Harrison Abbott chats with Terminator: Dark Fate star Gabriel Luna…
Touted as an overdue comeback for the seminal action franchise, Terminator: Dark Fate will soon be hitting theatres across the globe. And right from the off, it seems to have all the requisite ingredients for a course correction. Not only does it feature the iconic old guard – with original creator James Cameron and star Linda Hamilton pitching in for the first time since 1992 – but it also injects new blood into proceedings, with Deadpool helmer Tim Miller taking on directing duties and Mackenzie Davis (of Blade Runner and Black Mirror fame) headlining as a kick-ass heroine. In short, there’s plenty to get excited about here – from the triumphant return of R-rating, to the explosive set-pieces, right through to the long-awaited (and James Cameron approved) continuation of T2’s storyline.
Of course, as has become tradition for the series, they’re also upping the stakes by introducing a brand new, state-of-the-art Terminator model, one that outclasses its forbears in every conceivable respect. Played with icy determination by Gabriel Luna (Agents of Sheild’s Ghost Rider), the Rev-9 is a quicker, sleeker and all-round more lethal antagonist, so much so that it even poses a threat to the combined forces of Sarah Conner and the formidable T-800.
At a London press junket, we caught up with the incredibly down-to-earth Luna, who was still wrapping his head around (i.e. geeking out over) the fact that he’s one of the faces of this massive-scale, international blockbuster. Affable, lively and visibly eager to talk about his work, he couldn’t be further from his villainous on-screen persona and was an absolute delight to interview. Plus he was apparently very keen to show off his Arnie impression, which is always fun.
To start things off, I was wondering if you could talk a little about the Rev-9 and how it evolves upon the terminators we’ve seen previously?
The Rev-9 is the latest in anti-personnel technology. What makes it so special is that it’s basically a hybrid of the T-800 and the T-1000 models, but with some extra modifications to give it a unique edge. So for example, it has the [T-800’s] endoskeleton, only now it’s made from a carbon-based alloy, which basically means that it’s a bit lighter and has more points of articulation. Plus its matte black which just looks cooler. Then, on top of that, it’s [coated] in the same liquid metal substance as the T-1000, giving it all of the mimicry and shapeshifting abilities.
Of course, the real thing that sets it apart is that it can split itself into those two separate components [each of which] will then fight independently. I think that’s really exciting because it’s something we haven’t seen before. So there’s all that cool stuff, and then just the fact that it’s played by a pretty good looking guy [Laughs].
It acts more personable than the older terminators as well. Especially when it goes incognito, it’s less stiff and cold. I guess the idea is that the technology has come a long way on the infiltration side of things?
Exactly! In my mind that was the biggest development. You know, it makes sense for the Rev-9 to be charming because that would help it get the information it needs, access places it shouldn’t, and close-in on its target without setting off any alarms. That’s the whole point of it being an infiltration unit after all!
So in the scenes where it’s simulating human behaviour, I tried not to approach it like a machine impersonating a human. Instead, I came at it as if I were playing any other character. The only difference was that I didn’t blink, that’s the single flaw in its [otherwise] perfect disguise.
Never. Not even when I’m shooting an MP5 or an AR15.
Did you have to train yourself to be able to control that?
Nah, I just blinked as many times as I could before we started rolling, but it did take a lot of concentration, especially when using firearms. Because you just can’t anticipate how loud they will be, you know? Oh, and my friend, Gabourey Sidibe (Precious, Empire, American Horror Story), gave me a really useful tip as well. She was talking about how to play dead convincingly and mentioned this trick she uses where she wiggles her little toe and focuses on that.
Did it work?
Absolutely. And now you won’t be able to get that image out of your head!
It will be hard to unsee.
Whenever you see me firing a gun in the movie, you’ll know that I’m just thinking about wiggling my little toe [Laughs].
Earlier you mentioned that the Rev-9 can split into two autonomous parts. One half is the liquid metal component, which is disguised as a human, and the other is the classic endoskeleton. Obviously you play the former, but I was wondering if you had any input into how the latter was portrayed?
