Schwarzenegger as Kyle Reese?! James Cameron on ‘Terminator’ casting

June 12, 2014 | 12:46 p.m.
1884116 ca 0531 hero21 ac Schwarzenegger as Kyle Reese?! James Cameron on Terminator casting

Writer/director James Cameron photographed during the 2014 Hero Complex Film Festival at the TCL Chinese 6 Theatres in Hollywood on May 31, 2014. (Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times)

1884116 ca 0531 hero24 ac Schwarzenegger as Kyle Reese?! James Cameron on Terminator casting

Writer/director James Cameron speaks at the 2014 Hero Complex Film Festival in Hollywood on May 31, 2014. (Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times)

1884116 ca 0531 hero26 ac Schwarzenegger as Kyle Reese?! James Cameron on Terminator casting

Writer/director James Cameron speaks at the 2014 Hero Complex Film Festival in Hollywood on May 31, 2014. (Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times)

1884116 ca 0531 hero27 ac Schwarzenegger as Kyle Reese?! James Cameron on Terminator casting

Los Angeles Times reporter Rebecca Keegan interviews writer/director James Cameron during the 2014 Hero Complex Film Festival in Hollywood on May 31, 2014. (Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times)

It’s hard to imagine James Cameron’s 1984 film “The Terminator” starring anyone other than Arnold Schwarzenegger in the title role. But there was a moment when that iconic piece of casting was in doubt.

Speaking at the fifth annual Hero Complex Film Festival recently, Cameron took the stage for an extended Q&A between screenings of “The Terminator” and its sequel “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” to discuss the making of the movie that launched his and Schwarzenegger’s careers.

During the conversation, Cameron recalled how Schwarzenegger nearly didn’t get to deliver his famous line, “I’ll be back.”

Instead of the Terminator, the movie’s terrifying, nearly mute cyborg sent from the future to kill Sarah Connor, Schwarzenegger was originally up for the role of Kyle Reese, the movie’s hero, who was ultimately played by Michael Biehn.

At the behest of his financiers, who were high on casting Schwarzenegger as Reese, Cameron took a lunch with the actor, then known in Hollywood merely as a heavily accented bodybuilder.

“‘[Reese] is a very verbal character, he basically explains the entire future world, it’s 20 pages of expository dialogue,” Cameron said. “‘When I went to meet with Arnold, it was to basically derail that … I thought, that’s a really dumb idea. He’s not right for that character…. My intention was to blow this up over creative differences.”

Instead of a fight, however, Cameron said he found himself  instantly won over by Schwarzenegger — and began to see him for another part.

“Arnold was Arnold, incredibly charismatic and focused and smart,” Cameron said. “While I was sitting there I started thinking, he would make an incredible Terminator.”

Watch the clip above to hear what else Cameron had to say, and look for more video from this conversation and others from the festival, which took place at the TCL Chinese 6 Theaters in Hollywood May 30-June 1, soon.

– Rebecca Keegan | @thatrebecca

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