The actress and creator of the series talks about the new episodes of this hit Fox series
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles from the holiday hiatus with brand new episodes and a brand new night, starting on Friday, February 13 at 8 PM ET, right before the series premiere of Dollhouse at 9 PM ET on Fox. I was recently in on a conference call with actress Summer Glau, who plays the lovely cyborg Cameron Phillips, and series creator and executive producer Josh Friedman, who both talked about the series' return. Here's what the both had to say.
I just want to start with a pretty basic question for Josh, I just want you to talk about the Friday time slot and what advantages or disadvantages you feel like it offers.
Josh Friedman: Well the advantage I see is that we were getting our asses kicked on Monday nights, so I'm happy to move to Fridays.
Summer Glau: I don't think we were getting our asses kicked, I just think there was a lot of people on Monday.
Josh Friedman: Yes, it was crowded, it was crowded on Monday and I think that Friday gives Fox an opportunity to promote us together with Dollhouse, which seems like a pretty exciting show. You know it's an opportunity for a fresh start and we have a lot of great episodes in the back nine. So I don't think anyone really knows what to expect in this environment. So I feel good about it.
Well following off of that, do you get the impression already that Fox has different expectations for you guys on Friday night?
Josh Friedman: You know I haven't really talked to them about numbers or anything, I think that Fox was very sort of just open to see what happens. I mean I think that they are excited by the possibility, but I haven't really talked to them about it. I think just generally, statistically Friday has obviously been a lower ratings night, which is good and bad. I mean I think it's good in that you have a different set of expectations, but I don't know exactly what they are and I haven't even asked.
Summer, you are really quite wonderful in the show.
Summer Glau: Thank you.
A question for Josh about that. I look at the show and I say, yes, Summer is really good as Cameron, but what was it that you all initially saw in Summer that made you all go, "Yes, yes, she's the right Cameron."
Josh Friedman: Well I sort of wrote the part for her. Well I had seen Summer a few years earlier, she came in and auditioned for another show, but then she went off and did the Serenity movie and I walked around carrying her audition tape for a few weeks, kind of lamenting the loss of Summer. So when I was working on the show, working on developing it and I realized I wanted to do a character like this, she as about the only one that I felt like I knew could do this. And I think it's just something just - you know she has a quality - one it's her physicality and her dance training and all sorts of things, I think she has a particular kind of - she's really the only people I know who can kind of be completely still and still be fascinating to watch act. She's got it.
We've heard that the back nine episodes have a lot more action in them, what does that mean for Cameron and big robot battles?
Summer Glau: It means lots of Squibbs, and lots of extra stunt rehearsals, which I've missed, because we did take a little break from it at the end of our first half, because we were really intensifying some of the mysteries that we've been building on. And now that I've come back from the Christmas break it seems like I'm always putting on a Squibb jacket and running around and shooting people and I'm having a blast. The back half is going to be exciting.
Did having that episode early on in the season that establishes Cameron's back story in the future, did that affect - how did that affect the way you play her now?
Summer Glau: It really just helped intensify my understanding of Cameron and really kind of helped me as an actress. I had already really imagined who I thought she was and sort of filled it in, in my own mind. But I think it just made it more exciting for me and for the fans.
I'm really trying to figure out this end game of Cameron's, it seems like you're obviously very robotic, but then at times you're very human. And the relationship that your character is developing with John Connor, I mean what sort of, as far as your understanding of the character, what do you think her end game is and how do you bring emotion in those scenes to this robot?
Summer Glau: Well I just got a hold of our season finale script and I am shocked.
Josh Friedman: Summer and I haven't talked about it yet.
Summer Glau: I am shocked, Josh. So I'm not going to give it away, but I'm excited and I'm a little bit sad, but more excited and just really proud of what Josh has done. I mean it's the most beautiful character and I love playing her and she's done above and beyond what I ever thought I could do in two seasons on TV and that's been a huge blessing for me. But Cameron is so complicated I couldn't possibly imagine this storyline. I'm glad that Josh is the writer and I'm the actress.
Josh Friedman: That makes two of us, by the way. I really don't look good in those...
Summer Glau: But I think everybody is going to be shocked at what happens at the end of this season - it's not the ending.
Josh Friedman: But really Summer is shocked, because I hadn't told her what was going on in the episode. I was waiting for you to read the thing.