Actually, whenever you see the Endoskeleton that’s me in mocap pyjamas.
Oh awesome, I didn’t know that! So was the intention to make the two sides feel consistent with one another then?
That was certainly the idea. To ensure that there was a proper connective tissue there.
It’s weird, doing all that [mocap] in the studio kind of reminded me of stage acting. As if I was doing a play or something. I wasn’t delivering any lines, I wasn’t interacting with anybody else, and I barely had anything physical to reference. In the absence of all those things, I had to rely on my imagination and make full use […] of my body, rather than just the bits above my neck. I’m really grateful that Tim gave me that opportunity and let me stretch myself like that.
I’ve been asking everybody what it was like to work alongside the original cast, but you’ve got the special distinction of actually going toe-to-toe with Arnold Schwarzenegger. I can only imagine how scary that must have been.
[Laughs] Sure. At first, I was all like: ‘’That’s Arnold Fucking Schwarzenegger!’’, and to be honest that feeling never really went away, but we did become good friends in the end. We had such a great time doing all the training in Budapest and just hanging out together.
Yet, sure enough, the time eventually came for us to do our fight scenes. And before I know it, I’m there impaling him with both my arms, staring him down and giving him death eyes. God, I was trying so hard to keep a straight face then, but the little kid inside of me was screaming: ‘’Holy Fuck Dude!’’ [Laughs] As I said, you never get used to it. He’s like a historical figure, you know? Up there with Ghengis Khan and Abraham Lincoln.
I read somewhere that you did all your training and working out with him too?
I mean, most of the time he would just do his thing and I would do mine. But he might come over and give me a few adjustments here and there and he would always offer encouragement. [Impersonating Schwarzenegger]: ‘’Look at this guy, he’s getting ripped!’’
Once he crept up behind me while I was doing some cable pulls and you know, I couldn’t see him, but I heard his voice in the background. He was talking to my trainer saying: ‘’Look at him! Look at what you’ve created!’’ [Laughs]
So then I turn around and Arnold starts asking me to do all these different body-builder poses and I have no idea what the fuck he’s talking about! He’s throwing out these names and I didn’t know any of them. Luckily Adam, my trainer, was on hand to sneakily demonstrate them to me so that I could copy.
So Arnold didn’t notice you were mimicking your trainer?
Nah, he just went ‘’very nice’’. That’s what [Arnold] says when he approves. ‘’Very nice’’.
On the subject of you impaling Arnie, could you talk about your spikey arms? Are they CG, or did you have an old-school prop whilst filming?
The blades started out as foam, but the problem was they kept breaking. So our props department – who are all brilliant craftspeople by the way – built them again out of a completely new material. I don’t know exactly what it was, but it felt more plasticy whilst being just as flexible and lightweight.
It was really great having that, because I liked to practice between takes and it just helps having something to hold, you know? They 3D-printed a bunch of them because they knew I’d always be yelling ‘’where are my stabby hands?’’
Given that this is a Terminator movie, there’s a fair share of spectacular action sequences and stunts. It’s probably a tough call, but do you have a favourite?
I love the Zero-G sequence. And the underwater battle. And the factory fight. And the highway chase. So everything really [Laughs]. Honestly, it feels like one big, interconnected ride and I’m so excited for people to see all of it.
That’s fair enough! Last question: is it a surreal experience seeing yourself on the big screen, as a Terminator, with all the finished effects?
Now that you mention it, I saw the film last week with all the bells and whistles attached and I was beyond impressed with what Industrial Light & Magic did. I mean they know what they’re doing, they’re ILM, but I was still overjoyed to see what they came up with for our movie. There wasn’t a single moment where the effects looked bad or where they took me out of the experience. I thought it was so well done.
Even the de-aging technique used at the beginning was amazing. Probably the best I’ve ever seen. I’m not just saying that because it’s our film either, I really mean it.
Looks like our times up. It was really cool talking to you man, thank you so much.
No it was pleasure!
Terminator: Dark Fate is in cinemas from Wednesday, 23rd October.
Many thanks to Gabriel Luna for taking the time for this interview.