Terminator Genisys will attempt a bold course-correction for a franchise that has lost ground due to several lackluster film installments. But whereas Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Terminator Salvation both attempted to push forward in time with the story of Sarah and John Connor’s war against machines, Genisys will be taking a much different path.
In this soft reboot, future soldier Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) travels back in time to the 1984 events of the first Terminator movie, only to discover that events are radically different than what he was led to believe they should be. Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) is a full combatant at a much younger age, and there is a now a Terminator unit (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who has been guarding and training her since her youth. The Terminators are also more advanced, with a T-1000 showing up to attack Reese in 1984, years before the events of Terminator 2.
While Kyle Reese, Sarah Connor and her “Guardian” Terminator try to move through the past and deal with the changes to the timestream, there is looming question as to how this altered destiny affects the Future War between humanity’s survivors and the machines. Specifically, there’s question about the new circumstances in which we find the generals of those respective armies, savior John Connor and the apocalyptic A.I. entity, Skynet.
In Terminator Genisys, the iconic role of John Connor is played by Zero Dark Thirty star Jason Clarke. When we visited the set of Genisys last summer, we sat down with Clarke to talk about how he is making this role different from the John Connors played by Christian Bale or Eddie Furlong, and why this particular blockbuster franchise lured him in.
What was it like stepping into this franchise that is so iconic? How do bond with the other cast members?
You just work as hard as you can, really. There’s a really good work ethic with everybody on this film. It was kind of there at the very beginning in the script with David and Dana, much like ‘Apes’ in hiring Alan Taylor and Matt Reeves. There seems to be a trend in hiring guys that really understand story. The writers, Laeta and Patrick, did the scripts. There are similarities in terms of really putting the work into getting the script right and to come up with a way of doing just those things—honoring it, making it kinda real and visually exciting…
I like to do research. I do a lot of reading … a lot of books and just get yourself into the zone. I’ve seen all the films. I watched a lot of the…I watched a lot of Eddie Furlong as that young kid. He was so good, particularly in 2. You look for things so its that it’s based in what’s being done, what’s real. You have a lot to draw on. It’s there in the script. They’ve taken him to a very non-generic place. They’ve actually kind of made him very complicated. Does that make sense?
Just as a follow-up, what was it about this film that drew you in?
The role is believable. He wasn’t John Connor who is lost in iconography or lost in Type A. …It was a character I really thought I could do and have some fun with, and enjoy, and potentially spend some time… and the effort to flesh out a number of films. I’m not going to get lost in trying to top something. I’m not trying to match something. The story is going to place which is going to keep me hired for a number of films.
Tell us how this film is different than the others or how it’s the same.
The property has been taken over by people that…Well, not taken over. It’s still James. But it’s by people that are fans and that are smart. I don’t think things get different. They just get deeper. The whole thing of Cameron’s original idea of the feeling of what it would be like to live through an apocalypse and live through technology which is overtaking us. People have read the singularity. It’s such a great topic, the idea. We are at a point where AI is going to be at a level…and it will be smarter than us. So the source material can literally go deeper into that subject, which is what – in hiring writers at the level of Patrick and Laeta – they’ve done.
[Skydance Productions] hired them not just to write one film, but to write a trilogy. I think that’s also smart in terms of other films that have come before and done that, whether it was ‘The Godfather’, whether it was ‘The Matrix’, but have got the bones of this thing. We’re not writing one as a standalone that is just going to reach a certain point and where do we go from now? No, no. They’ve designed it in a way that it makes sense from here to here, which is a very warm blanket, isn’t it? You know you are part of something which has got intelligence. Once again, like ‘Apes’, there were a lot of similarities when I read ‘Apes’, when I saw the continuation of the first to the second and with the quality of people involved.
Whether the infrastructure is set up…I say again, Skydance Productions, they’ve treated this with the respect that Jim treated it when he first came up with the idea.
