Credit: Melinda Sue Gordon

Over the past three decades, three actors of three different ages have portrayed John Connor, the courageous leader of the men-against-machines war at the center of the Terminator franchise. But none of them ever had a chance to play him as the villain. That is, until now. (The spoiler-averse might be advised to stop reading now.)

Almost halfway through Terminator Genisys, Connor, played by Australian actor Jason Clarke, is revealed to be a human/machine hybrid who fights on the side of Skynet. “Technology has become more and more ingrained inside of us, and he becomes the ultimate realization of that,” Clarke, 45, says. “You understand that this changes the game.”

To prep for the role, Clarke—who most recently starred in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes—looked back to an earlier installment in the sci-fi saga, drawing inspiration from the wary preteen rebel played by Edward Furlong in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. “There was an energy in him, that reckless thing that just seemed to work,” he says. To give Connor’s fall a greater emotional punch, Clarke emphasized his more noble virtues in the film’s early scenes.

For a key moment in which Connor delivers a rousing speech to the troops, Clarke consulted passages from Hamlet and Henry V and even a speech from Steve Jobs. “I was particularly happy to do a potential franchise where I was not putting on a mask or a pair of tights,” says Clarke. “I like that I can do a massive film like this and still talk about character.”

Producer David Ellison says that nuance was exactly what the movie needed. “You have to fall in love with John Connor in the first 20 minutes or the turn won’t be tragic,” he says. “I think Jason really accomplishes that. When you get to the big reveal, it’s heartbreaking.”

The Many Faces of John Connor:

Terminator Genisys
2015 movie
  • Movie
  • 119 minutes