Summer Glau: I'm shocked.
Josh, along those lines, it seems like we haven't seen the last of the Allison storyline, what can you tell us about any future plans there?
Josh Friedman: Again, the Allison from Palmdale episode is one of my favorite episodes and writer, Tony Graphia did a great job with it and Summer was just phenomenal in it. And I think that none of us really knew when we were working on the episode kind of what we were going to end up with and it ended being something, I mean again it is one of my favorite episodes. So I certainly would like to revisit the Allison character at some point. It's interesting, I mean Allison and Cameron are two complete - you know they are different characters and I think that one does inform the other, but they are different characters and I think that it's important to be able to differentiate them and Summer does a great job doing that. But I'm sure we'll see Allison some day.
The last episodes and of course moving the show to a different night is going to be an experiment to see how ratings do and if you guys are able to pick up more eyes. So how have you kind of been planning leaning towards this finale that you guys have already written. Is it kind of going to be a little bit more close-ended or Josh are you thinking in positive terms that there will be a third season?
Josh Friedman: Well I'm always optimistic. I mean again, I think we have no idea of what is going to happen in the next few months. We don't know what, we just don't know. I mean I sort of look forward to it - yes, I mean I'm not really sure if I'm saying it right, I'm very optimistic and I think how it relates to how I wrote the finale, I wrote the finale the way that I was planning on writing the finale for a long time. I mean I think that there were things that we've been building to all season and you owe the audience that has been watching the show, kind of a logical conclusion to the things that you've been building towards. And I think that everyone says, well you know fans get really upset if a show gets cancelled and things are left hanging. But you know fans get upset if a show gets cancelled. And I think fans also get upset when you write a crappy finale. So I think that you have to try to write the best finale that you can, providing closure to the stories that you're telling, but if I tried to kind of sum up every single thing in 43 minutes, it would be a disaster. I think you'd end up with like a clip show. But again, hopefully it's going to be something that feels satisfying for people who have watched all year, and also it certainly let's you know where we would be going a third season.
In optimistic terms, if you do get that third season, is there a particular storyline or continuation of those threads that you talked about that you're most excited about exploring in a third season?
Josh Friedman: Yes, but I won't tell you which ones.
Are you both happy about being grouped with Joss's new show on Friday nights and do you think it will help with the fans out there and everything else?
Josh Friedman: I haven't seen the show yet, but yes, I'm excited about it. I mean I was excited six months ago when I just heard that he was going to come back to Fox and do a show. I mean I'm a huge fan of his, and he an I, I know him a little bit and we've talked and sent e-mails once in a while, kind of like supporting each other. So yes, I'm excited; I think that it's a really smart move by Fox. I think you have to start trying to brand yourself on certain nights and give people a focus, because there is just so much to do. I know Summer doesn't really like Joss that much.
What do you think Summer, is this a good move by Fox?
Summer Glau: I think it's a great move. I think its fun and I think that the shows are very well paired together. And of course I love Joss and I know some of the actors on Dollhouse and I'm rooting for us both. I think it's going to be a fresh start for us.
How about coming back on Friday the 13th, are either of you superstitious?
Summer Glau: I'm going to say it's going to be lucky for us, hopefully.
Josh Friedman: I'm just happy when we're on television, I don't care what night it is. It's like you're lucky, if you have a show on television, you should be happy.
Summer Glau: Yes.
One more thing Summer, any more plans for the summer, Summer? After the show has stopped shooting, do you plan to do anything else?
Summer Glau: I'm starting to read some different scripts and go out and try to have some meetings, I'd like to have something going. Of course I want to hear that we have a third season. But I'm going to go out and try to do something else during the break.
Summer, what was your biggest challenge in defining your character as Cameron, are there connections that you feel with her, as a character?
Summer Glau: Absolutely, more so than ever. But it was - and I know I said this before, but it really was a team effort. When I came in to read for Cameron originally, I just had the side, I didn't have a script, I didn't really know what to expect or exactly how we were going to build the character. And the biggest difference between playing Cameron and playing other roles that I have in the past is just that I have to, I'm constantly making a decision about how I play this role. You know it has to be planned out. And as an actor, a lot of times you just react in a scene and you just do it from your heart. And you know Cameron cannot do that. So that's the biggest difference, but I really rely on Josh and I rely on my writers to help me with the character.
