[09/15/08 - 12:03 AM]
Interview: "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" Executive Producer James Middleton
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

Executive producer James Middleton is willing to literally blow up a car to drum up support for his second year series "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" (Mondays at 8:00/7:00c on FOX).

"You 're out of your f---ing mind," exclaims co-star Brian Austin Green after the surprising event. "You don't blow up s--- like that on the show!"

The pair, along with Garret Dillahunt (Cromartie), Shirley Manson (Catherine Weaver), Josh Friedman (Creator/Executive Producer), John Wirth (Executive Producer), Steve Galich (Special Effects Supervisor) and Bear McCreary (Composer), were all on hand for an exclusive press event last week.

The group seems particularly relieved that the show's second season premiere has aired, freeing them (and everyone else) up to talk about the fact new cast member Catherine Weaver is in fact a liquid metal T-1000. "It's something that Josh and I talked about in the very beginning, when to bring a T-1000 in," says Middleton. "And we just wanted to do it at the right time. In the first season we felt that it was scary enough to have the sort of battle axe, endoskeleton type of Terminator... but the liquid metal Terminator is truly scary and we really couldn't stay away from that [for too long]. It was just too intriguing."

So what exactly does the introduction of Catherine Weaver mean for the show? "I think we've always been evolving in [this] direction," Middleton notes. "We always wanted to say Sarah's struggle against Skynet and law enforcement - that's huge, it's much bigger than she ever thought it would be. In the movies, it was just about saving John from the Terminators. Now she's proactive and she has to find all the different ways the war's being fought. [We're] seeing Terminators that have missions that are not about killing John, completely different missions. We're seeing people from the future that have different agendas so it's very complex... and that's what I've always wanted to see. That's what I always thought the show could live on."

With Catherine however, viewers will be treated to the most "human" face of Skynet to date - the self-aware, artificial intelligence that's bent of destroying humanity sometime in the near future. Will we be given a deeper understanding of Skynet's motives beyond simply destroying all humans? "It's yet to be seen," Middleton shares. "I think that we would be remised just to say that an artificial intelligence like Skynet must only have an agenda to kill humans. I think that that is probably minimizing what we set up... it's obviously at some point in the future, incredibly intelligent, incredibly clever and very deadly and it doesn't really value human life. Whether extinguishing all human life is advantageous to it, we don't know. It's the kind of thing we want to explore in the future... We know that it absolutely wants to kill John Connor. But on our show we're also showing there are some people it wants alive, for what reason in the future we [the audience] don't know."

All of the robotic characterization won't be limited to Catherine though as fellow Terminators Cameron and Cromartie will continue their journeys as well. "I think we've established they are learning machines and that they take in new information and have to react to it to solve problems," Middleton details. "But they also have to portray emotion in credible ways to [interact] with humans. And at some point it's really about our perception of the machine as opposed to the machine's perception of emotion. Is Cameron performing emotion well enough that we consider her a being - as opposed to just a machine? That's the type of thing that our show gets a lot of mileage from." Dillahunt confesses there's one aspect to Cromartie that's particularly special - his durability, the fact he's survived the impossible. It's a facet that will be further explored when he and Catherine begin to interact later this season. "There's some interesting things coming," he teases slyly.

John and Sarah not surprisingly will have their hands full as well. In John's case, it's starting down the path to becoming the "John Connor" of legend. When prompted about that journey and the various milestones ahead, Middleton says: "That's an interesting question. What does it mean to prepare John Connor to be the leader of mankind? What does it take to prepare John Connor to defeat Skynet? What we're showing is that it's not just being adept militarily. It's not being necessarily a hero. It is being smart. It's having empathy. It's being able to work in ways that are asymmetrical to the overwhelming threat that Skynet is. I think you see in the show that John is very reluctant to hold a gun... and it shows that there's something about him where he will look for other ways to solve problems... One of the things that we do know is - we've seen this in the first season - is that he is programming Terminators. Now, in the future, Josh and I have talked about this - there would be a lot of people who would be horrified by that, the idea of trying to integrate, convert the enemy. That's what he's doing. It's part of his method of prevailing is to embrace the enemy in a certain way."

Middleton also reveals that Sarah likewise will going on her own journey. "There's one big thing that is Sarah is going to react to the stress that she's been under for all these years. And she's going to have some moments where you see her do some things that show a vulnerability and she's going to come out of it. But we're going to see some cracks in her armor because one of the things I like about Lena playing this role - she's almost like a female Clint Eastwood. There's nothing that this character encounters that she doesn't confront head on or she's really afraid of. She has a mission and she'll sacrifice everything for it. But what's happening in this season is she's seeing that the challenge is overwhelming. Before it was stop one Terminator, figure out how to stop Skynet. And this season she's finding all kinds of different ways that Skynet is fighting the war and she can't know them all, get her arms around them all. And it starts to drive her a little [unnerved] and she's going to go through this journey where we see the effects of that. The other thing is that there's a rift happening between her and John. You know, where John is going off on his own, trying to be a man and that's hard for her. And she's sacrificed her whole life, relationships, all of the things she wanted to do. Sarah Connor likes music, Sarah Connor likes movies, Sarah Connor likes the south of France let's say. But she never got to do any of that because of this thing that was thrust on her. All of that combined makes her start to get unraveled a little bit."

Regardless, both John and Sarah are still on track to prevent "Judgment Day" - currently April 21, 2011 - the date on which Skynet begins the war against humanity. But is that a hard end date for the show? "It doesn't have to be because what these characters are doing is changing the future," Middleton shares. "Everything they do has an impact. Now sometimes the impact might be negative. I mean they might do something with the best of intentions that has a negative impact. Judgment Day could move up or it could be pushed back... We'll see in some episodes how we're going to begin with the best of intentions, our characters set into motion something with negative consequences in the future."

And lastly, what of "Terminator Salvation," upcoming fourth film in the franchise - should "Sarah Connor" viewers expect any connections or Easter eggs? "One of the things we consciously decided to do is create an entirely new timeline, timeframe for 'Sarah Connor,' so the two [projects] don't overlap in that way," Middleton says. "There's still a John Connor in both, there's still antagonist machines, there's still the value of self-sacrifice, there's still the value of faith, there's some mind bending twists in both of these things but we've set off on an entirely different timeline with 'Sarah.' And I think fans have realized the two things are separate."

Catch "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" every Monday at 8:00/7:00c on FOX.

  [september 2008]  


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