Terminator 2 Turns 30: Robert Patrick On The Greatest Sequel Of All Time
‘This isn’t gonna be easy. What we’re gonna do here, we’re gonna make movie history,’ Robert Patrick recalls James Cameron telling him on Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Thirty years later, ‘nothing has eclipsed it.’
It had been six years since Skynet sent Arnold Schwarzenegger back in time to murder Sarah Connor. The sequel’s impossible-to-keep secret was a monster play: Arnie the villain was becoming the hero, and a new Terminator was in town, the likes of which we’d really never seen before.
Ever since, three words have propelled from countless mouths; whether it’s Stan Winston the first day they met, a crew in awe of his near-superhuman speed or audiences slack-jawed by a lean, trailblazing force of liquid metal in the T-1000: ‘Robert motherf*cking Patrick.’
For me, it’s late afternoon in Manchester, England, huddled around a combo of laptop, notepad and dictaphone. For Patrick, it’s 7.00am in Deep Cove, Vancouver, where he’s filming James Gunn’s Peacemaker. ‘It’s just beautiful, man.’
After some compliments about my Scottish accent, his trips to Scotland and more about our apparent shared heritage – he’s a ‘Scots-Irish-American’ – he warmly says: ‘Alright big guy, we have a kindred spirit. We have a little bit of Scots between us. Let’s hear those questions.’
As Patrick knows too well, a rundown of the sentimental familiars is customary. ‘I had done a bunch of stuff growing up, some things I wanted to do didn’t work out. I ended up going to Hollywood, living in my car and trying to get into the business.
‘I ended up doing movies for Roger Corman, where James Cameron had also started working, and that was my break into the business… James knew if I could survive Roger Corman for multiple films, I must be pretty reliable, or I would have washed out there.’
He eventually got his SAG card, and as luck would have it, the promised land lay within one of his very first auditions. ‘I was doing a little play at the time, and I was really on my feet when the audition process happened. You just think about those events, how it all lined up; I ended up being the Terminator.’
The beauty of Patrick’s casting was the blank canvas. Originally, Cameron envisioned Michael Biehn’s Kyle Reese as the villainous, shape-shifting cyborg. One can’t imagine the whiplash of the ‘Guns N’ Roses hallway’ scene, as Patrick puts it, with that reveal. Producers were wary of it being too confusing, so the idea was axed. There were other contenders, including Billy Idol.
‘When I went to Stan Winston’s studio, they had drawings of Billy Idol, it looked like he was gonna be the guy. I think he got hurt riding a motorcycle, a Harley Davidson, and he couldn’t physically do the part, which created the vacuum for me to walk in and steal it,’ Patrick said, saying it was like ‘winning the Super Bowl… the highest high.’
‘Stan looked at me and said, ‘Robert motherf*cking Patrick.’ I’ll never forget that. It sort of summed it all up. Like, ‘Who the f*ck are you? You are about to be, you know, in one of the biggest movies of all time.”
And that it was. With a ballooned budget of more than $100 million, it was the most expensive movie ever made, coming as a result of pioneering VFX work.
But then came its worldwide box office domination: nearly $521 million, with eternal extras in merchandise, VHS, DVD, Blu-ray and 4K UHD sales and a cultural position most films daren’t dream of, even 30 years later. As Patrick said, it’s timeless.
‘It’s something I’m hugely proud of and feel very fortunate, I’m incredibly grateful I had the opportunity to be in the film. It’s a wonderful thing to know that opportunity was somehow created for ya, and it was a huge success.
‘You know, I knew when we were making it that it was gonna be a big success, but I don’t know if I knew 30 years down the road, the way things lined up, the film was so accessible to so many people. You can see it almost anywhere, it’s playing almost all the time anywhere, but it’s one of those films – when it’s playing, you wanna watch it. It’s so ingrained into the consciousness of popular culture.’
My first experience of T2 was at the age of five, when my dad took me to Woolworths to buy a DVD with my pocket money for the first time. Arnie’s silver face, adorning a chunky two-disc special edition case with a garish red £7.99! sticker glowed like the light at the start of a new tunnel. He agreed, and a few hours later, my mind was blown to smithereens, much like the T-1000’s liquid nitrogen mishap.
