In his six-part docuseries currently running on AMC, writer/director/artist James Cameron sits down with some of Hollywood's most famous sci-fi filmmakers to discuss certain aspects of the genre, like aliens, robots, monsters, and dystopian worlds. Among the interviewees are Steven Spielberg, Guillermo del Toro, Christopher Nolan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ridley Scott, and George Lucas. Each of these directors and/or actors, aside from launching multibillion-dollar franchises, created sci-fi and horror franchises that have endured to this day.
James Cameron's Story of Science Fiction was also turned into a book from Insight Editions, which contains full transcriptions of the interviews on the show. As it so happens, SYFY WIRE got its hands on one of these books, and we scoured all of its 223 pages for the juiciest nuggets of information about the productions behind Terminator, Alien, Star Wars, E.T., Interstellar, and more.
Some of these stories and anecdotes have been reported on before, while others are complete revelations. Read on to see how many you already knew and how many are novel mind-blowers.
James Cameron didn't want to cast Schwarzenegger in The Terminator:
It's hard to imagine the franchise without the Austrian bodybuilder/actor as its mechanical antagonist, but Cameron was adamant about finding any reason not to cast Schwarzenegger when the two first met for lunch before shooting began. That's because Schwarzenegger wanted the role of Kyle Reese, the human resistance leader, who is sent back in time to ensure the birth of John Connor; through the ol' grandfather paradox, Reese (eventually played by Michael Biehn) ends up fathering John with Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton).
Had Schwarzenegger continued to push for the role of Reese, he may never have been cast, but something funny happened at the lunch: He began to talk more about the Terminator and the importance of the role, instead of the world-saving hero that he wanted to portray.
"For some reason or the other, I started telling you how important it is that whoever plays the Terminator has to do certain training, [has to] know how to deal with weapons," the actor said in his interview with Cameron. "I kept talking to you about 'He has to be a machine, and there has to be not one single frame where he has human behavior.'"
And just like that, Arnie talked himself into the role of one of the most iconic sci-fi villains of all time.
Cameron doesn't believe we should contact aliens (if they exist):
While being interviewed by sci-fi writer Randall Frakes, Cameron admitted that if aliens do exist, they'll probably be colonists, similar to the ones depicted in Independence Day and Pacific Rim.
"I think they will be imperialists," he said. "I think they will take what they want. I think they will be superior to us. If they have a reason to come to Earth, it probably won't be us. We will probably just be in the way."
According to Cameron, we should not broadcast our existence to more intelligent races out in the cosmos until our technology has reached the point where we could hypothetically defend ourselves against an invasion. That settles it, Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith are our only hope.
While he was still alive, Stephen Hawking held a similar fear about making contact with "peoples" not from Earth.
Drew Barrymore enjoyed screaming on the set of E.T.
Barrymore was only 6 years old during the filming of Spielberg's heartwarming sci-fi classic, so it stands to reason that she found fun in things that would seem mundane or annoying to an adult. When her character, Gertie, finds the alien in her house, she screams and E.T. screams, almost alerting Gertie's mother to the fact that an interstellar refugee is living under her roof.
"Drew would always say, 'Can I scream again?'" Spielberg told Cameron during their interview. "That was fun."
The aliens in Star Wars were inspired by a trip to the aquarium:
After seeing characters like Admiral Ackbar, it's not hard to see why Lucas was inspired by some of the creatures in the sea. After all, some fish, especially those that live at lower depths, are strange enough to be aliens.
"I talk to kids and they say, 'Where did you get the ideas for all those aliens? Where did you think that up?' I said, 'Well, go to the aquarium. You're going to see them all there,'" Lucas told Cameron.
Ironically, Inception resulted from a lack of sleep:
Christopher Nolan's dream-based heist film changed the game upon its release in 2010. The semi-surrealist concepts on display and Hans Zimmer's blaring score created a veritable cavalcade of imitators and parodies. Amusingly, the idea for a film that mainly takes place in the dreams of others stemmed from a period in Christopher Nolan's life where he wasn't sleeping much.
"A lot of the inspiration for Inception was from a period when I was in university and didn't have much money," he said to Cameron. "And breakfast was free, but it ended at 8 a.m., 9 a.m. We were, of course, staying up all night, chatting with students or whatever."
After all-night conversations, the Dark Knight director would go to bed around four in the morning and sleep for a few hours before breakfast. "So then you're in this sleep state where it becomes possible to be very aware of the fact that you're dreaming. And I would experiment with trying to control the dream, try to making something happen," he said.
Guillermo del Toro knows just how ridiculous Pacific Rim is:
There's probably nothing cooler in this world than watching giant robots beat the crap out of giant monsters. There's something about such an altercation that just transports a person back to their childhood, when they'd smash their own action figures together. So yeah, it's awesome, but when you begin to think about it, massive robots with rockets and spikes aren't that practical.
Guillermo del Toro knows just how silly the concept of Pacific Rim is, saying: "Of the myriad of solutions that we can come up with to kill twenty-five story monsters, the last one solution that probably would come last is, 'Let's create twenty-five story robots.' That comes from me being malformed by decades of great anime in my childhood."
Nevertheless, his passion for the kaiju and mecha genres paired with his not taking the project too seriously is what makes the Pacific Rim franchise so fun.
Why Ridley Scott defied the studio while making Alien:
Alien is one of the most influential sci-fi films of all time and continues to bear fruit in the form of sequels, spinoffs, comic books, and video games. Just imagine if audiences never got the subtly sexual xenomorph design that has haunted our nightmares since 1979? There's a reason no one can hear you scream in space; it's because a deadly alien with acidiic blood has used its second mouth to rip a gaping hole through your head.
While touching on the production of the movie, Scott stated that the studio, 20th Century Fox, was hesitant to use the surrealist designs of Swiss artist H.R. Giger.
"There's one picture from [H.R. Giger's book] Necronomicon. [The studio was] uncomfortable [because] it was obscene," said Scott. "I said, obscene is good. Disturbing and obscene is very good. Sexually disturbing is very good."
And so a legendary monster was born, playing on psychosexual fears of rape and impregnation.