The “Yellowstone” prequel “1923″ on Paramount+ takes us back to the Duttons of the early 20th century, as played by Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren. The local sheriff in Bozeman, Montana, is played by Robert Patrick, who is “embracing modern life and trying to bring law and order” to the various cattle rustlers and sheep herders who are battling the elements and each other. It’s a volatile time and, of course, the Duttons do things their own way. “It’s a big sprawling story,” said Patrick.
The role couldn’t be more different from his appearance as the villainous White Dragon in the HBO Max series “Peacemaker.” Patrick’s resume also includes everything from “The X-Files” to “Sons of Anarchy,” to name a few.
His breakout role, of course, was the steely-eyed android assassin T-1000 in 1991′s “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” and when asked about a singularly cringey moment in his career, it was a scene from the film that came to mind.
My worst moment …
“The movie was undoubtedly the single biggest moment in my career, as far as films that have stood the test of time. I think the fact that I was an unknown really helped sell that character to the world. People were willing to accept the character because they had no preconceived notion of who I was.
“I had been through intensive training three or four months prior to the start of filming when (director) James Cameron told me, ‘You’re going to have to maintain this physique that you’ve chiseled” — which was a very lean, sinewy version of a terminator with six-pack abs. I had more of a dancer’s body than anything. At the time, I could do it with ease, I just had to be really strict about what I was eating. You just have to be disciplined. I was 30 years old and in the best shape of my life. And he said, ‘You’re going to have to maintain this the whole movie. And at the end of the shoot, we’re gonna shoot your arrival scene — and I expect you to have a six-pack stomach.’
(The arrival scene consists of T-1000 creeping up on a police officer and knocking him out, taking his gun and clothing and effectively his identity.)
“This was a seven-month shoot, so I had to keep up my training and my diet and everything, because when the terminators show up, they’re butt naked. So I was going to be butt naked when I shot the scene. And in my head, after all the training I had done, I thought I was the T-1000 (laughs). I believed I could walk through walls and I could take anyone on. My trainer had convinced me I was a walking killing machine and I believed it.
“I had a lot of confidence in my physique, feeling very proud of my body and good about the way it looked. I’m trying to be humble here (laughs) but it was the best I ever looked in my life. When I’d walk in the makeup trailer, if Arnold Schwarzenegger was there, sometimes he would do a bodybuilder thing where he’d grab my T-shirt and lift it up to see if I had the abs or not. Checking to see if I still had the six-pack, which was funny. And I thought: Well, yeah, I still got ‘em (laughs).
“So we come to the night when we’re going to film the arrival. And it’s cold. I had a robe. And I had some weights nearby and I was pumping up and getting all my veins going. But at a certain point, you gotta disrobe and stand in front of the cameras and be in the moment. As an actor, you gotta convince yourself that you are this machine. You let your imagination take over.
“Everything’s going great. We’re getting all lined up to get the shot and we’re underneath the 6th Street bridge, down by the LA River. My wife was there that night to give me confidence. Here I go. We’re doing it.
“And all of a sudden there’s a Metro train — filled with commuters — that goes right by.
“As I’m standing out there buck naked.
“It was embarrassing. It’s one thing to convince yourself that you’re this machine in front of the crew and get them out of your head, but it’s another to have your privacy invaded by a train full of commuters!
“But it’s the film business, things happen. As they kind of rolled by, it was going at a very slow speed (laughs). And I remember looking over and going, ‘Oh god, unbelievable.’ The timing was not so good! But I didn’t turn away. I just stood there. I stood my ground! I was not admitting to myself that my lower part of my body was not covered. I just (flipping) owned it! They didn’t know who the (hell) I was! Part of me was kind of going: I look good — so (screw) ‘em!
“But I was also like, that’s really surreal that a train of commuters just crept by us and I’m standing here naked and no one’s running in with a robe for me (laughs). They were like, ‘We’re going to wait for it to clear then we’re gonna go — you’re already out there, so you might as well do it.’ I was trying to keep my world together and my head together and get through the scene as quickly as possible and do what I had to do.
“One thing I was very fortunate about: This was 1990 and there weren’t cellphones. So I didn’t have to worry about people getting a shot of me from the train.
“But it wasn’t until the film got developed that I really got embarrassed, but I don’t know that I should have been embarrassed (laughs). I don’t know how to say this. (Pause) When the film got developed, James said, ‘You know, when you knelt down to pick up the gun, we didn’t realize it when we were shooting it but your anatomy fell down below your thigh and we have film of your parts on there.’
“I think he was telling me this because it was kind of funny. But I got embarrassed. And I was like, ‘Well, I guess that’s a good thing, James. Because it was cold that night (laughs). And you had something drop into your frame that you didn’t think you were gonna get.’
“They left it in the movie.
“And it wasn’t until James redid ‘Terminator 2′ in 3D (rereleased in 2017) that he figured out a way to hide it. He CGI’d it out. I was happy to hear about that. And I hate to be bringing attention to it, I feel silly talking about it, but it’s kind of funny now. It was 30 years ago and now I’m 64 years old, so hey.”
Had Patrick done onstage or on-screen nudity before this?
“No. It was my first time. And I want to say, everything was done to make me feel comfortable. So it wasn’t like I had all these eyes lined up staring at me. The crew was very professional. But a commuter train? That was something we couldn’t control. And then, of course, days later finding out that something had made it into the film that we didn’t expect to be there. Human bodies do what human bodies do.
“‘Terminator 2′ was like winning the Super Bowl for me. Oh my god, I’m going to be the new ‘Terminator’! The pressure you put on yourself to do the best job you can, the doubt starts to creep in — it’s too good to be true, they’re going to fire me halfway through it. The role was so physical and I had to be in incredible shape. I had to be able to run take after take. A lot of things that you don’t normally have to think about for a character. And I was still early enough in my career that I didn’t have as much confidence as I do now about my abilities. It was a lot.
“I had figured out a specific way to walk and a specific way to run. I had a checklist of what I would do to get myself in character. Kind of borrowing from the martial arts world — your center of gravity, how you want to stand and set your body. So that was my mental checklist of how I would physically manifest into T-1000. And I also gave myself a little head tilt forward, because I wanted the character to convey constant forward motion. Relentless pursuit. You know how eagles constantly look fierce? That was my mental image. So I would go to my eagle look. That was what I was trying to do to convince the audience that I was relentless, with that little head tilt forward.
“In hindsight, I wish they would have featured more of my abdominals! I worked for them! Once I got into it, I was kind of reveling in the moment of: I look like an Adonis. I was hamming it up a little bit.
“I ran a real strict diet and I didn’t drink or anything during the shoot. I didn’t stay with that — you can see it in subsequent films (laughs). As soon as I was done, I think the first studio film I did after that was ‘Fire in the Sky’ and I was 40 pounds heavier.
“To be honest with you, I didn’t work for about a year-and-a-half after ‘T2.’ I started to realize, you know what it is? It’s the fact that I still physically look like the guy. And why would directors want to hire the T-1000? I realized I’ve gotta fake people out. I grew my hair long, I gained weight and purposely tried to hide that character.”
The takeaway …
“You really want to get those takes done as fast as possible (laughs).
“If you let your imagination go, you can kind of endure anything. I don’t want that to sound so cavalier, but I think because of the preparation I had done, the training that I had done, I was able to do what was asked of me. And no one got hurt — including myself. I felt like I did a good job. Every effort was made to make me feel comfortable.
“If film is forever, I lived up to the expectations that were put on me by James Cameron. I fulfilled my duty.”
Nina Metz is a Tribune critic
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