The Terminator cemented Arnold Schwarzenegger’s status as an action hero. However, he wasn’t the first choice for the unstoppable T-800. Before the 1984 sci-fi thriller dropped, the Austrian Oak was most associated with Conan the Barbarian and bodybuilding. The villain’s turn helped break Schwarzenegger’s nice guy image… the T-800 never cracks a smile. It also showed audiences his gladiator physique worked outside of swords and sorcery films.
In the sci-fi classic, Schwarzenegger plays the eponymous cyborg assassin. Sent from 2029 to 1984, his mission is to eliminate Sarah Connor, portrayed by Linda Hamilton. Sarah’s unborn son holds the key to humanity’s survival, destined to defeat Skynet, a malevolent AI, in a post-apocalyptic future. To protect Sarah, a soldier named Kyle Reese, played by Michael Biehn, is sent back in time.
Of course, the T-800 ended up being Schwarzenegger’s signature character. He appeared as the cyborg assassin in all six of the Terminator feature films, anchoring all but 2009’s Terminator Salvation. Still, the producers of the original film had other actors in mind for the role, as did director James Cameron.
‘The Terminator’ Producers Had a Much Different Actor in Mind for the T-800
Interestingly, the studio initially suggested OJ Simpson portray the T-800 in The Terminator, long before he gained infamy as an accused murderer instead of a celebrated football player. Nevertheless, when Orion executives proposed the idea to James Cameron, he promptly dismissed it. According to Variety, Cameron believed that convincing audiences of Simpson’s transformation from a beloved sports hero to a cold-blooded killer would be a tough sell.
Sylvester Stallone and Mel Gibson were considered for the role of the T-800 but declined. Gibson didn’t feel he was the right fit. While waiting for Schwarzenegger to finish his obligations for the Conan sequel before filming The Terminator, Cameron worked on the sequel to First Blood, which starred Stallone. Cameron’s script for Rambo: First Blood Part 2 was highly altered.
Another interesting what-if is that Tom Selleck was reportedly considered for the role of the T-800. Unfortunately, Selleck had to decline the offer due to a scheduling conflict with his popular TV series, Magnum P.I. This mirrors what happened to the TV heartthrob after being cast as Indiana Jones. Of course, CBS wouldn’t allow him to break his Magnum contract, leading to Harrison Ford nabbing the iconic role.
James Cameron’s Choice for the T-800
However, Cameron’s first choice for the T-800 is also out of left field. Originally, the Terminator was supposed to look like the average Joe to blend in with the human populace.
Cameron initially selected Lance Henriksen as his top choice for the role, ultimately cast as Dt. Vukovich in Terminator.Vukovich is one of the cops who finds Sarah Connor and questions Kyle Reese, skeptical of his story about time travel and a robot uprising. During the pre-production of Terminator, concept designs showed how Henriksen would have looked as the T-800. The actor even auditioned for the role while embodying the character, but the producers ultimately rejected Cameron’s choice. According to Hollywood folklore, Cameron discovered his T-800 when Arnold Schwarzenegger was suggested for Kyle Reese. However, Schwarzenegger expressed a stronger interest in playing the villain, and Cameron agreed.
However, Henriksen did play an android for James Cameron in 1986’s Aliens. This led to the actor having the distinction of being killed on-screen by a Terminator and an alien. Not only that but Henriksen was even killed by a Predator in the monster mash-up Alien vs Predator.
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