Gender and sexual stereotypes get broken down in a variety of ways, and by a variety of people. One bulldozer in the annals of cinematic history: actress Linda Hamilton.
Hamilton’s big break out came in 1984 when she played Sarah Connor in The Terminator for director James Cameron. Hamilton’s performance–including some amazing physical feats–helped elevate her profile as an actress, and raised the bar on female action in the movies. She transitioned to television with the cult TV series Beauty and the Beast before reprising the role of Sarah Connor in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. The film became a worldwide sensation in part thanks to its groundbreaking effects, as well as a revelatory performance by Hamilton who’s athleticism in the film redefined female beauty and sexuality for all time. Hamilton became something of a sex symbol for lesbians, and a popular badass woman among gay men.
In subsequent years, Hamilton declined to return to the Terminator franchise, focusing instead on smaller projects like A Mother’s Prayer, a telefilm about a woman dying of AIDS. She also became a staunch advocate for mental health awareness, having been diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 40.
Now 63, Hamilton makes a triumphant return to action and the Terminator franchise with Terminator: Dark Fate for director Tim Miller (of Deadpool fame). The film sees Hamilton return to her signature character of Sarah Connor in a redux that continues the continuity of the film series after Terminator 2 and ignores the subsequent (and let’s be honest, dreadful) sequels.
Queerty won some time with Connor to discuss her new film, her character, her advocacy, and her popularity with queer audiences.
So congratulations. I really enjoyed the film. I wasn’t sure what to expect this far into the franchise.
But if it gets you work, I’m all for it.
If it works. It’s worth it.
And it does.
Good. I haven’t seen it yet.
I’m seeing it with all the Hollywood people at the LA premiere. I didn’t want to see it rough, with all the black spots for visual effects. So I was like, I’m waiting.
Well it’s been almost 30 years since you last played this character. How’d they get you back?
Well, it’s not like they were after me for all the others. They came to me with the third one, and I just was very incorruptible at that point because it was the same old Sarah Connor, but the element of surprise was gone. And I don’t want to do the same damn thing every time I play it. So what brought me back was, for one, Jim Cameron. And two, the passage of time. I had 28 years to fill in for myself and that would give me like a whole new place to launch from. The fact that the mission had changed was also something new.
What I do enjoy about these movies is the transformation the characters go through, and the evolution of characters. Which, I think, is kind of wonderful and rare in this kind of franchise. It’s not just the same character. The difference between one and two was so dramatic. And I thought with 28 years in between, the difference between two and three has got to be pretty dramatic too.
So then, let’s start there and see where we can build.
Were you nervous about the physical demands of the role this time out? I mean, I’m in my 30s, and I’d be terrified if someone handed me a bazooka.
I know. Yes, I was. I trained for a year, and I injured myself. I have bursitis, and I just pushed too much. You learn your limits. I was with a very amazing trainer—the best guy in the world for me at my age. I love him. He’s Venus Williams’s strength and conditioning coach. Quite the character.
Oh my gosh.
I got a spot with him because Serena was pregnant. I live in New Orleans, so it’s not run-of-the-mill everyone here is a trainer with a perfect body. I [was in] New Orleans going how the hell will I do this?!
But it just so happened that the name Mackie Shellstone kept coming up. He’s a legend. He’s been doing workout stuff on television for like 40 years. He’s quite the name. So Mackie was really there for me and invented a world I could not escape from for a year. And its wasn’t just Mackie. The Pilates teacher, the foods that were delivered, the nutritionist, the physical therapist—he scheduled my entire week for a year. I’d try to buy myself out of physical therapy…
So we were pushing the weights and I hurt my shoulder. So I started injured.
Oh dear lord.
And at some point Mackie kind of forgot that I wasn’t an army ranger. He’d just started working with army rangers, and he’s so hysterical. We called him “The Mackinator” for a while. He’s the most amazing person, and I think he kind of forgot that I’m like 62 and have a bad back. I’ve had a horrible bad back for 30 years—like 60 days a year in bed where I couldn’t move.
For years and years. So we had to work around. By the end, he was so proud of me. We were doing high kicks over the football guys at the football field at the high school. And I was like I can’t believe I’m doing this. I shouldn’t be doing this. So I did it. And he said “Let’s run over there.” And I started running and my hips locked up and I fell down and my back was hurt for 3 months, until just before I started the movie. I was like we made it 11 months!
So I was worried, yes. There were some days I had to self limit with the stunts and even with the weapons. I’d say “Ok kids, this is enough for me today.” You’re the only one who knows your limits.
I’m glad you mention the toll it takes on your body.
What’s so remarkable about Sarah Connor, and indeed about you as an actress, is the physical transformation from one to two, and now two to three-ish.
Whatever we are calling it. Three for you. It’s so crazy because this series has always, in my mind, been about Sarah. It’s not about the damn robot.
It’s this woman in this incredible situation. That’s part of why this movie works.
I know. I think they kind of lost track of that. Not that it’s Sarah Connor—but what made the first two work was that they were very character-centric films. As Tim Miller says, you can blow up a thousand buildings, but if you don’t know who’s inside the buildings, who cares? So we did really try to bring this back to a smaller cast of characters you can care about.
That’s why it works. So, we’re an LGBTQ site. I don’t know how aware of this you are, or if you are hearing this for the first time: the character Sarah Connor has a queer following, as do you personally. The lesbians think she’s hot…
The gay men, a lot of them, myself included, say “That’s my Mom.”
