Actress Linda Hamilton, best known for her iconic role as Sarah Conner in the “Terminator” franchise, spoke about her varied career with University of Virginia President Jim Ryan in a Virginia Film Festival virtual program.
Hamilton’s conversation is one of several available as part of this year’s mostly virtual festival, which is bringing a diverse slate of on-demand films and filmmakers to audiences’ homes this year in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While events and panels featuring performers of Hamilton’s caliber usually draw sold-out crowds to the Paramount Theater and other venues in Charlottesville, the nature of this year’s format has led to more subdued and intimate conversations.
Chatting by video, Hamilton was joined by Ryan and UVa law school alumna Julie Lynn, who worked with Hamilton as a producer on “Terminator: Dark Fate.”
“Dark Fate,” which was released in theaters last year, was the first time Hamilton had played the role of Conner since “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” 27 years prior.
Hamilton said she had no ideas of grandeur when she initially took on the role for 1984’s “Terminator” and that she did not have the luxury to be choosy with her roles. She said she certainly never expected to become an icon of female empowerment in action films and doesn’t think of herself as an icon, though she is glad to have made an impact in Hollywood’s representation of female action heroes.
“I’m lucky enough to not think about myself in those terms because I think that would be a terrible thing to try to live up to, and to be this sort of monolith of female empowerment,” she said. “My answer is to always try to neutralize that, because I want to play all kinds of women.”
Returning as Conner in 2019’s “Dark Fate” was — in addition to being physically arduous — mentally difficult, Hamilton said. However, she opted to join the film after deciding that she could “bring some fire” to the role.
“I had to go into my deepest sorrow and disappointment every day because that’s who [Sarah Conner] is,” Hamilton said. “She’s disappointed in humanity and she’s just lost and fierce, so there’s no way to avoid doing the deep painful work in order to bring that to the screen.”
It was on the set of “Dark Fate” that Hamilton met Lynn. Lynn said she joined the film during preproduction with the intention of being hands-on. Once on set, she said she was impressed with Hamilton’s dedication to the role.
“[Hamilton] may not be a method actor in the way we think of method acting, but she goes inside and it was like watching a hand go into a glove that had been made bespoke for it,” Lynn said. “She was in incredible physical condition, but also she just knew that character — there was no needing to be told who she was.”
Hamilton said she relied on her two female co-stars — Mackenzie Davis and Natalia Reyes — to get through the difficult shoot, something she said she wasn’t sure she could have done without them.
As her career has gone on, Hamilton said she has realized that she does not like living in Hollywood and now lives in New Orleans. However, before she permanently moved to Louisiana, Hamilton lived on a farm in Leesburg, Virginia, for a time, to be near her parents at the end of their lives.
However, this part of her life wouldn’t last and Hamilton said she soon felt the call of urban life, leading her to sell the farm in 2016.
“It’s lonely having a farm. You’ve got land and you’ve only got three neighbors, but I just needed something vital with a young population,” she said. “I wanted to see people of color around me and just have the urban really close.”
Though Hamilton prefers urban life, she had nothing but praise for Charlottesville, sharing that she once spent a whole summer here.
“I spent one crazy summer out of my life [in Charlottesville] because I was pretty sure I wanted to move there,” she said. “But that was in the early days and I had to return to Hollywood.”
The 33rd annual Virginia Film Festival runs through Sunday and offers a virtual lineup of more than 50 feature films, documentaries, shorts and discussions, as well as in-person, socially distanced drive-in movies at Dairy Market and Morven Farm.
More information and tickets can be found at virginiafilmfestival.org.