The history behind one of cinema’s best sequels is a wild one. In an oral history of Terminator 2: Judgment Day for The Ringer, director James Cameron, star Arnold Schwarzenegger, and others shared some previously-unheard tidbits about the making of the action classic.
Cameron wanted T2 to be his Wizard of Oz
There’s a pretty massive tonal difference between Terminator and its sequel. The first film is kind of an action-movie slasher, with Linda Hamilton‘s Sarah Connor serving as a machine-future Final Girl. Terminator 2, by comparison, is an action/sci-fi thrill ride about the strong bond between the reprogrammed Terminator and Sarah’s son, John Connor.
“Sure, there’s going to be big, thunderous action sequences, but the heart of the movie is that relationship,” Cameron told The Ringer. “I have always loved The Wizard of Oz. This movie is about the Tin Man getting his heart.”
In order to get his heart, however, the Terminator Tin Man would have to soften up a bit. Cameron said he came up with the idea of the Terminator protecting a child while he was enjoying a nice night of party drugs and Sting albums.
“I remember sitting there once, high on [ecstasy], writing notes for Terminator, and I was struck by Sting’s song [“Russians], that ‘I hope the Russians love their children too.’ And I thought, ‘You know what? The idea of a nuclear war is just so antithetical to life itself.’ That’s where the kid came from.”
The Abyss was an accidental Terminator 2 test run
Cameron apparently had two competing ideas about the villain in Terminator 2. He knew that he wanted to have the Terminator protect John Connor from some kind of threat, but he was torn about what that threat could be. Initially, he considered having another T-800 come back to get John, but that would mean a lot of green-screened Schwarzenegger fighting himself, which is kind of dull. He then came up with the idea of a “liquid robot,” a new kind of weapon that Skynet sent to ensure Connor would be stopped.
“[Skynet would] think long and hard about pulling the trigger on sending the experimental, one-off super weapon that they’ve created, that even they’re terrified to use. I didn’t call it the T-1000—it was just a liquid metal robot. And so now the thing that’s coming at you is much, much scarier than that other metal endoskeleton guy with his skin hanging off,” Cameron said.
Once Cameron had his liquid metal robot idea, he called up the folks at ILM, who he had just worked with on The Abyss, and asked them if it would even be possible. They confirmed that his idea was doable, even if it made the company heads a little frosty.
“Tom Sherak ran all distribution for Fox for years, and he said, ‘Who would have known that we made a $60 million movie that was just a test run for Terminator 2?’ They were still stinging a little bit from the fact that The Abyss broke even, just barely,” Cameron said.
Edward Furlong had never acted before
After getting Schwazenegger and Hamilton to sign on to reprise their roles, Cameron had his hands full trying to build a cast around them. The vital role of John Connor would go to a complete unknown, found by casting director Mali Finn at a Boys’ Club in Southern California. Furlong, who had never acted before, was initially dubious about being cast off the street.
When Finn asked Furlong if he had ever been in a film before, he replied: “My dad films my birthdays.”
Furlong nailed it on his very first audition, and Cameron made the final call to cast an unknown in the starring role.
“There was a pain. There was a surliness. There was an intelligence. It was all there,” Cameron said. “What you see in the movie was all there, it was just a question of pulling it out.”
Linda Hamilton got so ripped, Arnold was inspired to train harder
While Hamilton declined to be interviewed for the oral history, her costars and crewmates had plenty to say about her commitment to the role. Even Schwarzenegger was impressed by the shape Hamilton got into.
“It was kind of like with First Blood II, where Sly for the first time was absolutely ripped,” Schwarzenegger said. “The first thing you said was, ‘Holy shit’.”
Hamilton trained extensively on-set and off with a personal trainer and weapons expert Uzi Gal to get into peak physical shape for the role. She even learned how to load and unload weapons, clear a room, and verify kills, because Sarah Connor would have known those things.
“It inspired me to train hard,” Schwarzenegger said. “It was really one of the most amazing transformations all-around that I’ve ever seen in my 40-some years of acting.”
To learn more behind-the-scenes facts from Terminator 2, including some special effects secrets and the details of a Stan Winston motorcycle club, read the rest of the interviews over on The Ringer.
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