On the day after the season premiere of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, I thought I was just going to the set to interview the cast of my favorite show. I didn't know I would get to join the human resistance in the fight against Skynet. Displayed ominously next to the breakfast tent were a rusted out car chassis and a dumpster. I would find out later what they were for.
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles has so much to blow up, they even need the media's help getting it all exploded. The show's special effects crew rigged up a few safety tests for visiting journalists to engage. They normally do these tests themselves to make sure the explosions are safe for rolling cameras, but this time they figured they'd let writers put their hands on the triggers.
The town square of the Warner Bros. backlot used to be the main outdoor setting of Gilmore Girls. Now it has a drastically different tone as the prop masters rigged a dumpster and charred automobile body for action. One journalist got to fire spark caps from a high powered rifle. Another got to trigger the bullet hits on the car frame. My trigger actually ignited the trunk of the car in an explosion that rocked star Brian Austin Green.
Even though he plays hardened future fighter Derek Reese on the show, he reeled at the fireworks, claiming they never have explosions that big on the show. When the episode with an exploding car airs, know that Dish Magazine set off the test run of that effect.
Though Green was not filming on the day of the press tour, he just came to meet with us, eat some breakfast and blow stuff up. Derek will be a faithful stalwart in the continuing journey to save humanity from the robot holocaust of the future.
"He seems pretty insistent on getting through the missions to accomplish what he wants to accomplish," said Green. "He doesn't spend so much time reflecting. He seems to hate it. He's very goal oriented."
Previously famous for playing geeky David Silver on the original Beverly Hills 90210, Green joined Terminator last season as a surprise guest star. Fans were skeptical about a 90210 kid playing a tough guy, and Green thanks them for giving him the chance.
"It really meant a lot to me when people liked what I was doing and came around and slowly started to forget about 90210 and now accept me in this. It's honestly the reason why I'm here today. If fans didn't like the character and they didn't respond the way they did, I'd be doing the new 90210."
The new 90210 show airs on The CW and is no competition for Green and Terminator. "They're two completely different shows. I'm really happy that on their premiere night they did really well. I think it's great for them. It's great for The CW, and I hope they have 10 years. I hope they have a really good run."
Meanwhile, Derek, who is John Connor's uncle, is trying to fill the father's role. "I'm kind of doing what fathers tend to do, which is, I have a six-year-old son myself, and I'm always pushing him to grow up and to understand the world so that he can do well on his own. Moms always want to coddle and keep their young as little and young and babyish as possible for as long as they can. They want to hold onto them, so I think it's an important relationship for John. He's tired of being treated like a boy. He's tired of being treated like he can't think for himself and take care of himself. He's tired of being taken care of. Derek doesn't necessarily do that. Derek will put him in some situations and force him to get out on his own which is good."
Sarah Connor, played by Lena Headey, wasn't blowing anything up today. Her scene took place in a psychiatrist's office where she sought counseling for her nightmares. Obviously, she had to speak vaguely, since she couldn't just tell the shrink that she's traveling with a robot from the future trying to protect her son from other killer robots.
"I think there's a massive insanity in her," said Headey. "I think what we've seen so far is this controlled being. I think yet to come is to see how unstable she really is under all this and how she's just keeping it together."
Another problem for Sarah is that John is taking control of his own destiny. He no longer follows his mother's orders, leaving Sarah to question her place.
"I feel that Sarah has taken kind of a backseat in terms of being proactive and taking care of business. I think that we’re going to see a lot more of John taking control and then making steps towards becoming the man he has to be to take on his tasks. I think this season for Sarah is kind of her losing slight control over everything pretty much, and my feeling is that I think there’s a slow madness sort of happening in her because she feels that everything’s kind of out of reach right now."
Though she has established the character as her own on television, Headey is still sensitive to comparisons to the actress (Linda Hamilton) who played Sarah Connor in the Terminator films. Even when the comparison is favorable, Headey would prefer people look at her Sarah individually.
"I really feel like there are people that still doubt [the show], but I'm happy. I'm doing my job and it's what I know. I think they'll get it. One day, someone will be like, 'Oh, okay.' I think last year, because it was the new season, everybody was kind of so worried about it and it was such a weird idea, the concept, for some people to deal with that they're going to make Terminator a TV show. But I think I do my job."
Thomas Dekker had similar issues playing John Connor. Several different actors played John in the films – Edward Furlong, Nick Stahl and Christian Bale in the upcoming fourth film.
"It was terrifying, I think for all of us,” says Dekker. I didn't know if the show was going to be good when I first heard they were making it because I love Terminator and I thought it was going to suck. Then I read the script and the idea of doing a robot show that has musings about religion and art and love and all this kind of stuff was very cool, so I felt confident with the show."The Sarah Connor Chronicles also introduced a famous robot from the films, the liquid metal T-1000. On the show, Shirley Manson, lead singer of the band Garbage, plays Catherine Weaver, a T-1001. Her human alias runs a technology company, but her terminator side can blend into any environment, like the men's room urinals in her first episode.
"I physically act out the scene and then it's handed over to their very talented special effects department," says Manson. "I did have to get my body scanned, a full body scan and face scan. Beyond that, I have very little to do with it."
The show is Manson's first acting endeavor. She expected to face criticism for changing art forms, and certainly would not let anyone's harsh words hold her back. Right now, she's happy with her new job.
"I like it a lot. It's exciting for me. I've been doing the same thing since I was 15, and now on the eve of my 42nd birthday, I got to do something completely different that felt as exciting as the first time I stepped on stage to play music, so it's a challenge and it stretches me, and it's wonderful. I feel really grateful."
Playing a corporate CEO may be the antithesis of rock n' roll, but Catherine Weaver is not your average suit. She's a terminator for one thing, and even her human guise is hipper than most execs.
"I think she's a maverick and she's come up through computer software, at least the human she's embodying. So she's supposed to be a little less corporate than perhaps most people would be in her position."
The show already has girl power in spades with Sarah herself and Cameron, the female terminator protecting John. Adding Weaver as a villain balances the sides, and giving John a girlfriend in Riley (Leven Rambin) adds some heart.
Rambin postponed a trip to New York to dine with the press, pre-explosion, on the backlot. At only 18, Rambin grew up without the Terminator films in her life. "I knew nothing," she admits. "Honestly, I knew nothing. I knew about the show, but I didn't know what the storyline was or who anybody was. I had no idea what the relationships were at all. I didn't even have that much time to prepare for it so I just did it the way I thought that a girl would do it. [Series creator Josh Friedman] really liked it so that when I got here, I watched the second movie and some of the first episodes in the first season. I was brought up to speed, but my character's not supposed to know any of that, so it didn't really matter."
Riley is just a high school girl reaching out to that mysterious, troubled boy sitting by himself in the corner. "She's just normal. She doesn't know about what's going on with them. She's just not even related to any of that so she just wants to hang out. She thinks he's cute."
So far, Riley has dragged John on dates where he ditches her to keep her out of terminator trouble. The only action Rambin has seen is basic human stuff.
"There was a fight scene that I was involved in but that was very low key comparatively speaking to everything else that's happening on the show. That was just very tame for being around here."
Should Riley ever find out that her boyfriend is the future savior of mankind, Rambin thinks she'd be able to handle it. "She would probably think it was really cool. She just is down for anything. She's kind of a renegade too at heart. She's just like a spunky, spontaneous kind of person."
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles airs Monday nights on Fox.