I tell Patrick this story, and he softly interrupts. ‘Okay, okay, let me get a grip on how old you are.’ 24, I tell him. ‘Oh my god. That’s just f*cking amazing.’
‘It was really some heavy stuff, it blows my mind. Now here I am talking to a guy who saw it on DVD when he was five years old. You’ve got your perception of it, I’ve got my own personal perception of how it folds into my life. It’s kind of trippy for me to think about the number of people who’ve seen the film and the reach it has.’
Patrick’s antagonist, a razor-jawed, all-staring cop, makes a huge impression no matter the viewer. Much like Arnie’s universality, even the most unenthused moviegoer could pick him out of a line-up, whether it’s from clips, images, memes or unquantifiable cultural osmosis.
I tell Patrick my favourite meme, attached below, which gets a big chuckle. ‘That’s one of my favourite ones. My real close friends send me that too, I enjoy that one, it really cracks me up. Of course, I say it’s true, that’s exactly what happened. It’s so funny. There’s some great stuff, people are so talented.’
Terminator 2 truly went global. ‘I remember I was down in South Africa doing a film, and I went to see the penguins. It was this old man working a ticket booth there, and he kind of dropped everything when he saw me and realised, ‘You’re the Terminator.’ You’re going… oh my god. It’s huge.
‘The cool thing is… it didn’t make Robert Patrick famous, the character is what’s famous. I think that’s a lot to do with the anonymity the actor playing the T-1000 had at the time. It certainly changed my life in the sense… you get the tension when you’re not used to getting the tension.’
When you think of the T-1000, the run comes to mind immediately; a borderline Olympic, terrifying stride. ‘I remember when it first came out, people would go like… the run! I could see them moving their hands, imitating the way it was. I don’t know why that is, why do you think that is?’
I try to explain how cool it was without fawning and saying it’s really cool. I fail. ‘That just blows my mind. I’m just some guy from f*cking Atlanta, Georgia. It just blows my mind you can have that kind of impact with something like that. But I get it, we worked really hard at it. I patterned myself after some sprinters and we wanted to make it look like it wasn’t too much exertion.’
Patrick took on a punishing regimen with Uzi Gal, an Israeli special forces commando. ‘He got me up in the morning and had me running on the beach on Santa Monica, he had me running in the ocean, taking the power of the ocean and meditated on that, and carried knapsacks of sand into the ocean waist deep, I’d be up to my neck, I was always in the water working out, starting at like 4.00am. We started working on the running and specifically the sprint. I got so f*cking fast, I couldn’t believe how fast I was.’
One story has been well-publicised: when he first pursued Edward Furlong’s John Connor leaving the Galleria on his motorbike, he actually caught up with him on foot. An incredible feat, and people wanted to be just as fast, much like how people copy Tom Cruise’s run.
At first, Patrick felt a bit embarrassed by it. ‘I was kinda like… is something wrong with the run? I thought it was perfect for the character. Maybe when it first came out I had a hard time with people enjoying it so much. When I go back 30 years ago, I wasn’t prepared for how people were gonna react. I hadn’t ever really had people comment on my work before, it was all new to me. I sat there listening to what people were saying, and you had to take it in.’
Some may also think of the cameos in Wayne’s World and Last Action Hero: in the former, he stops Mike Myer’s titular airhead in his car; in the latter, he’s seen in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment outside a police station. ‘It became evident this movie had become part of the zeitgeist… I think early on, we picked up that this was gonna be an astounding thing that was happening.’
He recalls sitting in the Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles with Wayne’s World‘s director Penelope Spheeris and his wife Barbara on opening night. ‘I remember the [cameo] got one of the biggest laughs, if not the biggest laugh in the film. I remember thinking… f*ck me.’
Arnie contacted him after that, requesting he appear in John McTiernan’s meta-movie, which he gladly obliged – for Patrick, Arnie had been a hero for years. ‘His charisma, his bodybuilding, his personality. He was somebody I knew, and I respected him and James enough that I didn’t want to let them down, so physically I wanted to be there and do whatever they wanted me to do.’
During their first on-screen fight, with the pair slamming each other into the walls, Patrick tells me Arnie had asked Cameron to pick him up and throw him around like the Hulk does Loki. The director said no, but he giggles reminiscing about their drywall-tussling.
