By Derek Lawrence
November 02, 2019 at 04:00 PM EDT
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Warning: This article contains spoilers about Terminator: Dark Fate.

Dani Ramos was set up to be the next Sarah Connor, but it turns out she’s the next John Connor.

Playing a mix of two iconic film characters is no small task, especially when it’s your first Hollywood role, but that’s the hand Natalia Reyes was dealt with Terminator: Dark Fate. While the original Terminator was released a few years before Reyes was born, she says the first two films were often on television in her native Colombia when she was growing up, with the memorable imagery of Linda Hamilton doing pull-ups in Terminator 2 specifically sticking with her. Fast-forward, and after impressing in Colombian film and television, the actress, 32, suddenly found herself auditioning for the latest installment of the mega-franchise. And if that wasn’t enough pressure, in order to get the role of Dani, whose story echoes that of Sarah’s in the first film, Reyes had to impress Sarah Connor herself.

“You’re always nervous about an audition,” Reyes tells EW. “I’m studying and I couldn’t sleep the night before, but then you get there and it’s Linda Hamilton doing the audition with you, so it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe it.’ But she was so loving. Linda is the kindest person you can find, and she’s always loving everyone, so she was like holding my hand and hugging me. She was so supportive that I think we just connected from then. It was a really emotional scene, and at the end of it we were all crying. It was a really nice moment. And then I was like, ‘I don’t care if I don’t get it, this has already been an incredible experience just by coming here and auditioning with Linda Hamilton.’”

Kerry Brown/Skydance Productions/Paramount Pictures

But she did get it, in no small part because she won over Hamilton. “Linda came and read with several different Danis when we narrowed it down a little bit,” director Tim Miller previously told EW. “And when she read with Natalia, who was in the middle of that session, she gets up and says, ‘Do I get a vote? Because she’s the one.’” Added Hamilton, “Natalia left the room and I looked at Tim and just went, ‘Bingo.’ She’s just the most effortless and extraordinary actress. Truly, I think one of the greatest actresses I’ve ever worked with. Because you don’t see her working or doing it, she just comes up with it. She’s very strong and amazing.”

In Hamilton, Reyes found not only a champion, but also a friend and motivator. “She pushed us to make everything as good as we could and to just be as disciplined and committed as she was,” Reyes says. Dark Fate puts Hamilton, Reyes, and Mackenzie Davis at the forefront of the story, as Sarah and Grace (Davis), an enhanced human from the future, come together to protect Dani from a fearsome new Terminator (Gabriel Luna) sent to kill her. Through the grueling stunts and oppressive heat, the women were bonded forever. “I do feel lucky,” Reyes says of being paired with Hamilton and Davis. “It’s not common that you create a real family. It was a really intense project and it was a lot of work, and we spent a lot of time together. It was like true love, and we were supporting each other and holding each other. It was great to have them there and to be inspired by them both, and it is great to actually get to work with people who you admire and love and care for.”

Reyes also appreciated the progression shown by Dark Fate. Not only does the film kick off in Mexico, it brings in three Latino actors to help usher in the new Terminator era, with Luna and Diego Boneta joining Reyes. The actress credits the film’s diversity to James Cameron, the writer-director of Terminator and T2, who is back as a producer and helped conceive the new film’s story.

“James Cameron has always been great about changing the rules,” Reyes says. “I don’t think there’s an agenda about feminism or Latinos; this is a reflection of the reality, and I think he is aware of that. It is not ‘Because they are Latinos, then they have to be related to drugs or illegal things.’ They’re human beings, and they happen to be Latinos, and it happens to be a Terminator movie. They’re not caricatures of what a Latino is or what a woman is or what a 64-year-old lady is. I love that it just shows diversity without really trying. And I think that is actually different to what we are seeing around; it’s showing the world as it is, and it makes me really proud of the movie.”

Kerry Brown/Paramount Pictures

Dark Fate’s inclusive casting wasn’t the only aspect that made Reyes proud. [SPOILERS AHEAD] Throughout Dark Fate, we’re set up to believe that Dani is the new Sarah, that the Terminator was sent after her because, like Sarah, she would give birth to the future leader of the Resistance. But that’s not the case, as Grace reveals that Dani is the leader of the Resistance, and saved teenage Grace’s life in the future. It’s a twist that shocks the characters — and shocked Reyes herself.

“I didn’t even expect that when I started reading the script,” she admits. “I was like, ‘Yeah, it has to be the mother.’ In general, we as women, but also Latinas, we’re always kind of serving other characters. Like, Sarah Connor was serving John because she was fighting for him to stay alive. But here, it was not the character actually serving others; she was the hero, and she was the leader. It was pretty shocking and amazing. I was like, ‘Wow, this something new, something I haven’t seen.’ I think this is a reflection of how much the world is changing and how much Hollywood is changing, and it’s great that it’s finally happening and that I’m part of it.”

Dark Fate ends with only two characters still standing: Dani and Sarah. After tracking down a young Grace and catching a glimpse of her, the warrior duo head off for parts unknown, surely preparing for the war still to come and, if audiences show up, another film. “It was just at the end, with Linda shooting this scene, we were thinking like, ‘Yeah, where should we go?’” Reyes remembers. “I think we can dream about it and imagine things, but I’m sure James Cameron and Tim have a more accurate idea. But it’s great to imagine these two women together and to see how that character of Sarah Connor can actually help Dani and see Dani become that person — and how different they can be.”

Terminator: Dark Fate is in theaters now.

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