The role of Kyle Reese remains The Terminator star Michael Biehn’s most iconic but if James Cameron had a more impressive pedigree, the role might have gone to legendary musician Sting. Released in 1984, the original Terminator was a grim, slasher-influenced sci-fi horror that saw Arnold Schwarzenegger star as the titular android assassin. He’s an unfeeling, inhuman killer sent from the future and tasked with offing Sarah Connor before she gives birth to John Connor, the eventual savior of humanity.
Despite the lighter tone of the movie’s less intense sequels, the original Terminator is a surprisingly dark and brutal horror that rarely pulls any punches. Upon revisiting the movie, it is easy to see how director James Cameron got the opportunity to helm Aliens off the back of this gritty thriller. However, one thing few viewers would guess from watching Terminator is that it was almost a starring vehicle for the lead singer of The Police.
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When Cameron was casting Kyle Reese, a role that would eventually go to Aliens star Michael Biehn, the director considered The Police frontman Sting but was bluntly turned down by the singer due to his lack of experience as a director. Or rather, Cameron was technically turned down due to his actual experience as a director, as Piranha 2: The Spawning was the only title on his filmography at the time. Evidently, the credit was not sufficient to impress Sting according to a BFI interview with the helmer. According to Cameron, he was compelled to cast Sting due to the musician’s distinctive look, which was appropriately otherworldly for the role of Reese. Per the director: “He seemed slightly otherworldly – or at least not of this time.” Cameron also added, “I felt vindicated when Sting played a major role in David Lynch’s Dune (1984) as the malevolent Feyd-Rautha.”
However, if Sting had been as forward-thinking as his image seemed, he might have realized the original Terminator was going to be a huge success and taken up the role, instead of dismissing Cameron based on his prior screen efforts. Cameron admits in the interview his no-name status as a director was the primary cause of Sting’s disinterest in the part. Cameron’s lone directorial outing at the time, The Spawning was a sequel to helmer Joe Dante’s (still-underrated) Jaws rip-off Piranha, but the follow-up was a critically maligned dud that jettisoned the original’s sharp satirical edge and added flying fish.
However, what Sting didn’t know was that future Avatar creator Cameron had quite a contentious time directing the sequel and, although he received credit for his efforts, was fired during production. This was a detail Cameron was too embarrassed to mention to the singer. Per the interview: “I didn’t want to tell him I had gotten fired off that film after a few days of shooting, so it wasn’t my movie at all because frankly I was better having even a bad credit than having no director credit.” It is a shame Cameron opted not to mention how minimal his role in the creation of Piranha 2 really was, as the famously passionate director may have been able to sway Sting he been able to assuage the musician’s misgivings. However, the titular Terminator himself was first conceptualized when Cameron suffered a fever dream due to exhaustion while working on the Pirahna sequel, so despite all the odds, the Terminator franchise still owes a big debt to Piranha 2: The Spawning.
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