The creator/executive producer and star of this hit Fox series talk about their sophomore season
Josh Friedman and Lena Headey are both back and better than ever. Even though the writers strike shortened their debut season of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles to just eight episodes, the show was a smashing success and it's back for a 13-episode second season, which will premiere on Monday, September 8 at 8 PM ET on Fox. I was in on a conference call with the creator/executive producer and the star of this hit series, and here's what they both had to say.
Josh, obviously once the premiere airs, the water cooler conversation's going to be about the first appearance of the liquid terminator, which us reporters will all keep a big secret until it airs, but still, I wanted to ask you, did you end up playing that a little bit sooner than you had ever hoped, having that character appear, and are we at a state in technology where it's cost efficient for you to try it out on a regular basis?
Josh Friedman: Did we try it out earlier than we wanted to? No. I mean, I think it's exactly when we wanted to. It sort of was serendipitous. We were working on this character and wanted to introduce somebody who was more of an antagonist, and I didn't want to do just the basic evil corporate type, so it was a natural progression, and it's done. It's expensive to do, but it's not necessarily anymore expensive to do than an endoskeleton. I mean, morphing technology and GI is something that's been kind of streamline, I think, in terms of cost over the years since it was first done. It's still time consuming. It's more just sort of, it's just the art of it, just sort of getting it right in terms of the rates of change and kind of what it looks like and the texturing. We went back and forth quite a bit in this first episode because it was the first time that we'd done it.
Lena, you're doing such a fantastic job on the show. I remember, in the beginning, you talked about having somewhere to go with the character so could you talk about what the gradual progression Sarah is on this year will be?
Lena Headey: It's been an interesting season. I feel that Sarah has taken a, kind of a backseat in terms of being proactive and taking care of business. I think that we're going to see a lot more of John taking control and then becoming, making steps towards becoming the man he has to be to take on his tasks. And I think this season for Sarah is kind of her losing slight control over everything pretty much, and my feeling is that I think there's a slow madness sort of happening in her because she feels that everything's kind of out of reach right now.
How cool was that for you to play?
Lena Headey: It's calming. I mean, the stuff is calming, but will be more visceral I think, but it's been strange coming from such a ferocious side of her to being, feeling very, like all control has gone from her.
They also revealed at Comic-Con that someone is going to die. Do you feel pretty safe because it is the The Sarah Connor Chronicles?
Lena Headey: I don't know. You can never feel safe, to quote Sarah, 'I don't take anything for granted.'
What can you tell me about the death? Someone dies?
Josh Friedman: Well, I mean, you'll know it when you see it. It's certainly not, it's not, you won't have to ask about it. I definitely don't count, I mean, I do think there's obviously some stuff in the first episode kind of thematically about dying and resurrection and reorientation of all the relationships, but when the character dies, I think we'll know.
And would you characterize Shirley's character now as a nemesis? Are we allowed to call her evil at this point?
Josh Friedman: Oh, I think evil's a bit strong. I don't think of any of these characters as evil. I think that they're very focused. They have a plan. It's not personal, like there's some evil back story where there's revenge necessary. I think that there's a plan that she has in place to try to grow the Turk, but it's not necessarily that she's, it's like Jessica Rabbit.
She looks fabulous. Congratulations on that one.
Josh Friedman: Thank you. I take full credit for how Shirley looks.
One of the things I guess I was wondering is have we seen the last of John in high school? Because now it looks like they're on the run from that entire life.
Josh Friedman: We've seen just about the last of John in high school. I think John and Sarah have either wisely chose homeschooling for John at this point. It doesn't mean that we've seen the last of John interacting with people from his high school, but I think the days of seeing John sitting in class, yes, are pretty numbered.
I'm wondering if you're going to develop the story line ... from last season of Sarah's trying to deal with her cancer.
Josh Friedman: Lena?
Lena Headey: I don't know. It's in your hands, Josh.
Josh Friedman: Well, you know, there is some of it. I mean, thematically, we definanitely visit it again this year, and an early episode kind of brings it back up, and I think it's sort of investigated. It's sort of explored in a kind of oblique way in one of the early episodes. It's definitely not something that we've forgotten about, but I also don't think you're going to see her in bed with chemo anytime soon.
Now, Lena, there's a little bit of a love triangle seemingly brewing between your character and Reese and your former fiancé. I'm wondering if you have any thoughts on how you'd like to see that resolve?
Lena Headey: Well, I think that Derek and Sarah's relationship is more a little of already-divorced parents. I think the fact that he's John's uncle would be weird, seeing as his brother was the love of her life, so I don't think there's going to be any development there. I certainly wouldn't want it. I think it would be far too obvious.
Josh Friedman: I completely agree with her, by the way. It's not something that we've contemplated at all.
