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Why Arnold Schwarzenegger Needed To Be Convinced To Play The Terminator

While Hollywood icon Arnold Schwarzenegger has starred in such blockbusters as "Predator," "Total Recall," and "True Lies," and even served eight years as California's governor, a lot of fans associate the former Australian bodybuilder with his role in director James Cameron's sci-fi classic "The Terminator."

Aided by his title turns in "Conan the Barbarian" and "Conan the Destroyer" in the two years before the film's release, 1984's "The Terminator" catapulted Schwarzenegger to the top of the A-list in Tinseltown. Schwarzenegger, of course, starred as The Terminator in the film, a futuristic cyborg sent back in time to assassinate Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) — a woman destined to give birth to a son, John, who will one day lead the resistance against self-aware machines in a post-apocalyptic war.

The Terminator, however, isn't the only being sent back from the future with a mission, as Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) also makes the trip to protect Connor from the menacing cyborg. And while it seems like Schwarzenegger — a charismatic former bodybuilder with an imposing, muscular frame — was destined to play The Terminator from the get-go, the actor actually had another role in mind when it came to auditioning for the film.

"It was a total coincidence because I didn't ever try out as the Terminator," Schwarzenegger told Howard Stern in a 2015 interview. "I was trying [out] to be Kyle Reese."

Schwarzenegger told Cameron how O.J. Simpson should play The Terminator

During his interview with Howard Stern, Arnold Schwarzenegger recalled that after his audition to play Kyle Reese, he met with James Cameron for lunch. Instead of talking about his ideas for Reese, however, Schwarzenegger was focused on how former NFL star O.J. Simpson — who took up acting years before his controversial legal troubles — should approach playing The Terminator since he was the frontrunner for the role.

"I said, 'I know you guys have already probably hired O.J. Simpson, [to play the Terminator, but] whoever is playing it, I just want you to be clear that he has to train himself; to sample weapons and put weapons together and to shoot and to load the weapons, [and to do all of this] totally blindfolded,'" Schwarzenegger told Stern. He then recalled explaining the reason behind this to Cameron. "As a machine, he could never look down at his hands ... It has to be absolutely clear at all times that this is a machine with absolutely no human behavior," the actor said.

Schwarzenegger told Stern that he went on for about an hour with Cameron, telling him how the character should be embodied — to which the director replied, "Why don't you play [The] Terminator? You understand him so well, this character. This is exactly what we need.'" Instead of leaping at the opportunity, though, Schwarzenegger said he was resistant to playing the role.

Schwarzenegger says he wasn't interested because The Terminator had little dialogue

Arnold Schwarzenegger recalled for Howard Stern that initially, he wasn't interested in playing the Terminator simply because the character didn't have a lot to say during the film, and said as much to James Cameron. "I said, 'No, no, no, Jim. Please, please. I counted the amount of lines this guy says. It's 27 lines,'" he shared, noting that this was 101 fewer lines than the 128 he said while playing Conan the Barbarian.

Effectively, Schwarzenegger told Stern, he explained to Cameron that he didn't want to say fewer lines because it was his goal to become a leading man. However, Cameron supposedly told Schwarzenegger that he would make The Terminator the leading man because he's the title character: "I will shoot it from below up. You will look heroic and don't worry about killing all these people [in the movie] because you're a machine," the actor quoted the director as saying. "No one is going to blame Arnold. You're a machine."

In the end, Schwarzenegger's actions spoke louder than his words — or at least most of the time. Among Schwarzenegger's lines that emerged from the movie to become part of the cultural lexicon was, "I'll be back."

During the Stern interview, Schwarzenegger said part of the inspiration for the Terminator's robotic acting came from watching screen icon Yul Brynner's performance as The Gunslinger in the 1973 sci-fi classic "Westworld" — based on the Michael Crichton novel that eventually spawned the HBO series of the same name in 2016. Schwarzenegger, meanwhile, went on to star in four more "Terminator" movies after the 1984 original, with the most recent being "Terminator: Dark Fate" in 2019.