Josh Friedman: Don't be fooled, I haven't talked to her in about two months.
Summer Glau: Well you've been busy.
Josh Friedman: She's ..., she is almost a robot at this point, she can do it. I mean the great thing about Summer is that she makes decisions and I think we noticed it back on the pilot, I was sitting with James Middleton on the set and it was probably day two or three of shooting and we didn't know Summer that well, or know what her take on the character was and we talked about it, and I remember there was a point where she did something in a scene that was so sort of clever and very sophisticated and we thought, did she do that on purpose, we don't know. If she did that on purpose, it was so cool and we hadn't talked about it. And we waited for the next take and then she did it again, and we were like, she is doing it on purpose and it was awesome. I think at that point he and I both looked at each other and high-fived and we were like okay, there's somebody here who we can entrust with this, who is going to be able to do this and doesn't need her hand held all the time. She understands the character, I think, better than I do.
I have one of those horrible nitpicky fan questions. When Cameron was leaning out the car window and saying, "Yes, we feel we wouldn't be much good if we didn't," if they do feel, how are they so good at not reacting to getting shot?
Josh Friedman: Well I think there is a difference between feeling sensation and feeling pain. I mean I think there is sensation and it may, I don't think we know exactly, I think we don't exactly know what that equivalent is. And it doesn't mean that - the reason I think that - I mean you and I feel pain and we express it in our face, because somehow that's connected. It doesn't mean that just because a cyborg feels pain that it has to be expressed in their face, those things aren't connected.
Summer, when you had that scene, did you in any way modify how you played Cameron after that? Did that affect how you saw the character?
Summer Glau: That scene was really important to me. It was really fun to have an opportunity. I think that she has a plan for drawing John closer to her. So I've been trying to incorporate that all season. But no, I don't think I played her differently after that scene, it's all part of the plan for Cameron.
Josh, I'm just curious, given that you've been away for a couple of months now, if there is anything in the first episode back, other than just a standard previously on, that sort of will bring viewers back to where the story stands at this point.
Josh Friedman: No, maybe this phone call. We have a recap like we generally have a recap; we don't have anything special on there. The episode picks up pretty quickly after the things that happened at the end of episode 13. I seem to do that all the time, I did that after last season when we had the shortened season, you know Samson and Delia picked up, basically 30 seconds afterwards and I kind of like doing that. I think it does frustrate some of the powers that be sometimes, because I'm not much for resetting scenes or kind of reminding people of things. I kind of feel like the people who watch the show know where we are and I also don't think that the first episode - you know it's pretty clear what's going on at that point.
And if you know that there is going to be a hiatus in the middle of the season, do you sort of write to that with your last episode back and the last episode before?
Josh Friedman: Sort of. I mean it's less about a hiatus and most just about trying to have something big happen somewhere in the middle of the season. And I think that we were - you know we started writing, I don't know if I remember if I knew how long we were going to be off. But I knew that you always try to write episode 13 as sort of a big thing. I meant 13/9 breakpoint is sort of almost like the halftime of a football game. So definitely we tried to write to that. And also, I think having those sorts of signposts help the writers and me focus.
In the upcoming episode, The Good Wound, the promo mentions an injured Sarah, Weaver is protecting John Henry, I was just wondering, what is Cameron up to in the episode?
Josh Friedman: What is Cameron up to in that episode?
Summer Glau: Cameron is - I don't know how to put this, she's doing a few unexpected things. Oh gosh Josh, I don't know how to put this.
Josh Friedman: We aren't going to tell you.
Summer Glau: Okay.
Josh Friedman: How's that Summer?
Summer Glau: Thank you.
Josh Friedman: Sorry, I'm a fascist.
I was curious, since Cameron survived the explosion and her brain got kind of scrambled there, how has that opened up the character for you like with flashbacks or new emotions and things like that?
Summer Glau: Josh and I were talking about it one day on set, we were just talking about how, because Cameron is absorbing human behavior and trying to understand human emotion, I think that the fans are sort of getting drawn into having - feeling like they relate to her more and I think there are moments where you almost think, Cameron is a family pet, she's really more docile and we're trusting her, but then she has to do something to shock everyone into remembering she's a dangerous robot. And that's something that I try to remind myself of all the time in scenes, I want people to be drawn in, but then be shocked into remembering, oh my gosh she's really dangerous. Anything could happen at any moment with her.
