Terminator Genisys: Emilia Clarke on Sarah Connor's Legacy & Physique

Terminator Genisys Trailer

During summer 2014, Screen Rant was among a handful of journalists admitted to the set of Terminator Genisys, the newest installment of the Terminator franchise. In the film, the history of James Cameron's first two movies gets rewritten; when future war soldier Kyle Reese (now played by Jai Courtney) gets sent back to the 1984 time period to protect Sarah Connor, he discovers that the helpless waitress he heard about is instead a hardened warrior. In addition to a much different Sarah, Reese also discovers her protector and trainer, an aged Terminator unit who has been watching Sarah all her life - for some yet unknown purpose.

Needless to say, reaction to Terminator Genisys' existence has been mixed. After the first trailer premiered, some viewers saw a suitable action blockbuster with Arnold Schwarzenegger in his most iconic role - while others are still on the fence, hesitant about yet another franchise soft-reboot.

In the center of all this looming curiosity stands Emilia Clarke, the young actress made famous for her role as Daenerys Targaryen (aka "Daenerys Stromborn," "Khaleesi" or "Mother of Dragons") on HBO's Game of Thrones. In stepping in to play a much different version of young Sarah Connor, Clarke has taken on an iconic female character, simultaneously obligated to the legacy of Sarah Connor, while also having room to carve out new dimensions to the character.

Terminator: Genisys - Emilia Clarke as Sarah Connor

In speaking with Clarke on set, we talked about the challenges of playing a famous character, revitalizing a stalled franchise, and that excitable (and very vocal) fanbase. We also discussed the connection between Sarah Connor and her hardened physique, made famous in '90s by original Sarah Connor, Linda Hamilton, and carried over to Clarke's Game of Thrones co-star Lena Headey, who played Connor in the cult-hit TV series, The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

Was it intimidating taking on these iconic roles? 

Emilia:  Exciting more than intimidating, I’d say... We’re taking on something that is legendary and beautiful in itself. What we are doing do it is incredibly exciting, and different, and kind of embracing what has already happened, but getting the opportunity to create something new, which is always fun.

You have taken on projects that have incredibly big fan bases. Obviously Game of Thrones…Have you guys learned how to just deal with it and just kinda focus on what it is you are going to bring to your performances?

Emilia:  Yeah. I think so.

...I think that’s where you look to the makers of the project that you are in. you trust that they made a good choice and the thing that you have naturally as actors that you are going to bring to the role is the right element for the project you are in. You’re lucky getting to do a novel, because, kind of like a cheat sheet, you have all the answers written in the book and you are just kinda dealing with other people’s imaginations. Whereas with Terminator, we’re taking on something that already lives on screen. But that’s where the brilliant writing and everything that we’ve kind of built takes over. And you just get to slide into place and hope that you are doing the right thing.

Lena Headey as Sarah Connor
Lena Headey as Sarah Connor in 'The Sarah Connor Chronicles'

Did you look at previous iterations of your characters when you were characterizing….

Emilia:  Sort of taking the fundamentals of what the characters originally were and putting them in such a wildly different context that you are changing the course of their lives, so thereby changing their characteristics. So you kind of, as an actor, get to explore that.

Emilia:  I had an older brother and he made me watch it from a young age. So I fell in love with it then, and now I have massive brother cred, which never gets old.

You also have a Game of Thrones co-star who starred as Sarah Connor in the TV show.

Emilia:  I do! Yeah! She’s going to win an Emmy, I hear. [Ed Note: at the time of this interview Headey was nominated for an Emmy for Thrones. She did not win.]

Have you had a chance to talk to her about it?

Emilia:  Yeah, yeah. Dave and Dan, the writers of the show, keep wanting us [Daenerys and Cersei] to fight. So maybe that will happen. I don’t know, take each other on. Yes. We’ve had a bit of banter about it.

Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor
Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor in 'T2: Judgement Day'

Linda Hamilton, especially in Terminator 2, was so iconic, especially because of her physique and arms. When you got this part, did that  (physique) ever come up on your radar as a worry or concern?

Emilia:  Yeah. Yeah and no.

[Skydance Productions Rep]: Neither one of them [Emilia or co-star Jai Courtney] is in a position to brag about this themselves, so I’ll say it for them: It’s kind of a wonder that they’ve had time to shoot, because they also work out like 22 hours a day, 6 days a week. Just the few months leading up to production, the physical transformation for both of you was intimidating.

Emilia:  Yeah. And getting to play with real guns as well as the ones growing in your arms.


Full Set Visit Report List

Terminator: Genisys motion poster; trailer this week

Terminator: Genisys will be in theaters on July 1, 2015.

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