‘I’ll be honest man, [laughing] I was nervous. Come on, I’m standing next to the biggest box office star in the world, and I gotta make this stuff believable man, if it’s not believable, the whole movie is gonna fall apart. There was a certain amount of pressure on me like that.’
One of the most heart-warming indicators of his inbound legacy came from the late Bill Paxton. ‘I think about him at the Terminator 2 premiere. I remember when it was premiering, I went and saw Billy running down the aisle, he came over and started pushing me, saying, ‘Hey man, congratulations. This is so big, this is gonna be so big for you.’ Just a real sweet sort of way of introducing yourself, I remember that. Amazing guy.’
Patrick tried to catch up with Cameron after Paxton passed away in 2017, to no avail. ‘I couldn’t get past James’ security to go and see him. I wasn’t able to get in there. It was a weird day. They said, ‘Well, you don’t have an appointment.’ I was like, ‘Okay, yeah.’’ He phoned back the next day to explain. ‘Yeah, it was a missed opportunity.’
As for the rest of the cast, Patrick sees them from time to time, mostly at fan conventions. He reunited with Arnie back in 2015, ‘we took some pictures, social media had fun with it.’
While they may not be close chums, the undying popularity of T2 – and its impenetrable CGI, even today – keeps its presence alive. That, and the middling returns of the later instalments: Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines; Terminator: Salvation; Terminator: Genisys; and Terminator: Dark Fate, the latter of which serves as a sequel to T2. Nothing has ever come close.
‘I think there’s only one common denominator between Terminator and T2… well, there’s two or three: James Cameron is the director, that’s the big thing, and they have Arnold and Linda. The movies following that, it’s just Arnold with different people. I can see why they want to keep the franchise alive like that, because it’s a great franchise and it’s a role that means a lot to him. It’s just like Stallone with Rocky, Arnold wants to keep Terminator going, it’s a great vehicle for him.
‘But when you start getting other people directing what was essentially James Cameron’s passion, that’s where you start to see that no matter how much talent they have, like Jonathan Mostow and Alan Taylor, but it’s James Cameron’s material man. It’s a tall f*cking order to try and do it better than him, he’s one of the most talented directors in the history of film, he really is.’
While he agrees ‘they’re not doing anything as monumental as T2‘, he’s clearly hesitant to punch down. ‘I’m just aware I’m a very lucky… it’s a lifetime as an actor to have something like that on your resume, and you pulled it off, and people still enjoy it 30 years later. That’s an achievement to be proud of, and I know it is for James.’
Following T2, Cameron went on to do True Lies, Titanic and Avatar, some of the biggest movies in film history. ‘He just gets bigger and bigger, pushing and pushing the envelope, and that’s what he is. He’s that guy, he’s a real outlaw, he’s a guy that walks to his own drive. He pushes himself, we all benefit from that through the films and the experiences he creates.’
As our interview approaches the hour mark, I ask him an overt journalistic question: ‘Is there anything you can tell me about Terminator 2 you’ve never spoken about before?’
He pauses. ‘Boy, that’s probably one of the best questions I’ve had asked of me. I’m dead serious. I mean you gotta think about it: when the movie came out 30 years ago, that was my first press junket. Now, 30 years later, I can’t tell you the number of interviews I’ve done.
‘When this request for an interview came in, I said, sure, I’ll do this. But you kinda go… god, how many times can I talk about this movie? I guess the answer is I can talk about it forever, because it’s just gonna forever be there. What can I talk about, about the movie, that I’ve never talked about… that’s an interesting f*cking question.’
Ultimately, there was nothing new to be shed. But that’s okay; our call wasn’t meant to be a fishing expedition. It was primarily a celebration of a movie so important to me, maybe you and millions of others. Patrick is just grateful people love it so much.
‘It’s really one of those movies. I think about that… it’s the backbone of my entire life. I mean, if I hadn’t been cast in that movie, god knows what my acting career would have been. Really. There’s no guarantee it would have worked out. I could have still been a struggling actor. Of all the great things that have happened to me in my life, it all comes down to that film and the huge sense of gratitude and thanks I have to James Cameron for taking a shot at casting me.
‘It doesn’t matter what I do or what I’ve done, the lead is the T-1000. It’s the thing that made me famous. The reference to me is always Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Nothing has eclipsed the legacy… it’s a magical thing.’
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