'Terminator Genisys': Why Arnold Schwarzenegger Returned to the Franchise

Terminator Genisys Movie T800

Back in the middle of the summer 2014 movie season, Screen Rant got to join a select group of journalists at NASA's New Orleans instillation, where the cast and crew of Terminator: Genisys were hard at work on a pivotal scene from the movie's time-hopping plotline. Of the many people we had to speak with (cast, crew, producers), there was only one that towered above the rest when it came to sheer presence: Mr. "Governator" himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Of the many 1980s and '90s movie roles that helped make him a mega-star, Schwarzenegger arguably has none to thank more than his role as the Terminator in James Cameron's seminal 1984 film, and its game-changing 1991 sequel. Even after Cameron left the franchise, Schwarzenegger stayed loyal to the role, going so far as to put up his own money to bring Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines to theaters in 2003. However, when Rise of the Machines got a lukewarm reception, Schwarzenegger hung up his iconic sunglasses and leather coat and moved on to politics. He refused to involve himself with Terminator Salvation, causing the filmmakers to use CGI face-swapping to recreate Schwarzenegger's 1984 Terminator character in a  cameo scene.

Terminator Genesis Arnold Schwarzenegger Character Explained

After such a long time away from the franchise, there has been looming question as to why Arnold Schwarzenegger has chosen NOW to return to Terminator. Is it because the filmmakers behind Genisys have truly struck gold with their new ideas for the franchise? Or has Schwarzenegger's struggle to regain box office relevancy (see: The Last Stand, Escape Plan, Sabotage) simply led him back to a lucrative franchise?

When we finally got to interview Schwarzenegger on set it was near the end of the day, after Arnold and his co-stars Emilia Clarke (Sarah Connor) and Jai Courtney (Kyle Reese) had been busy filming a scene within "Cyberdyne," a near-future version of the tech corporation that creates evil A.I., Skynet. Arnold once again plays a Terminator unit; however, the twist this time is that he  was sent back to watch over Sarah Connor as a young girl, protecting her while also training her to be a warrior. Fans of the series will realize that this is a big departure from the canon established in Cameron's films, and a new sort of slant on Schwarzenegger's Terminator character.

At the time of our visit, Schwarzenegger was wearing the iconic "battle damaged" Terminator makeup, with his face looking half like the actor we know, and half like the iconic red-eyed killing machine. His hair was grayed to appear advanced in age, and the usual Terminator bad-boy leather duds had been traded for a look that I would describe as "thrift store mercenary."

Arnold Schwarzenegger as Pops in 'Terminator Genisys'
Arnold Schwarzenegger as "The Guardian" Terminator in 'Terminator Genisys'

How long does it take to put on the prosthetics? 

Arnold:  I think it was 2 ½ hours. It isn’t every day. It depends on what stage we are in, in the story. This is now getting towards the end, so it’s more severe.

What’s it like getting back into this character as you’ve got the face going on and everything? How’s it feel to be back looking like that and back in the costume and everything? 

Arnold:  It’s like you’ve been doing it your whole life, because I’m very passionate about the character. I think it’s a great and interesting character. I think it’s a great story. I think the whole concept that Cameron had way back in the early ‘80s of creating a world where the machines take over and things becoming a reality more and more, which no one could even think of in those days, I think it’s really been great because the whole team is really into going all out. And then it is fun to be in a movie like that. the studio is very enthusiastic about the Terminator movie. The producers, the directors, very talented and great visionary. You can see all the stages and everything is always really big and exciting. So it’s been a great experience.

You’ve played the villain Terminator, the father Terminator. What sort of Terminator are we going to see from you in this film? 

Arnold:  It’s a character that has been programmed to protect Sarah Connor. But I am basically the same Terminator. I will destroy anything that’s in front of me in order to save her.

Terminator Genisys - Sarah Connor origin Flashback scene

Looking at the makeup and the jacket we saw you wearing, it looks like something tried to destroy you back. What is the kind of threat you are facing as a Terminator in this one? 

