'Terminator: Genisys' Producers and Director Explain Film's Casting Process

Working in a major Hollywood franchise is a tough task for anyone to handle, especially when the property is as beloved as The Terminator. One of the defining film series of the sci-fi genre, James Cameron's groundbreaking first two installments are still heralded as classics thanks to their revolutionary special effects and captivating stories of survival. Some would even say that those first two entries work together to tell a complete narrative, meaning anyone overseeing a reboot has a steep uphill climb.

But a reboot is indeed what is happening, with Paramount Pictures releasing Terminator: Genisys this weekend. Like so many other major franchise revivals coming out in the next couple of years, the filmmakers were not only looking to honor what came before, but also tread new ground on the hopes of laying a strong foundation for a new trilogy of Terminator movies. The film's critical reception indicates they weren't completely successful with their goals (read our review), but the team still had a great time working on their project.

Screen Rant sat down with Genisys producers David Ellison and Dana Goldberg, and director Alan Taylor, where the trio discussed the process of recasting such iconic roles and how Terminator differs from its tentpole brethren.

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First of all, congratulations. This was so much fun to watch.

All Three: Thank you.

David, I have to ask. You mentioned that Terminator and James Cameron was really something that got you into filmmaking…

David: Yeah.

That being said, now working on this, how does that feel?

David: It was a dream come true. I saw Terminator 2: Judgement Day when I was eight years old with my mother, who took me when I was way too young to see an R rated movie. I absolutely fell in love with it and said, “That’s what I want to do when I grow up.” So when the opportunity came to be able to work on this, it is truly a dream come true. And probably one of the most magical things was when Jim saw the movie and said that we are the official third Terminator in his mind. To know that he likes the movie that we made and thinks that it deserves to belong in the universe that he created means everything.

I have to talk about casting, because I know that this movie wouldn’t have worked without the casting that you guys chose. So if you could tell me, Dana, a little bit about choosing Jai, and Emilia, and our John Connor. I mean those were all crucial parts to the story.

Dana: We’re so incredibly proud of our cast. There’s obviously our core group, but we have a really deep bench on this movie. By the way, shout out to Ronna Kress, our casting director, who did a phenomenal job. I mean obviously it started with Arnold. He was our first piece of casting. He was the crucial piece of casting. There wasn’t going to be a Terminator movie without him. and then came Emilia. And credit to Emilia Clarke stepping into the shoes to play Sarah Connor is a really daunting task. Linda Hamilton created a character that is iconic. To her credit, Emilia made this Sarah Connor her own. Our Sarah is a very different Sarah than the previous incarnations. It was a combination of Emilia’s strength and vulnerability that really made her so perfect for us. Jai Courtney, you know, every once in a while you do a movie and there is somebody who’s 5th or 6th on the call sheet and you can’t take your eyes off of them. we at Skydance were lucky enough to Jack Reacher a few years ago. And Jai was one of the lead villains in that film. We just thought he was so incredible. He came into read with Emelia to play Kyle Reese. And at the end of the audition, we looked at one another and said, “We just found Kyle.”

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Then there’s Jason Clarke, who is just…you know, you can’t say enough nice things about Jason. To me he’s sort of a classic Hollywood actor, because yes he’s handsome, but he also radiates such intelligence and warmth. And we needed that out of John Connor, because you really had to fall in love with John Connor upfront in our movie so that the turn was really heartbreaking. There’s this speech at the beginning of our film. We were all standing around set, of course, the night that Jason delivered it. And at the end of that day, after the first take, actually, we all said, “Wow. We got the right guy.”

And then, you know, JK Simmons just had to win an Academy Award. So there you go! But we couldn’t be more proud of our cast.

Alan: Byung-hun Lee and Sandrine Holt …It just goes on and on.

Dana: Dayo and Courtney B. Vance. There’s a whole group.

I mean the casting was amazing. And I don’t think it would have worked so well without them. so kudos to all of you. Alan, I have to ask. You are not stranger to action movies. This is a little bit different. How did this differ and did you take it on any differently than you would, say, any other franchises, like Thor?

Alan: I think they’re all different. Every house that you work in is different. I was drawn to the Terminator experience partly because I think of these films as being more grounded. I loved my last go round, but the Marvel universe is sort of a separate world. Somehow, the Terminator films, they have all this power. They have all this action. They have all the stakes and all this stuff. And they are summer blockbusters. But they never completely depart from this world. I mean you really care about the emotions of the people involved. The people feel real. And it’s crucial to the Terminator story that you are in the world that you recognize and something other-worldly comes smashing into it. I think that’s what almost defines this mythology a little bit.

Thank you guys so much, and thanks for getting us excited for the sequels.


Terminator: Genisys is now playing in theaters.

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