Lena Headey: And as for Charley, who knows with Charley? I think that's always an open door at the moment.
As of the finale last year, the FBI agent pretty much was thrown into this world where terminators really do exist and we see them in the pilot interacting a little with Cromartie. How is he going to get to hook up with Sarah and the rest of the troops, and what might that mean?
Josh Friedman: Well, you presume facts that aren't in evidence. I don't know that he's necessarily going to hook up with them. I think that he is on a quest to kind of figure out, now that he knows for sure that they exist, I think he's sort of determined to figure out why he's a part of this arrangement. I think that Cromartie's particular suggestions to him indicate that, and the fact that he's been left alive indicates that he may have a larger part of the plan, so I think you're going to see Ellison kind of trying to figure out what his part in the larger puzzle is.
Josh, I want to return to something you said a little bit earlier about the issues of faith and face, which have always sort of run through this franchise, but I feel like, in the last couple episodes of last season and particularly in this season's premiere, they're articulated, I guess, a little bit more concretely, particularly with the taking of, you know, with the church in this episode. Could you talk about going in that direction and bringing the religious aspects to the forefront?
Josh Friedman: Yes. I think you hit it on the head. It's something that's always been in the franchise. I think that Sarah as a very, very radicalized Mary figure and John as sort of a Jesus figure has always been in the franchise, and it's stuff that, thematically, is interesting to explore. And I've kind of become fascinated with it through the Ellison character, and part of it was just because Richard T. Jones is quite religious and I'd spent some time talking to him about it, and I figure it seemed like a really natural place to sort of explore some of those themes. And especially with him, regarding whether or not his faith is either confirmed or challenged by, you know, with the things he's seen. I think it's easy to assume, oh, because there are terminators in the universe that that means that God doesn't exist or something, but I don't think that that's necessarily true. So it's interesting just to see people with particular ideologies have to try to fit radical world views into it.
You have one character who obviously is supposed to eventually be the salvation of mankind, which makes him obviously pretty central. But that being said, the show is called The Sarah Connor Chronicles. What's the balance you have to be walking at all times, sort of remembering what the name of the show is and who the star is, but also looking to the future?
Josh Friedman: Well, it's challenging. I think that it's very doable. The Sarah/John relationship is the central, I would say that it's the central relationship in the show, and I think that, at different times, there can be different shifts in terms of the power dynamic or the proactivity. Lena talks a little bit about her character taking a back seat to John. I think that it's a parent/child struggle, and I think that, as a parent, I've kind of, well, my child was a lot younger, but kind of watching the push and pull of that dynamic, to me, is fascinating. So I sort of look at them as a pair. Ultimately, yes, it's called The Sarah Connor Chronicles and it's about how does this parent of this special child deal with that, and it's challenging. I think it's challenging for any parent, and it's challenging for this particular parent because of who he's supposed to be, but I don't believe that she ever has to stop being Sarah Connor. I think it's just the challenge is kind of figuring out who that is on a daily basis.
You talked about how the finale of last season was a different finale than you had originally intended because of the strike. Could you talk about how that affected your decisions in restarting the series at the start of this season in the premiere?
Josh Friedman: Well, I think now, for people who have seen the first episode, you can see that I certainly, I was very interested in the aftermath of that episode, and last year, we would have done a version of this episode, but I had a whole different concept and one that I couldn't really do for a season premiere, but it was certainly about the aftermath of the truck explosion. And I think that we really have stayed on track ... goals of the show, storytelling-wise, but episodically, things have changed pretty radically from last year.
I know the one thing that had been teased about is this upcoming death. And Josh, I'm just kind of curious, is this something that kind of comes about in the terms of storytelling where you feel that it's time to have a death like this, or is this kind of more economically driven or things outside of the storyline? What actually brings you to the point of saying, 'Well, it's time to axe one of these guys?'
Josh Friedman: It's usually their behavior on the set. No, it's pure storytelling. It's painful to say good-bye to actors. It's painful, especially this show. Everyone's wonderful and they're all lovely people, and going to an actor and saying, 'Here's the script and this is what's going to happen,' is extremely difficult, and it's never driven, at least so far, for us, it's never been driven by economics or anything extracurricular. It's ... writer's room and you're, all of a sudden you're having this dawning realization that you have a really good idea for something story-wise, but it's going to end up costing somebody a job. And it's not easy. These are people, and most of them will, they'll go on and get other work, but it's not a fun thing to do really.
I feel like there's a lot of anger in your portrayal of Sarah Connor, and I was wondering if you could talk about that and whether she's kind of partly angry at John because he's the reason she can't have a normal life.
