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By Rick Bentley, The Fresno Bee (TNS)

LOS ANGELES — The plot of Terminator Genisys, the latest in the dystopian series about man vs. machine, suggests history can be changed with a tweak of the timeline. If James Cameron hadn’t been so insistent in 1984 that Arnold Schwarzenegger was the perfect person to star as the killing machine in The Terminator, the franchise would have had a very different look.

When Schwarzenegger met with Cameron to discuss the low-budget sci-fi film, the actor wanted to play Kyle Reese. He’s the good guy human sent from the future to protect Sarah Connor. While doing that, Reese ends up fathering the man who sent him back through time.

“As far as I knew, O.J. Simpson was going to play the Terminator. When I met with James Cameron I started talking more and more about the Terminator. How he has to train and prepare for this part. How he has to act like a machine,” Schwarzenegger says. “The whole lunch went like that. James Cameron asked me, ‘So, why do you want to play Reese?'”

Schwarzenegger wanted the role of the hero. The future California governor believed that he had his film career heading in the right direction having played the heroic Conan in two successful feature films. There was no way that he wanted to go back to being the bad guy.

He also didn’t like that the Terminator only had 27 lines.

“I liked Kyle Reese, who said a lot. But, (Cameron) said the most memorable character will be the Terminator. He said I should be the Terminator and that he would make sure that I didn’t have to think about the villains aspect,” Schwarzenegger says.

Cameron talked Schwarzenegger into playing the Terminator. Michael Biehn ended up playing Reese and Simpson went on to a different kind of notoriety.

The decision proved to be one of the biggest in Schwarzenegger’s career. The film not only was it a hit at the box office, taking in more than $38 million, The Terminator became one of the most iconic characters in film history.

By the second movie, 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Schwarzenegger’s character had been re-programmed to be a protector and he got to play the good guy. The character often gets described as one of film’s greatest heroes and greatest villains. The American Film Institute listed The Terminator at No. 22 on its list of Top 50 film villains and No. 48 among movie heroes.

It’s been a dozen years since Schwarzenegger last played the character in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. He said he was willing to slip back into the role he originated more than three decades ago for Terminator Genisys because of the writing.

“There are some people who are capable of making a sequel more special that the original. James Cameron outdid himself with the sequel and it became the highest grossing movie in 1991,” Schwarzenegger says.

“This time, (Genisys director) Alan Taylor, the writers, and producers have done an extraordinary job that really lives up to the standard of the event.”

His version of the T-800 (Model 101) has dramatically changed since the first movie. In the original, the sole motivation of the character was to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) as a way of protecting the machines of the future. In Genisys, the T-800 has become a fill-in father for Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke).

Schwarzenegger sees the character as being far more colorful.

There is more than one version of the character to play: a very young version and a far more mature edition. In one scene, the old and new T-800 end up in a fight that took a year of special effects to create.

Schwarzenegger praises the body double who helped create the fight scene.

“After three or four days of doing this fight scenes and doing all these crazy stunts, I was always wondering how they were gong to do the face replacement,” Schwarzenegger says. “When I finally saw it, the technology is so advanced, you can do so much. It looks like two Arnolds fighting.”

A lot has happened for Schwarzenegger — professionally, politically, personally — since he took Cameron’s advice for the 1984 film. If he could time travel like the characters in the movie, Schwarzenegger wouldn’t waste time hoping back to 1984. He would go back in time to the early days of the pyramids.

As for changing anything that’s gone on in his life, Schwarzenegger says: “I am perfectly fine with my life. I am very happy and want to keep it that way.”

(c)2015 The Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: (Melissa Sue Gordon/Paramount Pictures/TNS)

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