The first time I saw Terminator 2 was the first time I feel like I ever saw my mom in a film. I think mom felt the same way, not that she could handle a bazooka. But she was protective. She was athletic. She wanted Linda Hamilton arms.
I know. We make that one word: LindaHamiltonArms.
So were you aware of this?
Slightly. I have a lot of good friends who are lesbian and gay. So it has come up.
It is awesome!
The other cool thing about that…so as queer people, we have somewhat unique perspective on gender in that we all spurn gender roles or stereotypes on some level.
One of the cool things about Sarah—and this keeps coming up in a lot of interviews recently, particularly with genre films like horror or sci-fi—is that the great heroes and heroines often transcend gender. Like Sarah. Like Ripley in Alien. Like Luke Skywalker. Like Neo & Trinity in The Matrix, or Laurie in Halloween. They can be feminine: nurturing, loving, feminine. But they can also be traditionally masculine at the same time: cunning, physical, bold and brave. Was this something you ever discussed with Tim Miller or James Cameron? Does that affect your approach to the role?
Not in terms of breaking thru stereotypes. I don’t really get outside the character and think how the world will respond to her. All I do is just plug in and believe and fill in the blanks in the script. I really rarely step outside and say “How will the world respond to this?” I was dumbfounded by the attention my body got after the second one.
Isn’t that crazy? But it wasn’t vanity. I didn’t build that body for people. It never occurred to me that people would go I want those arms! That floored me. It sounds naive, but that was only a small part of what I did for that character. It sort of eclipsed everything else I did—the form. But I am very proud of this one, not in terms of my character, the whole female empowerment thing. But really, those characters could be played by men as easily as they could be women. It wasn’t like a real attempt to make a statement about women, it just happened to be three actresses, three good actresses and we just make an amazing triangle. The fact that it was Mackenzie and Natalia, as we went along, I didn’t have to do much. I singled Natalia out when we tested. There were five actresses—none of whom were US actresses, they were very unknown. After Natalia tested and left the room, I looked at time like bingo. She was the one that came in and put a dirty t-shirt on. She was so prepared yet so beautiful. She’s an amazing actress.
Mackenzie & I think there are maybe five actresses in the world who can do what she does. You don’t see her process at all when you’re prepping, but then the tear rolls down the face at exactly the same time in every take!
Oh my gosh.
Like, 7 people in the world can do that. All the time, we’d be like how are you doing that? We just elevated each other’s game. So I don’t really think in terms of gender. I think in terms of character.
Do you feel like right now—I think Jamie Lee Curtis holds the record for a biggest opening by a woman over 50 from the Halloween redo last year.
[Hamilton mouths the words “I hope I beat it.”]
Would you rule out more action? I think a lot of us would gladly sit through a female Expendables.
Wouldn’t that be fun?
You, Angela Bassett, Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Yeoh, Jamie Lee…
We all have our picks. Who would be the women that would line up to be The Expendables? I actually love doing action adventure. I love doing action. I love the physicality. I love having to act and do the physicality on top of that and under that. I love to really use my body.
That informs a character?
Oh yeah. Yep. I wouldn’t have ever thought that was the way my career was going to go, but I really love that. We had to do reshoots on the plane and they were sliding me in a harness at full speed down an incline. I had to roll over, but you have to control the roll over and then pick up your weapon to come up fighting. Finally, Tim said “Linda, you have to stop smiling.”
I didn’t even know I was smiling. I was just like again daddy! It was so much fun. I love it. They throw me in this harness. And you know, if you turn your body too fast, you start spinning and it doesn’t work. I love those challenges. I absolutely would love to do more.
I sure hope so. So last question, and this is big. You’re somebody that has been very open about your own struggles with mental and emotional health.
It’s probably the most important work I’ve ever done.
This is an issue that really affects the LGBTQ community. We have outrageous suicide statistics, particularly for younger people. So thank you. Because it makes a difference when someone in the spotlight is open about this. Then a kid can say someone they admire, you know: “Linda Hamilton got through this. And I know I can too.”
And I speak from personal experience.
You’re welcome. That just…
[She takes my hands in hers]
It makes me want to put my head down and weep.
Don’t do that. They’ll never have me back!
I wish I could say I’d done more, but I’m the one in my family that didn’t do anything with her life.
They’re all medical people and lawyers. But, just to speak up. It was inadvertent. I never thought I’d put myself out there. It was an accidental mention in an AP interview. Then of course, the AP picked it up and everybody else was like what just happened? Then suddenly I got to use my voice. I don’t have a filter, so I just say everything. So, of course, I was like I was just diagnosed…so I didn’t really ever intend to be that person. But I’m glad that it’s me. I’m glad people come to me and say “Let’s talk about this.” Man oh man.
It really makes a difference. Never doubt that.
And I’ve been living my happiest life for the past 20 years. I just want you to know, when you get through it, it’s beautiful. And I truly would go through it all again to get to be where I am today. It’s such freedom. I’m so liberated. It’s lovely.
I don’t get lost up here anymore.
[She points to her head]
I’m finally able to, with the medicine, apply the thousands and thousands of hours of learning. I’m a real hard worker, and I should probably have two doctorates for the amount of money I’ve put into my own well being. Trying to change my behaviors. You know what for 40 years, it was only me in my head. And it was still too crowded. That’s how I describe it. And to be able to pull myself out of it…to wake up one day and say “It’s never going to be about me again.” I pulled back. It’s not about me. It’s about the world. It’s about community. It’s about making the world a better place. Giving. Being there. And being here.
That’s wonderful. Anything else you want to add?
I’ll give you a hug!
I’ll take it.