Everybody Wants to Be Sarah Connor: Lena Headey and James Middleton

“I think everybody wants to believe that there is a calling for them, that they can have a positive impact and their existence means something,” says Terminator Producer James Middleton and that’s why he believes people will be drawn into the new series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.“Our audience has always identified with this character that has an enormous task thrust upon her. She starts out as a waitress, her beginnings are not auspicious, but because of the calling she rises to the occasion and transforms into an amazing heroine. I think that’s something we’d all like to believe can happen to each of us, that if such a calling were thrust upon us that we could be strong enough and rise to the occasion.”

There’s no doubting Middleton’s (who acts as Consulting Producer on “Chronicles”) passion for this new series and its characters. You only have to watch the first few minutes to see that this is going to be a no-holds-barred thrill ride, something Terminator fans have come to expect.

The series falls into place a couple of years after the events of Terminator 2 but not exactly before Terminator 3, if that makes any sense. It’s all due to that mind-numbing paradox known as time travel, which, in Terminator lore, allowed John Connor to send his father back in time to actually. . .well. . father him in the first place.

Says Middleton, “I knew that Sarah wouldn’t appear in any future movies and I desperately wanted to bring that character back. And while I enjoyed working on Terminator 3, I completely embraced the idea that through something established in the mythology, time travel, we could create an entirely new storyline and timeline for Sarah Connor herself.”

This means that by the very act of being and doing in the pilot episode, Sarah effectively changes the future so that the events of Terminator 3 may never happen.  This leaves the TV show open to a variety of twists and turns including depositing our heroes into the present day, despite the fact that it’s beyond the date of Judgment Day as laid down in the earlier films.   (Still with me?)

The true joy of the series is that you don’t have to understand the previous films or even wrestle with the conundrums of time travel because this incarnation is more about people than technology.

“I’ve always loved Sarah’s intensity.  While fighting very viciously against her foes, you can see the stakes, her fears, her anxiety and it’s very interesting,” says Middleton. “A fantastic character created by Jim Cameron and Lena has knocked it out of the park in terms of taking this character and making it her own.”

sarah-connor-turk-02-thumb.jpgLena Headey is a British actress known for her work in 300 and The Brothers Grimm (and now Game of Thrones).  She’s been handed the daunting task of recreating a powerful woman that has always been identified with another actress, in this case Linda Hamilton.  Tired of the comparisons already, Lena should look to her fellow countrywoman, Michelle Ryan for support. It wasn’t long ago that Ryan was fielding the same questions when she took on the role of the new Bionic Woman.

Says Lena, “It’s a new generation.  Linda Hamilton will always be the original Sarah Connor and the imprint that she left is very strong.  I take from the movies what is undeniable, which is a strength and an instinct and an absolute sense of wrong or right that is ingrained in her.”

But Lena brings a few new nuisances to the role.  “There’s all sorts of things going on with Sarah. I think her relationship with John is reaching new depths.  She’s learning to be a mother. She’s learning what it is to live like this.  It’s a very potent mix of emotions and hopefully people will embrace what I bring to Sarah and come to see it with fresh eyes.”

One fresh new twist is the relationship between Sarah and John’s Terminator protector, Cameron, played by Firefly’s Summer Glau.

sarah-connor-turk-08-thumb.jpg“The interaction between Sarah and Cameron, the protector machine is very complicated,” says Middleton.  “Sarah has a well-earned fear of machines, yet she must keep this machine close to her in order to protect her own son.  So there’s a wariness that Sarah has for Cameron, but as the series goes on, it’s impossible for either Sarah or John not to become somewhat emotionally attached to Cameron as a being.  It’s a very interesting thing watching Sarah deal with what is really her worst nightmare and having to embrace it every day.”

What Lena Headey has come to embrace are the demands of playing an action hero.

“I feel like Sarah has so much going on and so much adrenaline in her body constantly. I love the physicality of the show and I think it’s already served to feed the emotional intensity of it all.”

What she doesn’t love is what she calls the “breakable curse”, where none of the breakable surfaces on the show ever break when they’re supposed to.  “You’re being told by experts, ‘just really hit it and it will break on the first punch’ and actually it’s agony.”

What’s really agony is the fact that there are only nine episodes in the can and that may be it for Sarah Connor Chronicles’ first season.

Says Middleton, “It takes us about five weeks to get a show up and running.  We would have to get the writers back into the room, they know what they have to do, but still it takes time.  Our show is very involved in terms of CGI, and practical special effects, and costumes and sets, so the preparation time is critical.  I don’t think there’s a scenario where we could have those last four episodes of our order to be running continuously with our season.”

But since episode nine has a tremendous cliffhanger, Middleton doesn’t mind if he has to call it a season finale.  He’s confident that the series will take hold and come back at some point be it later this season or the start of the next.

In the meantime, he works on the next Terminator movie, an animation project (more about that later) and internet content for The Sarah Connor Chronicles which he says will help viewers get more invested in the series.

“I do revere the franchise, and I know what the expectations are but at the same time it’s fun to be given an opportunity to work on something that has such rich mythology and to expand on it.  It’s been a great ride and we’ve all been energized by the process.”

Easy to say that now that the show is on a filming hiatus.  I’d like to ask him that question again when they’re in the middle of filming episode eleven of twenty-two if The Sarah Connor Chronicles gets picked up for a second season.

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