We’ve seen John Connor as the reluctant chosen one. We’ve seen him as the paranoid chosen one. We’ve only seen glimpses of him as accepting his role and owning it. Are we going to get to see this from your character?
Oh yeah. That’s even Monty Python, isn’t it? Remember ‘Monty Python: The Holy Grail’? “He’s the Messiah!” It’s like there’s such a…and, once again, it goes down to Jim’s original point. It’s a big kind of thing to touch on. There’s not just Arnold, The Terminator, and technology. There’s all these other things that we do look for—fulfilling prophecy, fulfilling destiny, or responsibility.
That’s one thing where I looked at Eddie Furlong a lot. There’s a lot of legacy and a lot of things to grow. If you are going to do a trilogy or you are going to tell a complete story, like ‘Lord of the Rings’ or something, like ‘Game of Thrones’. You’ve got a complete world or a complete idea or a writer that is taking it somewhere that there’s always…in the good version there’s going to be room for John to grow. That’s one of the most exciting things, I think, going into this, is who really is John Connor? And what is it to be that?
So there’s still room for him to grow?
There’s room for him to be really destroyed, knocked about. Those questions that you are asking are at the heart of it?
Are we going to see kind of more personality in the character? He’s so usually portrayed as that stoic distant guy. Are we going to get more into this psyche?
Yes. Definitely. Of course. When you have a battle against machines, which is ourselves, in a way, as we created them, there’s always something that lies at the heart of that. I think John is very much in sync with that.
What would you say is markedly different about this version from past versions of John Connor?
I have longer hair than Bale had and I’m older than Eddie Furlong. All I can say…you guys don’t want to know too much. John is at the heart of what this conundrum is. Anytime you’ve gone beyond, say, the apocalypse we know that is always hanging over us, there is a battle for who is going to run the shop. Where do we want technology to go? What is it going to be? And what are we giving over?
I truly do say that John is psychologically at the heart of that. It’s what makes it a role that freaks me out each day. It’s not just me. You’ve got a guy like Christian Bale, who is a friend and a great actor. It’s not just to meet these things that have been set up, but also, there’s a lot to do. I’m not just standing there being stoic. (Laughs) No, Alan [Taylor] is slapping me around a lot.
How is it working with Arnold?
Great. Have you guys met Arnold?
You’ll see. He’s truly a wonderful man. There was the read-through and I was sitting next to him…and he came in with the boots and the ring. When he sits down and he says those lines, it’s, “Holy fuck man, this is really weird.” And it is. It does remind you…I was…when did the first one come out, ’84? It’s there in my understanding of film. And then the second one was such a….the first one was an incredible surprise. The second one was a bigger more complete version of that. the money was wisely spent. You know, I’ve grown up with Arnold. He’s been the governor. He’s a great man to have in the makeup trailer at the beginning of the day. In terms of a real leader on set, a calm sensibility on set, a guy that delivers, that knows his part, that loves his part. He’s a great chap. You can talk about anything with Arnold. He’s a wonderful man. He’s been a great life force and spirit.
Can you talk about your relationship with Kyle Reese in the movie?
Jai? You know, Reese is my right-hand dude. That relationship is very complicated, as you can imagine.
So he is self-aware about the relationship?
I keep forgetting…yeah, yeah…[laughs] No, but there’s a lot of that. Cameron is really great at very biblical pieces. I just watched the short for ‘Exodus’. A lot of these stories, good stories and good characters like The Iliad. They’re just grounded in stuff that resonates. So there is a lot of stuff for us to draw on, and the writers have, you’ll see.
Then I have my boys, my team, my soldiers. There really are some surprises in this, some truly amazing surprises…Films are coming out that you can get true twists and turns out there – you know, you would assume the moviegoer moves so quickly – to allow us to kind of experience something fresh.”
Q: I wonder, the first movie’s so iconic and such a breakout sort of… Do you have fears about the way the audience perceives another one? With yet another set of characters or actors?
