Could you imagine what the Terminator movies would be like without Arnold Schwarzenegger as the menacing, unstoppable killer cyborg from the future? It almost could’ve happened. Schwarzenegger’s new autobiography, Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story, describes meeting director James Cameron and, at first, turning down the title role. Thankfully, Schwarzenegger eventually joined James Cameron in revolutionizing cinematic history.
Originally, Schwarzenegger didn’t want to take a step back in his newly found film-acting career. He was just coming off the Conan the Barbarian and Conan the Destroyer films, so he didn’t want to take a role as a villain after playing the hero. But the Austrian-born actor was insistent with Cameron that whoever played the title role of the Terminator would “have to get it right” and become more machine than man. Here’s an excerpt for Schwarzenegger’s autobiography:
I told Cameron: ‘One thing that concerns me is that whoever is playing the terminator, if it’s O.J. Simpson or whoever, it’s very important that he gets trained the right way. Because if this guy is really a machine, he won’t blink when he shoots.
When he loads a new magazine into his gun, he won’t have to look because a machine will be doing it, a computer. When he kills, there will be absolutely no expression on the face, not joy, not victory, not anything. No thinking, no blinking, no thought, just action.
I told him how the actor would have to prepare for that. In the army, we’d learned to field strip and reassemble our weapons by feel. They’d blindfold you and make you take apart a muddy machinegun, clean it and put it back together.
‘That’s the kind of training he should do,’ I said. ‘Not too different from what I was doing in Conan.’ I described how I’d [practiced] for hours and hours learning to wield a broadsword and cut off people’s heads like it was second nature. When coffee came, Cameron said suddenly, ‘Why don’t you play the Terminator?’
‘No, no, I don’t want to go backward,’ I said.
The title role could’ve gone to football player turned actor O.J. Simpson, which would’ve changed the course of both of their careers. Simpson ultimately took the more comic roles in movies, whereas Schwarzenegger became an iconic Hollywood actor. Imagine, O.J. Simpson taking the role of a ruthless, maniacal, and heartless killer! Er…
For whatever it’s worth, Schwarzenegger did the right thing, took the job as the T-800 in The Terminator, and became a true cinematic icon. With The Terminator, Schwarzenegger became a household name, and the role paved the way for Schwarzenegger to appear in classic ’80s action films such as Commando, Predator, and The Running Man. And as for O.J. Simpson, well…you already know that story…