Terminator 2: Judgement Day with William Wisher
It’s the final episode of Script Apart season one, and here to help us say “hasta la vista” is William "Bill" Wisher, co-writer of the timeless Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Released thirty years ago this summer, the film was the most expensive blockbuster in Hollywood history upon release. The 1984 original had been a sleeper hit. Written and directed by James Cameron, The Terminator was a lean sci-fi slasher movie, in which the unstoppable killer was not a Freddy or Jason monster, but a machine, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger in a role that catapulted the Austrian to superstardom. Writing a sequel was a daunting task for James: how could he unleash on audiences a follow-up that retained the surprise and innovation of the first movie?
To help answer this question, James turned to an old friend. Bill used to make DIY movies with James back home in the small town of Brea, California. He was an emerging screenwriter at the time, with some Hollywood experience but nothing of this scale and magnitude. The pair had a lot of big ideas and not a lot of time to come up with a function screenplay for T2. They knew they had to bring back Arnie, despite the exoskeletal assassin he played in the first film dying in that movie’s final moments. The challenge of bringing back the character in an organic, meaningful way was one problem. Getting Arnie to agree to the daring creative solution they came up with, they feared, might be another.
T2 was frenzied, intense work for James and Bill, but worth it. The movie took no time at all to become regarded an action classic, grossing over $520m and introducing the world to more than one iconic catchphrase. Key to its success was the way Judgement Day added heart to the horror of the first movie, turning the 1984 original on its head by making the T-800 a good guy and giving him a tender relationship with future leader of the resistance John Connor, played by Edward Furlong.
We spoke to Bill over Zoom from his home in California to hear how the foundations for Terminator 2 were laid out across six years’ worth of racquetball games with James Cameron. We also delve into the creation of the villainous T-1000, his own blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo in T2, and why Judgement Day is deep down a film about family.
We’re already hard at work on season two of Script Apart, which we’re excited to bring you very soon. As Arnie might say: we’ll be back.
Script Apart is a podcast about the first-draft secrets behind great movies. Each episode, the screenwriter behind a beloved film shares with us their initial screenplay for that movie. We then talk through what changed, what didn’t and why on its journey to the big screen. All proceeds go to Black Minds Matter UK, the NHS Charities Covid-19 Appeal and the Film and TV Charity.
Script Apart is hosted by Al Horner and produced by Kamil Dymek, with music from Stefan Bindley-Taylor. You can follow Script Apart on Twitter and Instagram. You can also email us on firstname.lastname@example.org.