Robert Patrick is one of those actors. You know the ones; they pop up all over the place in more movies than somehow seems credible, lending otherwise so-so productions a touch of class.
But that wasn’t always the case. Once upon a time, Patrick was just another jobbing actor in Hollywood, pursuing his dream of trying to make it as an actor after a near-death experience that saw him swim for three hours to help rescue those stranded alongside him.
Living out of his car and working as a bar tender, as well as developing a penchant for drink and drugs, Patrick had already played a henchman in Die Hard 2 by the time he got the call to audition for James Cameron’s new film.
“The first thing I heard was that they were looking for someone who could create an intense presence,” Patrick tells loaded ahead of the release of Terminator 2: Judgement Day 3D. “You can’t read the script, so you have got to go and do that.”
Patrick had a plan though. During an initial meeting with the Mali Finn, the late casting director tasked with helping find a new T-1000 after original choice Billy Idol broke his leg in a motorcycle accident, he hatched a plan.
“I was sitting at her desk and we were having a lovely conversation and I kept in the back of my mind that I had to convince them I could create an intense presence, so I waited for her to look away from me and when she looked back I was staring her down like I was going to take her head off, more or less.”
A bold move, to say the least, the approach paid off almost immediately.
“She liked it and said ‘whatever you are doing right there, I want to get that on film.’ She walked me to a warehouse room and Steve Quale (a future director and part of the Terminator 2 crew) came in and started filming me walking,” he says.
“‘You’re sense aware, so you are moving and tracking someone’ they told me.I started thinking ‘How do I convey that?'”
Opting for an approach that reportedly took inspiration from head movements of the American bald eagle, much of what Patrick produced that day was based on his “instincts” – though Cameron was evidently impressed.
“I got word Jim liked what he saw. It was a physical thing he was looking for. They told me I had a David Bowie/James Dean quality and unbeknownst to me that was what he [Cameron] was looking for. Some sort of physical look.”
A physically demanding role, Patrick cut out the drugs and cut back on the booze, knowing how important his various movements would be to the monosyllabic role – Schwarzenegger and Patrick do not exchange a single line of dialogue in the movie.
“That’s part of the performance. There are no monologues or dialogue – it’s all in the physicality of the role. The walk had to be very specific, the run had to be very specific and it had to be locked in because all the effects were going to be based on that, so you had to lock it in so it appeared seamless and something distinctively unique to itself. These are the things people remember.”
Hollywood definitely remembers, with Patrick admitting he regularly gets asked by big name stars like Adam Sandler about how he pulled off “that run” (an athlete at school, Patrick trained rigorously before filming to make the technique appear effortless).
One thing he doesn’t get asked all that much until now that is is how he ended up cameoing as the T-1000 in Mike Myers’ first Wayne’s World movie.
“Lorne Michaels [the film’s director] saw Terminator 2 and they were making Wayne’s World and they had a part in Wayne’s World where he was going to get pulled over by a police officer and Lorne decided he was going to get this Terminator character to do the cameo.
“Apparently Mike Myers said ‘nah I don’t think it’s a good idea.’ But Lorne Michaels convinced him it was. I remember going to the Chinese Theatre to watch Wayne’s World and my cameo got the biggest laugh, which was very gratifying.”
Over the years, one question has bugged Terminator fans more than most when approaching Patrick.
“They always ask: ‘How did you fly that helicopter? [In the film] You had two hands, you were firing a gun and reloading a gun, what hand was on the stick? My answer is always the same: ‘There was a third arm.’ Go look at it. You’ll see it.”
Despite the iconic status of his role in Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Patrick admits he was never asked back for Terminator 3 and may not have said yes anyway, given that Cameron wasn’t involved.
Would be up for reprising the role of the T-1000 in a film that involved Cameron though? Like, say, the proposed new trilogy being produced by the Avatar filmmaker?
“You better believe it,” he tells loaded. “I don’t say this with disrespect to the other directors but to me, James Cameron is the franchise and he’s the common denominator alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton and the driving force behind the franchise.”
“I’m fortunate that things worked out the way they did though – if I ever got the chance to work with Cameron again I would gladly accept it. If I don’t I am grateful for the experience I had with it – it was a great experience and he’s a one of a kind filmmaker.”
Terminator 2: Judgement Day 3D is in cinemas now.