Lena Headey: Yes, I think there's some truth in that. I think that Sarah's pretty complex. You take a normal girl who's suddenly, thanks to this conversation, gives birth to Jesus, and was in love, I think was truly in love with this man and he dies and leaves her with this legacy. And I absolutely think that her anger is partly at her son and her situation, obviously. And I think that's what it is, her frustration in dealing with that as she can't really throw down with her son. But I think there's a rooted anger also with everybody that comes to advise her and say she should do this and look at it this way, and I think she would love to say, '... you all,' and she can't for various reasons. So yes, I think you're right. I think it's in the mix. Well, I know it's in there somewhere.
You have some really great action and special effects on the show. Can you talk about finding the balance between that and keeping the humanity going?
Josh Friedman: At this point, it's sort of become an organic thing for us. I think we sort of have a sense of how much action to have in any given episode. It does shift sometimes. Sometimes you, in terms of the realities of production, you don't have the time or money to do big things all the time in every episode, which I'm happy for. I kind of like it when they say, the money people come to us and say, 'You know what? This episode's going to have to be a little smaller than the last episode.' I kind of enjoy writing smaller, more character-driven episodes, and I think that, at the end of the day, well, I mean, I think there's sort of three audiences, I think, for the show. There's the people who really come for the action, there's people who really come for the characters, and then there's the large Venn diagram in the middle, which is the people who want both. And I think those are the ones that ultimately, I think, are the most pleased consistently because they'll get one or the other during the week. To me, it's a drama. It's still a family show, a family drama that is in the science fiction world and has action in it, but it's still, I think, character first for me.
I'm wondering about Shirley Manson. What was the decision behind getting her on board? Because this is her first acting job, right?
Josh Friedman: Yes. I've known Shirley, I've known her well for a couple of years, and I've known her off and on for many years. She's a friend of my wife's. Personally, I've always enjoyed her, and I've known her as a performer, and last year, when we were doing the show last year, whenever I'd see her, I used to joke with her about coming on the show to do one episode or something like that because she never acted. And we're like, 'You know, you should come, do one thing, come be a scary terminator for an episode or do something like that,' and she always said, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah, you're never going to do that.' And then this year, when we started casting, I actually wasn't thinking about her for this part. We'd just started casting this part, and then somewhere about a week into casting, I thought I want to bring Shirley in and see if she's up for it, see if she wants to do it, and she was actually in Europe, I think, for a funeral. And I e-mailed her and said, 'Do you want to come in and audition?" She said, 'Well, yes, I'm coming back in town on Sunday.' I said, 'Well, we need you in on Monday,' and she came and she did it, and she's just got an incredible charisma. And also, she's just very professional. She's always prepared, and her learning curve in terms of the craft part of it has been very high so far, so I don't know. It sort of just happened organically, but she also had to go through the entire audition process just like any other actor. She was given no extra points for being Shirley Manson. I think, in some ways, she was given minus points by people who thought maybe she couldn't do it.
She's the CEO of Cyberdyne, right? So this isn't like a guest spot or anything, this is...
Josh Friedman: It's not Cyberdyne, but she is a CEO of a large tech company.
What was the plan was or why was the choice made to add the Derek Reese character as a series regular because he really worked out really well, and I was wondering what gave you the idea to bring him on every week this year?
Josh Friedman: Well, people really liked him and we really liked him. I think he added, he adds something to that dynamic. I think that John's always been looking for father figures, and I think it's interesting to have one around who is a blood relative, but his back story is complicated. I like the fact that Derek represents the human face of the future war and kind of the cost, so he's sort of like a, to the extent that he's sort of this damaged war vet who is in the scenes. You always have a sense of the stakes of what they're fighting and what you don't want to see someone become, which is Derek. And he was out doing lots of auditions, so we thought we'd lock him up so that no one else could take him.
I think one of the big points in season one was seeing the future and definitely, in Dungeons & Dragons, Derek having the flashbacks or the flash forwards really brought the episode together. Is that something that we're going to see more of in season two and how will that take place?
Josh Friedman: Yes. We will, and I think it takes place sort of the same way a lot of times that it does in Dungeons & Dragons. I think, for me, what works about Dungeons & Dragons is that the future stuff really informs the things that are going on in the present, and you end up, to me, when I watch that episode, I see an amazing emotional storyline with Sarah and with Charley and with John. And I think combining those two and playing those two worlds off against each other is something that I think works very well for us, and so I think we're going to see it in certain flashes this year, but it should always, and we try to always keep it informing of the emotional back story of the show, it doesn't just become just pure eye candy, despite the joyousness of that.
Are there any guest spots you can tell us that are coming up for this season?
Josh Friedman: Busy Phillipps from Freaks and Geeks and "White Chicks" and Dawson's Creek is going to come on for a few episodes. Most of the guest stars die when they come on. I don't know. I can't really say.
The second season of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles premieres on Monday, September 8 at 8 PM ET on Fox.