INTERVIEW: Action star Brian Thompson on The Terminator

By Louise Bolotin

“He refused to take his bathrobe from the wardrobe lady between takes, he was 100% naked and he had one of the biggest cigars ever. He was completely shaved so his pubic hair wouldn’t show. And he just stood there saying ‘No, I’m fine’.”

Acclaimed sci-fi star Brian Thompson is telling me about shooting the famous scene in The Terminator when Arnie Schwarzenegger walks across naked to a bunch of punks and demands their clothes, before ripping Thompson’s heart out. Thompson is regularly asked if Arnie used a body double, but the answer is no.

“It took a lot of takes. We shot the scene twice but Jim Cameron wasn’t happy with it. He didn’t like the location. Two or three weeks later, I got a call to say ‘We’re reshooting this’ so we got to look at Arnold naked at least a dozen takes, front and back. He loved being naked, he loves attention and adulation”.

Thompson had only that small part in The Terminator, which launched an illustrious career for him as a sci-fi action hero, but he remains firmly associated with it and happily turns up to special Terminator screenings to sign autographs and chat to enthralled audiences, where he cheerfully whips out a string of unprintable anecdotes about the shoot.

Incredibly, while Terminator was given a Blu-ray release in the US back in 2006, it has only now been released in the UK. Manchester hosted the big screen première for the Blu-ray edition in an old warehouse kitted out to look like the Tech Noir bar where Sarah Connor tries to evade both the Terminator and Kyle. Thompson flew in specially to promote the screening.

For an actor associated with such masculine roles, I ask him if he’s in touch with his feminine side. “I think we’re all in touch with our feminine side. I took a test in college to see what occupations I’d be most suited to and the counsellor was very nervous when he told me I was not suited for any male occupations. I’m absolutely in touch with my feminine side – I’m way more sensitive than my girlfriend, I have to pull her emotions out of her!”

Thompson cuts an imposing figure – he’s tall and still very muscular for a man in his early 50s, currently sporting a neatly trimmed beard flecked attractively with grey. His hair has a slept-in look and there’s a mischievous glint in his blue eyes that hints at a wild streak.

“If you’re very physical in stature, you’re gonna get hired for action movies. The star’s always going to be chasing someone so they need an equal adversary. I’m never going to play a nebbish geek. Whereas Linda Hamilton, as Sarah Connors, she was definitely an equal adversary too, she had balls.”

Could The Terminator have succeeded without Schwarzenegger? “One hundred per cent. Anyone could have been plugged into that role if they had adequate muscles. They could have taken any bodybuilder from a gym and the movie would have been the same. We had no idea the film would be so huge. When I was on set, everyone was joking about what a dog of a movie they were making and how embarrassed they were to be working with Arnold Schwarzenegger. There was one person who knew what this movie could be and that was Jim Cameron.

“But we were looking at the track record of the star, the last movies he’d made, and we thought we were making a movie similar to the ones he’d made before. Which is not an outlandish assumption, but it is an outlandish assumption to think that someone who’s made a bunch of B-movies is going to make one of the greatest science fiction movies of all time. It was not on the radar.”

He says screenwriters can still bring new ideas to the genre: “So many plots are used up, there’s a lot of movies that are derivative of what we’ve already seen but there is no end to human imagination. Jim Cameron went on to do Aliens, which was another shocking film, and then the Wachowski brothers came out with The Matrix, which was a mind-boggling sci-fi movie, equally as good. But this happens maybe only once a decade. It takes that long for someone to write that good a script.”

This is Thompson’s second trip to Manchester – he visited the city 10 years earlier to attend a sci-fi film festival. And he’s made films in England: “I filmed Mortal Kombat: Annihilation at Leavesdon Studios and then we shot the Jason and the Argonauts TV series at Shepperton. I’ve had the pleasure of working here twice. I love England. For an actor to not like England? You guys have the best vowels in the world!

“What I love about being here is the abundance of privacy, and it’s the only place in the world where I have respect for taxi drivers, with their unique opinions. Walking around, there’s the history – walking on streets that are so historical, Roman roads. There’s no separation in my head between London and England, and the stories of my childhood – Charles Dickens… it’s storybook to be here. And I love the flat vowels!”

We move on to Thompson’s current projects.

“Please mention Jameson First Shot – it’s a screenplay writing competition that offers a mentorship. The winners go to Los Angeles to make their short movies with a star. The last two years that’s been Kevin Spacey and this year I got to play a pirate with him. That’s where my association with Jameson [the host of the Terminator screening] began. Willem Defoe’s going to be the Jameson star this year. I often get mistaken for him – I’ve been complimented at least 100 times for Platoon.”

He’s just finished directing and producing Action Hero, in which he also stars. It’s a comedy of errors about Hollywood myths and gossip. “The premise is what would happen if Inspector Clouseau bulked up on steroids and was given the job of directing a movie. We just got a distributor but it doesn’t have a release date. It’s going to be available for video on demand.”

Louise Bolotin is Screenjabber’s TV critic. She has a penchant for quality drama and quirky documentaries, slums it with EastEnders and pities people who watch reality TV, which might be why she never writes about The X Factor.

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