'Terminator Genisys': Recreating Kyle Reese & His Iconic Nike Shoes

Kyle Reese in Terminator Genisys

Terminator Genisys attempts a soft reboot of the Terminator film franchise continuity in much the same way that J.J. Abrams' 2009 Star Trek reboot did. Due to some kind of change to the timeline, the events of James Cameron's first two Terminator movies get altered, so that future soldier Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) arrives at the 1984 events of the first Terminator movie, only to find nothing is the way he was told it should be.

Reese's confusion is quickly interrupted by a series of anomalous events, like a T-1000 existing in 1984, or a young Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) who is already trained in warfare (instead of diner waitressing), and an aged "Guardian" Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who has been guarding and training Sarah long before 1984.

Of all the risks that Genisys is taking by re-writing the history of Terminator, one of the more conspicuous ones has been recasting the iconic roles of Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor, which were played in the first film by Michael Biehn and Linda Hamilton. Not only does Jai Courtney (star of films like Divergent and Die Hard 5) have an iconic character to live up to, he also has to recapture Reese's iconic 1980s look (duster jacket, Nike shoes, etc.), and as we found out while visiting the Terminator Genisys set, the performance was nowhere near the challenge as getting the costuming just right.

Terminator Genisys Cast
Terminator Genisys Cast (Jai Courtney on Right)

Was it intimidating taking on these iconic roles? 

Jai: ...I don’t think it’s intimidating. I think you always have a bit of material there to work with, but the idea isn’t to try to recreate the performance of someone else. It’s the same character in the story, but with freedom to bring your own stuff to it. I didn’t feel intimidated by it.

You guys have both taken on projects that have incredibly fan bases. Obviously [Emilia Clarke has] Game of Thrones…you stepped in for Diehard. 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?

Jai: The fan base thing, I don’t know. That’s something I don’t concern myself with too much. [Turns to co-star Emilia Clarke] I mean you probably deal with crazy shit with [Game of] Thrones

Emilia:  Yeah…

Jai: That doesn’t really play into the performance aspect so much. I don’t know. Yeah, it’s weird. I’ve worked on a few things where there’s either been an inbuilt fan base or, you know, like novel adaptations. That’s another thing where there’s an awareness about what fans of the story…what their opinion will be. It’s not constructive to approach it with that in mind. You can’t.

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

Jai: I didn’t spend a great time…I think just for context that was there. I watched the films again. But it’s like every incarnation. I don’t know that there needs to be emphasis on trying to do what Michael Biehn did with it in 1984. What’s the point of that? I’m a different actor, so the performance is going to be different. The character is the same. You’ve still got the same kind of setup. We’ve introduced new things that we learn more about the character than we did in previous editions.

TERMINATOR, Michael Biehn, Linda Hamilton, 1984
Michael Biehn & Linda Hamilton in 'The Terminator'

What was it like being in front of the Nikes and the air duster? 

Jai: The Nikes are perhaps the best part about this movie…


Jai: And possibly the only reason I’m here. I’m hoping to steal a pair.

[Skydance Productions Rep]: Better hurry. They are almost all gone.

Jai: Yeah. No, very cool. I’ve definitely got dibs on some. I have a particular friend who is a real sneaker head and he’s rather jealous.

Indeed, when we talked to costume designer Susan Matheson about trying to recreate the look of Kyle Reese, getting his Nikes right turned out to be more than an challenge, it was a full-on mission:

Kyle Reese and Jai Courtney Terminator Salvation

When I found out that Kyle Reese was going to be in this, I immediately took a picture of old Kyle Reese in his Army jacket and looked for a picture of Jai in an Army jacket (see above) and put them next to each other. Are you going to have fun with the original costumes? Are you we going to see nods to the original costumes?

Susan Matheson: Absolutely. I just don’t want to give too much away about the storyline, but the bottom line is a big resounding yes. All I can tell you is Jai looks fantastic as Kyle Reese

That’s really exciting to hear.

Susan Matheson: It’s giving me chills thinking about it. It was really exciting for me too. Striped t-shirt, duster, yes. Which brings me to the Nike sneaker. I have to talk about it.

You know the Nike Vandal that he wore in the original? He comes into the department store. You see him in the photo booth. The leg drops down. He takes the Velcro. He Velcro’s the Nike high-top. So the very first thing that happened when I got the job, when I knew I wasn’t starting for another couple months, is I’m a sneaker person. I did a lot of Will Ferrell movies. I did Semi-Pro. I did Friday Night Lights. I am sneaker obsessed. I’ve done a lot of sports movies as well.

Terminator Kyle Reese Photo booth shoes Nikes
Kyle Reese's Photo Booth Scene from 'The Terminator' (1984)

I was like this movie is not going to be correct if we don’t get the exact sneaker. We have to have the sneaker. What I did was two months before I even started on the movie, sometime in November I started hounding Nike. And you know what? Oh, I don’t know if I should say this! Nike wanted me to design an ID, like something, using the Air Force One base. But I’m a sneaker person and I know every single base of every sneaker. The Air Force One base is not the same as a Nike Vandal

So I said, “No. I’m not going to do that. I need you to make me the real sneaker,” because I said, “Everybody watching this movie is going to know if it’s the real sneaker or the non-real sneaker.” Anyone who is a fan of Terminator knows that sequence and knows the photo booth, and knows him grabbing the jacket, and knows that he’s taken the pants off the bum in the alley. We all know this, because I’ve watched this movie in slow motion frame by frame over and over and over. This is the entire reason I went into moviemaking, was a combination between Terminator and Mad Max. Those two movies made me decide that I wanted to do costumes. So for me, if I can’t give you the real sneaker, then I might as well not do the movie, right?

Terminator Genisys Jai Courtney as Kyle Reese
Jai Courtney as Kyle Reese in 'Terminator Genisys'

Anyway, it went back and forth, back and forth. I spoke to Paramount and I said to them, “You have got to help me make this happen.” To me, the single greatest moment on this entire movie was when Nike said they were going to stop production in the line and make me the sneaker from scratch. So they made me the sneaker, the original exact replica of the original sneaker.

When you look at the movie don’t think it doesn’t look like the original, because it is. I’m sure people online are going to be like, “That’s not the original!” It is!

...This is how I got Nike to make me the pairs of sneakers [we used]: I did the movie Semi-Pro and I got Adidas to stop the line for Woody Harrelson and make me Vegan shell-toes because Woody Harrelson is Vegan and he refused to wear the classic shell-toe without it being Vegan. Basically, what I did is I said, “Listen. Adidas did it for me on Semi-Pro with Woody. I don’t know why couldn’t possibly do it for me on Terminator!” And that worked.


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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