When interviewing Linda Hamilton and Mackenzie Davis together, the love between the Terminator: Dark Fate costars is palpable. It’s almost a contest to see who can say more nice things about the other. “Hot and heavy” is how Davis, 32, describes their dynamic, with Hamilton, 63, countering, “I’m her biggest fan. We couldn’t have done this without each other.”
This is the sixth entry in the Terminator franchise, but more like the third considering that Dark Fate acts as a direct sequel to James Cameron’s first two films. And 28 years after her last outing as the iconic Sarah Connor, Hamilton is back for director Tim Miller’s new installment, now paired with Davis, who portrays Grace, an enhanced human from the future.
Best known for her run on the critically acclaimed series Halt and Catch Fire and the memorable Black Mirror episode “San Junipero,” Davis is taking on her biggest film role to date, and doing so alongside a beloved actress and character, the latter of which she only recently came to appreciate. Coincidentally, before Dark Fate was even on her radar, Davis finally sat down to watch the original Terminator films, having been “scolded” by a friend for having missed out on a “really important entry into the female warrior canon.” Then, not a year later, she was hopping on a plane to audition opposite Sarah Connor herself. “I remember meeting her in a hotel room in Ireland and feeling very intimidated and odd to all of a sudden be around this person who I so recently had fallen in love with,” Davis recalls. “So I didn’t have the childhood fantasy, but I had the adult fantasy and the culmination of that fantasy in a very short period of time.”
While Hamilton says she was instantly taken by the young actress’ talent and beauty, Davis knew there was still work to do to win over the action legend. “I had to convince you that I could be the warrior part, and I liked having that challenge,” Davis says, a suggestion Hamilton acknowledges is true.
“She’s so irresistible, but I was like, ‘Where is the damage?’” Hamilton says. “Of all the characters in this telling of the tale, Sarah Connor is probably the least human, the least kind, the least hopeful. So Tim needed a person that would reflect all the hopes and dreams and softness and hardness of the audience, the true human being.”
Davis didn’t just accept the challenge, she backed it up, with her warrior-like transition being instantly apparent to Hamilton when they were reunited for weapons training. “It was so obvious that you had the same kind of commitment that I showed for T2,” Hamilton tells Davis. “Watching her just made me want to do that much more, be that much better. I was totally inspired by Mack. It was like, ‘How are you doing this? How is it possible that you’re not completely breaking down?’ Your body, your lack of sleep, the things that were asked of you — it was just mind-bending to watch, and made me so utterly proud.”
Hamilton wasn’t the only proud one. “I’m extremely proud of how hard I worked on this movie, but no one worked harder than Linda Hamilton,” Davis says. “The situations we were put in were real tests of endurance, and sometimes felt like this was maybe an elaborate psychological experiment just to see what actors will do. [Laughs] And Linda was the only one of us who wouldn’t crack.”
Hamilton didn’t crack, but there were times she questioned herself. “I would just sit there and watch Mackenzie impress the crap out of everybody and think, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to fail miserably,’” she says. “It had a lot of ups and downs. It was a bit daunting because of the legend. Not that I’m a legend in my own right, but I knew that everyone was just going to go, ‘Aw, she doesn’t look the same.’ Well, it’s been 28 years, kids!” Originally believing that if “you put in the same amount of work, you get the same results,” Hamilton realized it would be physically impossible to replicate 1991 Sarah Connor. “That doesn’t really happen at my age without hormones,” she jokes. “I couldn’t get the muscle mass that matched T2. So we focused on movement, and my body came into the rhythm of a soldier, as opposed to just looking like a soldier.”
In the end, because of the challenges and people involved, Hamilton says Fate is “the greatest and hardest thing” she’s ever done. “In terms of what we built, it went far beyond my wildest dreams.” She laughs, then adds, “That doesn’t mean I want to go and do another one. Once is probably enough.” It’s enough, unless it comes to showering your costar with affection. “Love you, Linda,” Davis says as the interview wraps up, prompting Hamilton to reply, “Love you, precious.”
Terminator: Dark Fate, which also stars Arnold Schwarzenegger and Natalia Reyes, opens Nov. 1.