When James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger re-teamed for Terminator 2: Judgment Day, they set out to make that rare sequel that would be a serious upgrade over the first film. Those efforts paid off: premiering in theaters 30 years ago on July 3, 1991, T2 banked over $200 million in the U.S. alone — more than double the gross of the 1984 original — and achieved new heights in cinematic action and special effects.
But it was Linda Hamilton who provided the dramatic idea that really kicked the movie up a notch. "It was all inspired by Linda really," Cameron told Yahoo Entertainment in 2019. "I called her and said, 'Hey, we're thinking of doing another Terminator. And she said, 'I want to be crazy.'"
Watch our career-spanning interview with Cameron below, or needle-drop to 3:26 for his Judgment Day memories.
To be clear, Hamilton was speaking of her alter ego, Sarah Connor, who belongs on the Mount Rushmore of action heroines alongside Sigourney Weaver's Ellen Ripley and Charlize Theron's Furiosa. In the original Terminator, Sarah was an ordinary young woman who suddenly discovered her extraordinary future as one of the humanity's saviors — along with her son, John — following the machine-made apocalypse. Hamilton understood that dealing with that knowledge would have a profound impact on how Sarah lived the rest of her pre-Judgment Day life, and wanted that to be incorporated into the sequel.
"I said, 'I can do that — I'll put you in a mental hospital,'" Cameron remembered about how the rest of his initial conversation with Hamilton unfolded. She said, "'Perfect. That's what I want.'"
The seed of an idea eventually blossomed into what may be T2's best sequence: John Connor (Edward Furlong) leading his cyborg pal (Schwarzenegger) on a mission to spring his mother from a Los Angeles asylum, even as the shape-shifting T-1000 (Robert Patrick) attempts to end the Connor bloodline once and for all. But even with all the firepower that Cameron throws at the scene, it's Hamilton's intense commitment to portraying Sarah's fragile mental state that resonates the most.
"It had to be that she wasn't really crazy," explained Cameron, who married Hamilton six years after T2's release in 1997. (They divorced in 1999.) "She still knew where her value systems was, but she manifested as insane. She has to have been changed by what she experienced. ... She knows that basically 99 percent of the human population of the world is going to be destroyed. What would it be like to walk through life knowing that everybody you're interacting with only has a couple years to live. It takes a toll."
Sarah Connor wasn't the only character who underwent a major change in between movies. In the first Terminator, Schwarzenegger's T-800 is the unkillable cyborg boogeyman of Cameron's nightmares. But T2 flipped the script and made him the Connors' protector — an approach that Schwarzenegger singled out for praise in a 2015 interview with Yahoo Entertainment.
Watch our Role Recall with Arnold Schwarzenegger below or jump to 5:06 for his T2 stories
"I thought it was a terrific idea to make the character go from an evil villain to being a protector," Schwarzenegger said. "The relationship was really well written. John Connor always tried to have me adopt human characteristics, and it brought a lot of emotional elements into the whole thing."
Cameron and Hamilton notably stepped away from the Terminator franchise after Judgment Day, although Schwarzenegger continued to reprise his role in 2003's Terminator: Rise of the Machines, 2009's Terminator: Salvation (where his likeness was used for a brief cameo) and 2015's Terminator: Genisys. But when Cameron was wooed back to executive produce 2019's Terminator: Dark Fate, directed by Tim Miller, Hamilton was once again one of the first people he called.
"What I did was I basically got Tim and Linda together," he said in 2019. "I strongly recommended it, because I thought that fans are going to want to see her again, and they’re going to want to see the real Sarah Connor and what time and dealing with these tragic futures has done to her."
Terminator 2: Judgement Day is currently streaming on Netflix and Hulu.
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