(Exclusive) Tim Miller: As a man, I do not presume to understand gender politics
Filmmaker Tim Miller talks to Cinema Express about his latest film, Terminator: Dark Fate, which hits screens this Friday
Tim Miller is a clear natural when it comes to humour. You saw that with his debut, Deadpool. And I get firsthand evidence of it as he looks to break the ice by dramatically announcing, "The reason I have called you all for a meeting today is..." We laugh, and the conversation begins.
With Arnold and Linda back, Dark Fate is going to be looked at with much nostalgia. How did you balance the old with the new?
As a fan of the franchise, I understand the line of honouring the brand and the key elements that people want to see. That said, when you are paying a small fortune to watch the film, you don't want to see exactly what you saw 20 years ago. You want to see something new that feels like a part of the tapestry already woven.
You have directed Deadpool earlier and now, it's the Terminator. You're also the Executive Producer for the upcoming Sonic the Hedgehog film. You seem to be heavily into pop-culture icons.
(Laughs) That's because I am a nerd and a geek. I love to read science fiction and fantasy especially. It is so great that I get to be a part of these films now and get paid for it but honestly, I would be doing it anyway because that's I grew up reading.
The third film in the franchise is a tough act to follow considering the response the first two films received. At which point were you convinced it would all work?
When I first saw Linda come out with the costume, I could see that she owned it. Mackenzie Davis is a formidable woman but she had a normal physique. When I got to see her after training heavily in a short span of time with the muscles, she looked like a total badass. Natalia Reyes, when I saw her act with Linda, absolutely crushed it. It's a campaign of many such small victories.
You recently mentioned that you have always seen the Terminator franchise as being headlined by a female.
It has always been about Sarah Connor and there is no other way to interpret it. As a man, I would not presume to understand gender politics or a woman's perspective on things. Fortunately, I had three strong women (Linda Hamilton, Mackenzie Davis and Natalia Reyes) who I constantly consulted on how to portray something in the right manner. A lot of times, as a man, even if you're trying to do the right thing, you cannot as you are ill-equipped to understand the way a woman feels. I always went to them for feedback and Mackenzie was always happy to tell me (smiles).
Dark Fate is R-rated just like the previous James Cameron iterations. Any pushback to it?
I wouldn't call it pushback but the decision to go with R was actually made in post-production. Most of us wanted it to be R -- Arnold especially. If things didn't go per plan, the idea was to do a PG-13 wide release and an R-rated director's cut. It would have been tough because Linda couldn't help but cuss all the time and throw F-bombs(laughs). Mackenzie might look like a sweet lady but she's got a dirty mouth as well. With the way the action is handled these days, the violence is justified in a film like Dark Fate.
I am not someone who would want to do a slo-mo of a body splitting open. I know it would cater to a certain section but it would turn off the majority. We saw it in Deadpool -- when Ajax twists the neck of Deadpool and we gave it the sound of a celery snapping (laughs). I want this film to be enjoyed by all.
What did James Cameron tell you after watching the film?
He has not seen the final cut but just a few iterations. He is clear about what he likes and doesn't. His style of filmmaking is different. Luckily for me, he understood that the end product must look like a cohesive work. He understands the characters like nobody else and is one of the smartest men in show business.
Action sequences in this franchise are usually the big draw. How challenging was it here?
The special effects team is the best in the world. They have done films such as Mission Impossible and Star Wars. The plane set was an engineering marvel. The interior of a C-5 aircraft is huge and the set was one and a half times the original size. It was also made in such a way that it could rotate in 360 degrees. We also had another vertical version of it. It was important to stick to the laws of physics and we did not want anything to look fake. That sequence was the most complicated one in the entire film.
Jim's way of getting things done is simple. He just told me, "Make the best C-5 plane crash sequence ever done in the history of filmmaking. I'll see you guys later" (laughs).
Linda spoke with us about her wrinkles in an earlier interview and you have shown that the T-800 has aged too. Did the story demand this progression?
Setting the film in the current timeframe made sense from the story perspective. Jim had already established that Terminators age as their exterior body is human and they age over time. Considering gender politics in today's world, I would never consider de-aging my characters. It's so much cooler to have an older woman play this powerful character than bending the reality to fit some kind of cultural norm that I feel is frankly outdated and never should have existed in the first place. Linda has this amazing nobility in her sculptured face that both the camera and I find to be fascinating. The older women in the sets said Arnold looks the best now with his rugged beard (laughs).
Dark Fate also talks about border-crossing, robots taking over jobs and representing the Latino community right. How difficult was it to be responsible without diluting the essence of the franchise?
It's an important question to which I don't have the answer (smiles). I am optimistic about the future when I speak about AI and robotics. We had an AI expect on board for this film as well and she spoke about robots replacing humans. I thought it would not be a bad thing if done in a humane way. After all, the majority of the time on this planet, we wandered around, spoke to our family, gathered food and ate. I used to have this belief that it was a dark age but now I have come to believe that it was a wonderful time where humans were able to be humans. I love technology and where it's going but what if where it goes is a place that helps us recapture that freedom. I am sure no one wants to be a labour for 10 hours a day just to put food on their tables. If technology can take care of it, then I am all for it. It's just a question of how.
As for border politics, I am about as far left of centre as you can be. I think it's a horrible situation. I have tried to portray the immigrants in the detention centre as not victims of an unfortunate circumstance. We all know why they are there. But I also know the law enforcement are just people doing their job and you have to try and enforce laws some way. It's an unfortunate situation and one that politics is better equipped to solve.