Not really. All you can do is… I always think of scripts of films as the script. And this script is good. It’s really good. And then you want integrity, smart people to back it up. And smart, but also diligent, hard working people which what reason that guy showed up and you go through a take or two and you, he was always just crafting that stone. And in David and Alan, they’ve got it. People are invested in this. They really are. To, you come out of explosions and, you come out of a great day, it’s exciting. I’m doing things that it costs a lot of money to go and do all this. So I don’t have any fears much like Apes that there’s you guys out there. I think you’re starting to see a much smarter way of progression with these big blockbuster films.
Yeah, you can have your straight up popcorn. Yeah, you can have your popcorn and depth. You know, like Star Wars, the good Star Wars, I’m your Father. You know, there’s things that drop back. And they’ve created this world now particularly with the trilogy rather than a one off, hey, let’s try and cash in. No, it’s where you can have deep drops of resonance and just go, oh my God, oh that connects from that. You know? Remember in The Sopranos, you guys seen The Sopranos? When Christopher has to kill his girlfriend, you just go back through five years, you just go oh my God. So there’s a library now and the way that they’ve written this it’s just well written that will give resonance I think rather than we’ll play against all this world.
Q: Is there more to keep on sort of how technology and A.I. is changing the world?
There’s way more to go I think yeah. I think there is. I think it’s a fine line between trying to dictate or letting you show and demonstrate to the point where people can use their own imagination to go. And I think that’s one of the great things about when he first came back and it’s just like wow, what if? You know, the shark in the oceans, you know. There’s an element of if you allow people to go ‘yeah, I think about this.’
I mean, we’re all, you guys are, you’re all on the edge of it each day. And it’s like the singularity. He made his stab at it. And I think there’s a line that we very truly know and that also gives us the moral questions about what we’re doing now, about what we decide to do. There is the iPhone thumbprint. What do I wanna do about that? Do I wanna do that or do I not do that? You know? I think it strikes a nice balance of where it’s not, we’re not dictating that this is how it’s gonna be. But it’s imaginative like ‘Blade Runner’ to go okay, what if, oh okay, this is a representation of a complete world. And I think that’s really exciting to do in sci-fi.
Q: Bouncing off that, you know, you relate this film a lot to Apes, but the reason I think Apes worked so well is because it has realistic themes about humanity and reality.
Q: So what do you think is the theme of this movie then?
Same things, any good story’s there’s a heart, there’s family, there’s extended family, there’s community. And there’s your moral question about who you are and what we give and take from this world and what responsibility we hold. And Apes or a film like this there’s big questions. Even wait to see where they went with the Terminator. It’s really interesting. Like it really is. The other thing though why I think Apes works and why I think this works is that you stick to your rules. As an actor, you wanna get your ducks in a row. If that makes sense? This follows this, this follows this, so I’m trying to work going oh you know what, I can’t do this because that just does not make fucking sense to me.
If you create your world and you order it throughout the film, you don’t always have to have some big set piece which just comes out of nowhere to solve the problem to make an exciting ending. Like at the end of the ‘World War Z,’ when it went back to that small thing again, it just brings a believability and a reality to it which you then can relate to and it takes you deeper into the story. And I think there’s no point in this one going this just doesn’t make sense. This is just a scene because we need this scene, you know. Come on, seriously?
Q: That’s good.
And that’s why ‘Apes’ worked. There’s apes on horses and all that but it stays true to its rules and its world and it’s well written. It’s a very good film. Reeves worked so hard on that. Yeah.
Q: Thank you so much.
Full Set Visit Report List
- Terminator Genisys set visit Summary
- Why Arnold Schwarzenegger Returned to the Franchise
- What Director Alan Taylor is doing Differently
- A New & Different John Connor
- Emilia Clarke’s Sarah Connor Challenge
- Recreating Kyle Reese and his Nike shoes
Terminator: Genisys will be in theaters on July 1, 2015.