She’s finally back. And it only took 28 years, four sequels, and three unreturned phone calls from Terminator: Dark Fate director Tim Miller.
For the first time since 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Linda Hamilton is returning as the iconic Sarah Connor in the sixth installment of the franchise, which ignores the events of the non-Hamilton sequels and acts as a true follow-up to the original two films from James Cameron, who’s also back creatively involved, serving as producer and co-writer (Arnold Schwarzenegger completes the reunion).
In a recent exclusive conversation ahead of the film’s panel this week at San Diego Comic-Con, Hamilton, who was joined by Miller, revealed her original apprehensions about returning, why this was finally the right time, and what this version of Sarah Connor looks like.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Coming off the success of Deadpool, you surely had plenty of options for your next project. So, why Terminator?
TIM MILLER: I think you’d get the same answer from pretty much any nerd you’d ask, which is these movies, because they were the seminal sci-fi movies of the decade when they came out, they had a big influence on a lot of people, especially at my age. Star Wars and Terminator were the two biggest franchises that made me want to get into this. The idea that I could continue this story is unbelievable to me.
Linda, it’s been almost 30 years since you last played Sarah, and there were opportunities to return in the past. Why was this the opportunity that finally brought you back?
LINDA HAMILTON: There is a real gift in that so much time has passed, and that gives me so much more to explore with the character. Sarah Connor is the same person but I wanted to see how the difference in events have changed her and shaped her and send her forward. There was meat there. I didn’t want to just recycle the same idea. It’s a woman who has a different mission, a different story, so I wanted to see what we could do with that.
MILLER: And then of course she met me. [Laughs] Linda is almost ready to trust me.
HAMILTON: We’re really close to having a trusting relationship.
Tim, with the struggles of the more recent films to connect with audiences in the same way as the original two, did you think it was necessary to have Linda to be able to justify another film?
MILLER: Absolutely. When we started, we just didn’t know if she would do it. Jim [Cameron] was very honest about, “Look, I’ll ask her but I don’t know what she’s going to say.” But he did and she was interested. Like a nervous deer, we had to creep up on her and convince her one step at a time to do it.
HAMILTON: He called me three times before I even called him back. The third time, he was like, “It’s about work,” and I’m like, “Oh, hey, what’s up?” But, even with that and his big sell, it took me weeks to decide that I really could go there and might have something new to say.
Had you assumed that you were done playing Sarah?
HAMILTON: It was many, many years of just being sure that it was done, that I was done. I kept saying, “Yeah, yeah, if I’m in one now it’s like the geriatrics era.” [Laughs] Which is actually kind of true. I never saw this coming, which made it that much more interesting.
MILLER: But you know what, I honestly believe this would be the best version of the movie after the second one. This will be more clear when you see the movie, but the first two movies really deal with time as a loop, what’s happening is the same thing that happened before and everybody is fighting to ensure that happens again. And Jim had this lucky break that he only broke that rule at the end of Terminator 2 when Sarah destroys Cyberdyne, it’s the first thing that happened that hadn’t happened before, and so it was going to change the future — but no one knew how. And I don’t think the movies that came after it really explored that in a clean way like I believe we are, with true consequences, and it makes perfect sense for Sarah to be the one to face those consequences since they were her choices to begin with.
What was it like fully diving back into Sarah? Were you immediately able to slide back into it or was it a process?
HAMILTON: It’s not like riding a bike, I’ll tell you that. [Laughs] Of course, one assumes if you put in the same hard work, you get the same results, so I went straight back into training really hard and it’s like, “Oh my god, you need hormones to put muscle on!” So just starting with the basic cosmetics of the character and all of the things that I had to sort of include in my new reality as Sarah Connor. But, really, it’s about building her backstory and figuring out where she’s been and who she is today. You have a character but so many things have impacted her in the last 30 years that it was like starting over, and yet, there is an echo of the younger Sarah Connor in everything that I had to create. But no, I worked damn hard. I spent a year-plus training really hard and working on her walk and exploring her deep sorrows and just so many elements, and more so, because there is a path there. By the time we started, I felt ready, but a year-plus before that, I was pretty overwhelmed with a sense of obligation and duty and love for the character, just really trying to make sure that we honored the past and created something new for the future.
MILLER: For me, it was a day. Linda shows up on set and she is Sarah Connor. It wasn’t like I decided what she should be at this point; Linda had already put all of the thought into who she was, what she felt like, and how events had shaped her, so when we actually started filming, it was nothing but as if the character walked on to the set for me. It was great as a director. I don’t think I could have told Linda what to do if she hadn’t had it all figured out [laughs].
What can you say about where we pick up with Sarah in Dark Fate? What is her mindset and situation?
HAMILTON: She’s a woman without a country. Her original mission has changed due to circumstances and she really doesn’t have a team anymore, she just has a thirst for vengeance, so that makes her very alone. She’s still a wildcard, but a wildcard without a real true mission is a lot more unpredictable. Basically very hard for her to find her humanity, so once again we get to take a journey on that level, to have some deep things that need to be rediscovered for her survival.
Terminator: Dark Fate opens in theaters on Nov. 1.