terminators.”
By the time Judgement Day came around – and once studio execs clocked the duo’s financial value – Arnie and Linda had more time to hang out. “Arnold being Arnold, he would be on the phone with George Bush so he’d be a little bit late to set,” she reveals. “It was interesting to meet him on that level and to join his life a little bit [at that time] and then we’ve just carried on.” Later, Arnie was elected Governor of California, and family life came between them. It’s not like you can just call in to the Governor and chat over a tea and cake, says Linda. “Let me talk to the Governor, would you mind?” But reuniting on Dark Fate was a different story.
Featured in the same scene more often, the action icons were able to reignite their friendship. “I just had this rush of affection for him that was unexpected,” reveals Hamilton. “I just hugged him the entire time. I was really surprised by how happy I was to be with him again.”
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For Dark Fate though, Deadpool’s Tim Miller took the reins, not James Cameron. Was a change in the original line-up a problem for Linda?
In short, no. Hamilton couldn’t be more complimentary about her new boss, labelling the relatively inexperienced director “wonderful” and a “fantastic filmmaker”. Miller crafts fun (and sometimes complex) action set pieces, combining them with a levity that’s often missing in big, bold blockbusters. There’s nostalgic moments and tongue-in-cheek callbacks that will please the fans. The future of the Terminator franchise is, undoubtedly, in excellent hands. Sarah Connor, however, is a character Hamilton has lived with for 35 years – and she knows her better than anyone else.
“This is the first film I’ve ever done where I can really stand up and fully inhabit myself,” she explains. “I simplified it for myself at the very start of my career. I’m not out there to make the audience happy or to make myself happy. I have one job and that’s to make the director happy and that keeps it simple.” In this way, she’s always been “cheerful” and “willing”, as she puts it, to give anything she’s asked a go. However, coming back to the character after all this time, Linda had strong ideas about her motivations, her character and, in particular, the interactions between Sarah and soldier Grace (played by Mackenzie Davis), who’s sent back from the future to protect Dani Ramos.
Leaning forward, back straight, ever more serious, Hamilton confides, “the formula is that you’ve got two strong women. And we’ve seen it over and over again, they have to be at odds, and it’s like ‘but why are we at odds?’” The dialogue between these two women had to feel real, not forced. There’s a genuine love here – and a concern to make the film feel as authentic as it can be, right down to the finest of details. Linda’s return to the franchise is important, but she’s aware her role isn’t the only important one. “Mackenzie is a very, very good actress,” begins Hamilton. “The more that we sort of pitched in to all of that [casting the two characters as enemies], the more obvious it became that it was just a false construct to keep our characters interesting and that never works.” The result of this collaborative process, the knowledge and experience Linda brings, is a realistic script that’s tight and succinct. It’s a 128-minute ride, remaining faithful to Sarah’s story, but also one that passes the baton to the next generation.
When we meet Sarah Connor in Dark Fate, she’s as hard as ever. But there are scenes where she lets slip that the last 28 years haven’t been easy. It’s this balance that Linda understands: a heartbroken mother, a soldier, and a woman who’s lived a tough life. At the beginning of the film, she’s downcast and has given up on humanity. The rest of the film sees her returning to a feeling of hope, explains Hamilton. It’s a plot point that was by no means nailed on. “None of us knew how Sarah Connor should react or who she was after this change of circumstances,” reveals Hamilton. “Is she a complete alcoholic – and that was an idea Jim [Cameron] toyed with, he considered doing the whole Rooster Cogburn in True Grit thing.”
It’s hard to believe that the woman behind Sarah Connor was worried about a role, but Linda was actively concerned about people comparing her to a younger version of herself. “A lot of the fan base cannot accept anything that is a departure from what you’ve done,” says Hamilton.”But 28 years have passed!” Eventually, the kickass sexagenarian conceded that she might not look the same as a quarter of a century ago, even if she “worked as hard as I could”. Hamilton may not have the same body she did back then, but her commitment to the role remained strong. Stuffed with demanding stunts and strenuous action scenes, the physicality of Dark Fate is plain to see. After all, it wouldn’t be a Terminator film without a few bumps and bruises along the way.
The question remains though – could she do it all again? Seeing Linda back in a Terminator film feels good, but playing this role in the right way, and credibly, is important to her. “Obviously, the baton will be handed to Natalia [Reyes],” admits the actor. “She’s such an important component of this new version and we’ll see where it goes from here.” Hamilton pauses for a moment, then continues, “I mean, I thought I would want to do all of them, but they are so hard. I don’t know if my body is ever going to be the same. My elbow hurts and my left shoulder hurts, but as long as I can do my job well, I’m in.”
‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ is in cinemas now