On-Set: McG Talks "Terminator Salvation"

By Harry Powell Wednesday May 6th 2009 12:41AM

Earlier this week we brought you a report from our visit to the set of "Terminator Salvation" last summer. Today we have our extended chat with director McG where he addresses the skepticism over his involvement in the project, elaborates on the central Salvation story lines of John Connor and Marcus Wright and addresses the idea of a new Terminator trilogy:

Question: How much of Salvation’s effects will be practical vs. CG?

McG: It’s important to me to have all kinds of practical effects. I don’t like to rely too much on CG.

Question: Can you talk about Bale’s interpretation of John Connor?

McG: When you see what Christian’s doing with Connor, he’s just sort of a no bullshit guy who takes the clippers and cuts his hair and, at the same time, is very pragmatic and very much about the task at hand. He’s got that thousand yard stare. He’s not a chatty Cathy and I don’t think Connor ever was.

Bale doesn’t fuck around. He doesn’t sign up for things unless he believes 100 percent. He’s already Bruce Wayne, he doesn’t need to be John Connor. He believes in what the picture can be or he wouldn’t be here.

Question: Can you talking about rebooting the franchise and how you conceptualized this?

McG: Here’s the thing. I wasn’t going to do it until I talked to James Cameron and he was the one that finally gave me the kick in the a** and [mentioned] the Alien franchise coming in on the heels of [Ridley Scott]’s Alien. Ridley’s untouchable and no one can follow him, but [Cameron] had an interesting take on that material that could service that mythology but at the same time put his own imprint on it.

To me, this is different because the first two Terminators were present day. This is post-Judgement Day. So it is indeed a whole new idea. I wanted it to have that Children of Men cautionary component of ‘This is what could happen.’ The whole movie is just designed to be a thinly veiled cautionary tale of [how], if we don’t get our act together, this is the world that we are heading towards. The idea of machine becoming aware gets more and more real every day as we deconstruct the human genetic code and make 70-year-old women pregnant and clone sheep. This movie is meant to be an expression of those concerns coming to fruition.

This movie is an allegory for what it means to be human, but nobody signs up for a Terminator movie to go to graduate class. I think the Wachowski’s did it best on the first Matrix. That picture can be enjoyed by audiences, but at the same time you can spend four years in school discussing the deeper meanings of the picture. The film posits the question of, ‘Where does society begin and end?’

Question: How did you cast Sam Worthington and can you tell us about his character?

McG: I went and saw him on Avatar. I played in the motion capture field and he was extremely supportive and that’s why I cast him. The story [of Marcus] is about a guy who’s on death row. He’s given up on humanity [and] himself. The world we all know has treated him cruelly. He’s a murderer at 17, he’s in jail and he’s ultimately put to death. He signs up for a project, like a donor, and little does he come to know at the mid-point of the movie, he’s a machine. It’s certainly not what he signed up for. Its Marcus’s film in a great many ways.

Question: Do you pay attention to the online response to you directing?

McG: I understand that nobody’s excited about the guy who did Charlie’s Angels taking over the Terminator franchise. We all know how much more fun it is to spit venom online than to celebrate anything. I’m right there like everybody else letting my opinion be known. You just sort of take that and you keep on moving.

Question: What sort of robots will we see in this versus the previous movies?

McG: This movie has a lot to do with the becoming of the T-800. The T-600 is just bigger and nastier. Its designed to look like it came from a Soviet tank company. Imagine your first Mac. Now you have a Macbook Air [and] its leaner, faster, more memory. Technology is more and more in a smaller, more efficient space. That’s the language we’ve been following with the machine development.

The Harvesters are the machines that collect the people. The Transports are an homage to the great cruisers of Star Wars. There are T-1’s in this picture. They all came from Stan Winston’s shop. You see how we got there.

Question: How do you address the fact that fans have pictured what they think post-Judgment Day will look like and avoid the pitfalls of Star Wars?

McG: It’s tough. All of us have imagined that future in our heads. We went to futurists and talking about what would happen. We talked about Cherynobl and how nature wins out after all. You see the plant life growing throughout the buildings and how that happens. We really wanted to create a credible world. Our machines are based on physics of the day. One society’s garbage will become the savior of a new society.

With this, what I want to do is take the grit of the Bourne franchise and Children of Men and bring the velocity of a Transformers picture. I want that handheld, tactile reality, but then I want to have machines that you’ve never seen before come into this world and have that summer energy that I think everybody’s looking for.

Question: What elements of John Connor’s journey will come from story elements we already know from the other movies and what will be original for this story?

McG: This film is the story of [Connor] becoming the leader of the resistance. You realize [in the beginning], oh my goodness, he’s not the one calling the shots. He came out of the hole three years after the radiation cleared with a couple of survivors that say, ‘I’ve got 20 years in the Marines. Get in line. We’re at war.’ You realize Connor has to struggle and through the body of the movie we see how his fate is achieved and he becomes the leader of the resistance. This is the first time that’s ever been articulated. We don’t have time travel yet in this picture, we just tease the idea of it coming.

Question: This has been discussed as the start of a new Terminator trilogy.

McG: We’ve sketched out the stories for two and three, there’s no doubt about it. But I would never be so bold as to think we’re going to get there. I don’t know if they’re going to make another Superman picture and I don’t know if you guys want it. I sure promise you they had designs on making three of them.

Check back later this week with for a chat with Salvation’s cast from the set.