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Did James Cameron consider O.J. Simpson for the role of the Terminator?

James Cameron’s 1984 sci-fi action thriller solidified his status as a filmmaker of note. The influence of The Terminator is so immense that it remains embedded in popular culture to this day, spawning several sequels and other related material. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s performance as a time-travelling cyborg is so iconic that it is almost impossible to see him as anything other than the Terminator.

“The idea of a hitman from the future trying to change past events was certainly not new,” Cameron explained. “What I thought was cutting-edge was deciding to not have the Terminator be a guy in a robot suit. That’s how it was typically done. But a flesh-covered endoskeleton? That was new. So for me it was all about how we could develop stop-motion animation and puppetry to create a true robotic endoskeleton. The team at visual-effects house Stan Winston Studio jumped into it and made it work.”

Over the years, there have been a lot of myths and rumours about the production process of The Terminator. One of the most popular ones involves American footballer O.J. Simpson who, infamously, was accused of murdering his wife as well as her friend. Apart from his sports career, Simpson also worked as an actor in films like The Klansman and The Cassandra Crossing, among other productions from that period.

According to Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Cameron initially considered Simpson for the title character while Schwarzenegger was handed the part of Kyle Reese. The actor claimed that he was gifted a painting of the T-800 but upon scraping the surface, the face of O.J. Simpson is visible underneath. When he was confronted with these reports, Cameron maintained that Schwarzenegger must have been hallucinating.

Cameron said: “Let me correct that right now. Arnold is literally just wrong. I know it’s hard to imagine! You don’t argue with Arnold… Arnold was never offered Reese. O.J. Simpson was never in the mix at all. That was rejected out of hand before it ever got any traction… (Producer and co-screenwriter) Gale Hurd and I looked at each other like that was the stupidest thing we’d ever heard in our lives. And I told him on that phone call, ‘It’s not O.J. Simpson. We’re not doing that.’ And he said, ‘Well, will you meet with Arnold Schwarzenegger?'”

As for the infamous painting, the director clarified: “I didn’t make the painting for him. I made the painting for us, for the production, of him as the Terminator. There’s no O.J. under that painting. I gifted him that painting after the film, and I’m going to go over to his office and get it back now (laughs). I’m gonna go over there and go, ‘Arnold! I’m taking this painting back because you don’t appreciate it!'”

No matter what Cameron says, Schwarzenegger is still convinced that O.J. Simpson was selected to play the iconic role and has said so in multiple interviews. The rumours gained such momentum that other reports claimed O.J. Simpson was only rejected by Cameron because the filmmaker thought that Simpson was “too pleasant” to convince the audience that he was the Terminator.