I just have one more quick thing for Josh. What advantages or disadvantages does Cameron have in a hand-to-hand brawl with Catherine?
Josh Friedman: Very few...
Josh Friedman: Well you know, I mean I think I certainly would rather be Weaver than Cameron in a straight up brawl, but you know, maybe she's quicker, but that's a rough one, that's a rough fight. But it was a rough fight in T2 and there are very few advantages in that fight.
Summer Glau: I don't know if I want to know what happens, I've been avoiding her.
Summer, Josh mentioned earlier your dance training and you've been able to use that talent in the Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, specifically the episode where Cameron shakes down a ballet instructor. But besides actual dancing, how else do you feel that your dance background has helped you in the role of Cameron?
Summer Glau: I've been really fortunate to have been cast in some roles where I've been able to incorporate movement. I think that Cameron is isolated in a way and isn't really able to relate to the other characters on a human level and I feel that movement is a way for me to express that. I feel that sometimes her movement is awkward or her movement is unpredictable. And it is a way for me to help tell her story, if that makes sense.
What has been some of your favorite scenes to shot so far in the series?
Summer Glau: In this series, oh gosh, I loved everything about Samson and Delia. I think about so many of those scenes and just how beautiful they were and how meaningful they were for my character and Thomas' character. Another one of my favorite scenes from this season was my scene with Thomas in the car; you know where I'm trying to make him believe that I can feel; that was really important to my character. And I'm really excited about the season finale; I have a lot of really great stuff to do.
Josh Friedman: And I think you guys just - and I've said this before, but I always like to say it when Summer is on the phone, you guys have no idea how hard it is to play this part and I think that one of the curses of Summer is that she makes it look easy. I mean it's one of the reasons why we did do "Allison from Palmdale" and things like that, to let people know this is a real actress who is not just walking on the set and walking around like a robot. We've had a lot of good actors have a really hard time playing Terminators. And luckily we've got three really good ones right now. But she makes it look easy and it's really hard.
Will we ever see an episode that deals with the guy from 1963 who built the time machine that was used in the pilot episode?
Josh Friedman: The engineer, the engineer. I love the engineer character, I will tell you. We talk about the engineer in the writer's room all the time. We have arguments about the engineer. There are a lot of people in the writer's room who constantly pitch engineer stories, and there are people in the writer's room that say, I never want to see that guy in this series. I am determined, at some point, to have the engineer in the show, I cannot guarantee that it will happen. In fact I'll probably tell you it will not happen in this last nine episodes, but I am totally fascinated by that guy. I have multiple thoughts about what is going on with that guy. So I hope so, is the answer.
Was there a conscious effort to make the first part of this season more episodic than you did in season one?
Josh Friedman: Yes, you know it was something that we had talked about with the studio and the network and the network really wanted to feel like the episodes were more close-ended. I think that I am, for better or worse, I'm just a serialized storyteller, it's the stuff that I really like in TV. So we tried to find a happy medium, where we could advance the mythology and yet do close-ended stories. Again, "Allison from Palmdale" is a close-ended story. It is also a big mythology story. I mean I think that may be the example of where it works the best. I think that we started out with that intention and then we just tell the stories that we're interested in. And I think that there are times when we want to stop and tell kind of a fun story, I mean Self-Made Man being an example of that. But for the most part the writers come in and we talk about the larger story and I think the back nine is really much more serialized, even than the front nine, front thirteen.
One is that one of my favorite episodes this year was the one where Sarah had to rescue the little boy and got to basically be his mom for an episode. How important was that to her character? And then it looks like in the teasers for the season we're seeing Kyle Reese again. Can you talk any about that?
Josh Friedman: My assistant is chanting Kyle in the background. She likes Kyle. Well I think that - you know I love that episode where she's got to take care of that kid. One, I think I like that kid, he does a good job and I think that the great thing about - all of the things that we've tried do when we tried to do this season with Sarah is to put her in sort of time travel situations without traveling her through time. You know put her in situations where she's sort of faced with alternate versions of her own life, like kind of what could have been. And I think the Kacy character is sort of that. You know she's faced with a single mother who is pregnant, who has her own concerns and that could have been Sarah, but it's not Sarah. Or she's taking care of a child that is not her child, but could have been her child in a different world. I think kind of different mother figures, different child figures and that's been something that I've kind of wanted to weave through the first half of the season, which is just these sort of - again, I keep calling it time travel without time travel. They are like alternate versions of her life. And it gives Sarah kind of an opportunity to contrast what her situation is; again, what could have been or what never could be and I find that sort of poignant. You know the Kyle thing, let's all just wait and see what that one looks like.
