Natalia Reyes is the personification of the two biggest questions going into Terminator: Dark Fate. Reyes plays Dani, a young Mexican woman being hunted by a brand new Terminator. So question one is, what makes Dani so important? The second question comes from the man himself, Terminator star Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“She’s under a lot of pressure because the question when you cast is not only can you pull it off, but would the people buy-in? That you never know,” Schwarzenegger told Gizmodo when asked about his co-star. “I always said in the beginning, that’s going to be the challenge of the movie. Either people going to buy into those new women [or not]. That is the key thing.”
Reyes felt that pressure too. The actress, whose biggest role prior to Terminator was on the Colombian soap opera Lady, La Vendedora de Rosas, admits she was wary of joining the Terminator franchise.
“I hate when I hear ‘Terminator 6,’ my brain goes ‘Ugh,’” the actress told Gizmodo in Los Angeles this week. “You don’t really want to do the sixth of anything, right? But I think the first thing you ask as an actor is like, ‘Why? Why are you telling this story again for the sixth time?’ And then I was like, ‘Oh, James Cameron’s back. Oh, Linda Hamilton is back.’ I think those are the big things about this movie.”
Two of the big things, sure, but there’s much more to it than that. The return of Cameron and Hamilton for the first time since 1991's Terminator 2: Judgment Day certainly gives Dark Fate more weight than the previous three instalments.
But more than that, the time that has passed between Cameron’s first two cautionary tales about technology and present-day elevates the subject matter even further. That was another reason for Reyes to take the leap.
“Now, in 2019, it is so important and relevant to start thinking about it [again],” she said. “To have this movie and see, in our life, how dependable we are on technology, how important is our [mobile] phone, how useless we are without them, so I think it’s more than relevant.”
When Cameron’s original Terminator came out in 1984, Reyes hadn’t been born yet. She caught Terminator 2: Judgment Day on TV years after its release and went back to the original, quickly becoming a fan.
“I just have this [memory] of Sarah Connor doing pull-ups and going ‘Wow,’ she said. “I’m seeing these robots and the eye and the hand...the movie is just part of the pop culture. We all know about it. And it’s a classic because it’s universal. That’s why this is so important. They told this story 35 years ago. And 35 years later, we can tell [a similar] plot and story, but being totally new and updated and different and fresh and cool, and still be a great film.”
Those “totally new,” “fresh and cool” updates also speak to Reyes on a different level. A more personal one, and probably the most important reason yet for her to take the role.
“Sarah Connor was a waitress. She was a single mother. She was nobody. And suddenly she was this huge action hero. As a woman, I don’t think you get many references [like that] and especially being a Latino. You don’t have a Latino character like this,” Reyes said. “You’ve seen Michelle Rodriguez playing some things, but I think that’s why it’s so important. We need to create those roles. We need to create those references.”
With Dani, Reyes certain does that. Like Sarah, the character starts as a strong-willed, but anonymous woman, living a simple, humble life. It’s not until a Rev-9 Terminator (Gabriel Luna) is sent back from the future to kill her and an enhanced human solider named Grace (Mackenzie Davis) is sent to protect her that Dani finds out she’s destined for more. And quickly she’ll become a character every bit as impressive as Sarah Connor, but still unique and more modern.
“This is 2019. So I think things are changing. And we were like thinking about guns and violence and how different women can be,” Reyes said, “Sarah is really obsessed with guns. That’s the way she got strong. But then you see Grace and she uses guys, but she’s not really into weapons. She’s more [of] a fighter. So, what is Dani’s strength? How is she going to get stronger? What are her weapons?”
The answer might surprise you.
“Being on set and creating this character with Tim [Miller, director] was really interesting because we were discovering things,” Reyes said. “We were thinking about how important speech can be to move people. You see that right now because people are always moved by social media or whatever. How is Dani going to be the leader? How is she going to be a strong woman? She’s going to move people in a different way, [with her words.]”
How Dani’s words and strength will impact a future that Sarah Connor thought she stopped—but didn’t—will be revealed when Dark Fate hits theatres November 1. But there’s at least one person that thinks Reyes and her character Dani have more than lived up to all of those pressure and expectations.
“Just like Linda Hamilton in the first Terminator, [Natalia] comes in as this innocent little girl that you wouldn’t expect [to be] a leader,” Schwarzenegger said. “You would have never thought when you see [Sarah] working in a restaurant, this is going to be a future leader? Come on. But then it sneaks up on you. And she gets stronger and stronger. She makes decisions. All of a sudden she takes over more and more. And so we see [Dani] becoming the leader. [Natalia’s] done an extraordinary job.”
The Natalia Reyes coming out party, a.k.a. Terminator: Dark Fate, opens Thursday.