Arnold:  The world is coming to an end. The machines are taking over, so that’s a world threat. And we are trying to change that.

What was it about this take on the Terminator franchise that made you decide, “Hey, this is the one that I need to come back and do this”? 

Arnold:  Well, I always said that I would do another Terminator if the story is great. I think I really enjoyed this story when I read it. I think the people that were involved made me feel like I think this is going to be a good movie and they’re going to go all out with the project. It’s not just kind of like, “Let’s exploit this franchise and live off some of the great ones that were done in the past.” They really took it seriously. They really figured out a way of continuing on the story and kind of ignoring the last one, basically.

Do you think the franchise as a whole has changed a lot over the past 30 years?

Arnold:  I think the people are really enthusiastic about it. It’s still, today, one of the top franchises that people are looking forward to seeing. The key thing is you give the people more than they can even anticipate. So it’s giving more than we promised rather than less. So this is why it’s very important why this movie…and I think everyone recognizes that this movie has to deliver.

Terminator 5 Casting Rumo
Schwarzenegger in 'T2: Judgement Day'

Is that in terms of scale and action… 

Arnold:  Everything. It’s the story, the creativity. In every level it has to deliver. So the right team has been assembled, I think, to do that. And so that’s what makes me feel good and proud to be part of this project.

A core part of every Terminator movie is you in an amazing action scene. Are you going to have a very long action scene in this and will it top T2’s action scenes?

Arnold:  I think that I know that we have to outdo T2. The director knows that. the producers know it. The studio knows it. I think everyone is in sync with that, that we have to, visual effects wise, outdo the second one, because it was so far ahead of its time. So the idea is to come out of the movie with a big bang and to really entertain audiences all around the world.

Another part of these movies is also the humor and the quotable one-liners that come out usually from your character. Will we get some of that in this one?

Arnold:  Yes, absolutely. They pay close attention to that, yes. There are actually very funny scenes in this movie. Not trying to be funny, but just the circumstances make it very funny.

At what point in this whole process of being a part of the franchise did you realize how long it was going to go and for how many movies you would get to do it?

Arnold:  I think after the second one we realized that this is really a big franchise. As I remember, the second one was the biggest movie of the year. Made over $500 million. In today’s dollars I don’t even know what that would be, over a billion dollars? Who knows what? But it was a huge movie. Cameron really did an extraordinary job with the writing.

So the trick really is, OK, how do you continue on with that kind of a big bang?

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Emilia Clarke in 'Terminator Genisys'
Arnold Schwarzenegger and Emilia Clarke in 'Terminator Genisys'

I think people really loved your Terminator movies. Some fans felt a little burnt by the last one. How do we win them back with this one? How do we convince them to come see…?

Arnold:  I think actions speak louder than words. You can do all the hyping you want. It doesn’t mean anything. I think that when the movies trailer comes out, right away it will set the record straight. I remember when we came out with the trailer of True Lies. People knew right away what it is and how big it is.

So I think you see it. The key thing is to cut a great trailer, that it is promoted the right way, and then when you see the first screenings out there, the buzz will then take care of the rest.

So I don’t think that it is difficult to win the people over, because the people are really excited about another Terminator. They are ready to see another one. It just has to deliver.

Do you feel protective over this franchise? When they first sent you the script, how did you feel? Where there certain things were you were like, “I’d like to change this” or not?

Arnold:  Oh, no. We had very open discussions. When I got the first script I had a lot of questions. Some of the things didn’t make sense. they were tweaked and it didn’t make sense to other people either. It was fine-tuned. It was a process over, I think, a period of a few months. There were very talented people that were involved. And the great thing was everyone was in sync. It wasn’t like I was going off one direction and David Ellison was thinking differently and then Alan was thinking differently. There was none of that.

So I think this is a very unique project because I think everyone is very protective, and protective not just because of the art’s sake, but I think also because of the business’s sake. The studio sees this as, “If we do well here, we can go with another few. We all can entertain people. we can make money. And we have done a great job of bringing back the franchise.” So everyone is in sync with that, just like everyone is really working around the clock here to make this a great movie.


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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