Australian actor Jason Clarke has been working his way up the Hollywood ranks for years now, with small roles in Farscape and Death Race eventually leading to important parts in Zero Dark Thirty, White House Down and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. But this summer, he’s poised to make his biggest splash yet in Terminator Genisys, taking over the role of John Connor from Eddie Furlong, Nick Stahl and Christian Bale.
But there’s a twist. Spoiler alert for those who don’t watch trailers, but Paramount surprised us all by revealing that in Terminator Genisys, John Connor isn’t the savior of the human race as we all once believed. Actually, he’s the bad guy, and has been corrupted by Skynet into a half-man, half-nanobot cyborg. It’s a strange new wrinkle in the Terminator mythos, and we talked a lot about it when he called me over the phone on the weekend before the film’s U.S. release.
What follows is our conversation about John Connor’s journey, why he might actually have been right to align himself with Skynet, and what his mom thinks about him fighting Arnold Schwarzenegger in a major summer blockbuster. Enjoy!
CraveOnline: So you got to play John Connor AND the villain. Did they tell you both of those things at the same time, or did they only tell you about one of them at first?
Jason Clarke: [Laughs.] No, they didn’t tell me anything. I read the script and came across it in the same way you do when you watch it. Reading, reading, reading, okay, what the fuck?! That was basically it. Hang on! That was my experience when I read it.
So did you have to audition for this or…?
No, they offered it to me.
It came to me from Megan Ellison and David Ellison [producers] to begin with. I’d done Zero Dark [Thirty] with Megan.
Had you talked about doing other projects at the time?
We’d been kind of looking for something with both of them to do, you know, and this one kind of always interested me. This was before I read the script. I just thought, I think there’s something in Terminator that if it’s done right could be good.
So you were a longtime Terminator fan, I take it?
What was your first experience watching… I assume it’s the first Terminator, but maybe not…?
I was in high school then and it was a surprise hit. It was a surprise. I didn’t have any expectations of the movie. I just went with a bunch of friends and went “Wow, that was fucking great.” Just seeing this small action sci-fi film and going, “Well, that was actually pretty amazing.”
Does it weird you out thinking about it now, realizing that whole movie was about giving birth to you?
[Laughs.] When you put it like that it does, yes.
In your estimation, has John Connor been corrupted by SkyNet or just convinced by it?
That’s a very good question, and you know what? That’s kind of what people should ask. Not to dodge it or avoid it or whatever, I just don’t want to put anything on it. That’s exactly the question: has he been corrupted or convinced?
That’s something that would be very worthwhile exploring in the next one, if we ever do one, because that’s like Gandalf going down with… I always imagined John Connor and SkyNet in that battle, you know when Gandalf goes down in Lord of the Rings into the Mines of Moria with the Balrog? Did you ever read that?
He goes down and falls and finally comes back as Gandalf the White. I always imagine that John’s gone on a big journey and that, what you just asked then, is exactly the question.
So you get to be made entirely out made out of nanobots. I imagine you probably didn’t get to see a lot of that stuff until the movie was nearly completed.
Right at the very end. They were building that technology up until the last week, building all that stuff all the time. They showed me a picture of what they hoped, just my head at the very beginning. I was just like… because it is very detailed. You know, you can feel it. I saw and knew nothing while we were shooting. We discussed what was possible and then we can of laid it down.
In your head, how does that work? Does John feel everything normally, or does John feel like billions of little tiny pieces.
I think John’s feeling it as he goes along. I think that we discussed that John’s not quite aware while the computer is still infecting him. It’s a growing, living thing which is still ongoing. I don’t think he’s seen himself properly, no. He’s not aware of the possibilities of what he can and can’t do, or the limits.
Tell me about Jai Courtney and Emilia Clarke, playing your parents even though they’re younger than you. That’s gotta be weird.
Yeah, it is. It’s weird. She’s small and he’s tall! [Laughs.]
It all added up to you! You’re just right.
I’ve been watching [Terminator] 2 again and I love the whole thing of Eddie Furlong in 2 where he hasn’t liked his mother, or he hasn’t had time for his mother or considered his mother. And then he realizes what she’s done, you know, and the reason she sacrificed and been through. It always struck me and gave me a lot to think about, when I come back after the journey I’ve been on that we haven’t yet seen. I come to my mother with an idea of a new world and a new way to be, and ask her to come with me.
Did you think about Terminator 3 at all, and the journey John went on in that film, or are we ignoring Terminator 3?
We’re ignoring 3.
I kind of like Terminator 3…
Absolutely. That’s not a comment on it, good or bad. That’s just a creative decision on where we pick up our story and what worked for me, in terms of trying to do justice to what they’ve written.
When you were reading it was there a particular moment or scene where you thought, “I’ve got to get this right, this is going to be a big deal?”
Well, yes, when he comes back up after being shot. That was always kind of like the ignition part for the movie, isn’t it? For where we pick up our story. That was a key moment for everybody, myself, the studio…
How did you decide to play that? That could have been very threatening, for example. What was your mentality behind it?
My take on it was, this is my moment where the audience and Sarah and Dad need to… I need to give them as much of a conflict and a problem as I can, to make them want to follow me. When you think about technology and where it’s going, part of this has got to make sense. It does make sense, you know? Why should I keep trying to save the world when the world just wants to invite it back in?
So here I am, I’m free, I’m alive, I’m not just a total machine. I’m part human here. This inevitable. Why don’t you guys, instead of closing your minds off, open them up for a second and think about what we could possibly achieve now before you just start running off and shooting me?
You know, you’ve convinced me. I think John is now the hero.
Absolutely. Who’s to say that John Connor is still not the savior of mankind? They probably pointed the finger at Noah when he said only two of each can come on.
I’m glad we cracked this! Before I go, I want to know, since you kind of lived the dream… what is it like fighting Arnold Schwarzenegger?
[Laughs.] It was a great, dude. I sent my Mom a video. Yeah, it was one of things where you take a little video and send it to Mom.
What was her response?
“Oh my GOD, I can’t believe my son’s doing that!” [Laughs.]