Well did it disappoint you that they might have given something away in the teaser?
Josh Friedman: It always disappoints me.
So we should not have seen that.
Josh Friedman: Well you know it's ... a whole larger thing. And I wish no one could see anything. You know I wish everyone just showed up. I wish that ten million people showed up every week and watched the show, regardless of what was advertised during the week. But that's just not reality and then the reality also is that our show is a bit ratings challenged or has been and people want to do things to cut through the noise and I appreciate that. But what that usually translates to for marketing people is spoilers. And people, who know me, know that I'm just a fascist about trying to control those things. But it's hard to market a show without showing significant events in the episode. It's hard to just tease things and not show anything. At some point you have to show stuff and I don't ever want to show anything. I mean I write these do not reveal lists every week and send them to the marketing people and things that I allow for reveal are very little and the do not reveal list is always long and they call me up saying, "How are we supposed to do a commercial?" And then we have to negotiate. So that's a long way of saying it's good that people know that Kyle Reese is in the episode, but I wish people were surprised that Kyle Reese was in the episode.
Summer, this is actually a question for you. Do you ever sort of get tired of playing deceptively strong ass-kickers?
Summer Glau: No.
You do not want to be an ingénue?
Summer Glau: No. Well I feel that in certain moments Cameron has been able to be the damsel in distress. I know that sounds crazy and I think there's a moment where she's been able to be the princess and she's been able to do ballet and "Allison from Palmdale," I got to play four different characters. I mean I really cannot complain. I've really been - it's great to be on TV, on a TV show and get to play a complicated girl. And for that I'm very, very grateful.
I wanted to ask you, Summer, if you could talk a little bit about how you are portraying the relationship between Cam and Sarah and John, I mean it's clearly not just like an obedient machine kind of thing, but I guess it's a mystery of whether she can actually feel emotion for them.
Summer Glau: Well I've always thought that everybody wants a purpose and everybody wants to belong and have a reason for surviving and I think Cameron's deep love for John is because it's her whole reason for existing. He is her whole reason for existing. And I think that is love, I think she would do anything for him and in her reality, I think that may be what love is to her. So yes, I think - I'm not really sure what Josh wants to do with the character and I think he's sort of peeling away layers and revealing the past/future, so that we know more about Cameron. But I know from my perspective of playing here, I always want to believe that she does feel something for both of them.
Josh, does she?
Josh Friedman: I was reading a review of a - it was a novel about a robot, actually, this really cool novel. And there was some quote in there that said, "You know this book isn't about what it means to be using a robot to figure out what it means to be human, it's about using a robot to figure out what it means to be a robot." And I wanted to steal that quote, in fact I am, because I think that the Cameron creation, the cyborg and what it means to be that thing, is sort of like - that to me is more interesting than what it means - like is she becoming human? No, she's not becoming human; she's becoming what she - like the most platonic ideal version of what she is designed to be. Or at least she wants to be that. And what she is finding is it's difficult, just like it's sort of difficult for us to be the best versions of ourselves, I think it's difficult for her to be the best version of herself. And you know she gets in fights and her chip gets hurt and she's - you know not everything is clear to her all the time, where she has conflicting purposes or conflicting ways that she wants to execute the one purpose, which is to protect John. Yes, to the extent that is being fully dedicated, not to say that she's a dog, because she's clearly not, but does a dog love a master in the same way, because it's dedicated to that - I mean dedication isn't love, but you know, I guess is my point. I'm just rambling.
Is this something that you want to continue to explore and clarify?
Josh Friedman: Yes, I think absolutely it is something that we're exploring and it's something that is really important to last, to the back half of the season, is their relationship and what types of decisions she needs to make, to kind of keep her larger goals alive. You know she is faced with a lot of information that I think makes her job complicated. Is that fair to say, Summer?
Summer Glau: I think so, yes.
You can catch the continuing adventures of Summer Glau's Cameron and the rest of the cast of Josh Friedman's Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, when new episodes come back on Friday, February 13 at 8 PM ET on Fox.