Of all the iconic scenes in the seminal 1991 action movie Terminator 2: Judgment Day, one in particular stands out in many fans' minds: The death of Miles Dyson, accidental creator of the doomsday AI Skynet.
After a violent meeting with Sarah Connor, her son John, and Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator, Dyson accompanies the crew to his lab, where they've determined they need to destroy his research to prevent the machine apocalypse. Dyson is shot in the ensuing fight, but not before arming a network of explosives that will go off when he relaxes his grip on a trigger mechanism. Bleeding out, propped against a wall, camera tight on his sweat-drenched face, Dyson gasps his final haunting, furtive breaths in a prolonged pocket of otherworldly silence. Then, kaboom.
Joe Morton, the actor behind the character, shared the story behind that memorable moment while chatting with GameSpot about Terminator 2 3D, released in theaters today.
"The reason that moment happened is, he got shot, and at first [James Cameron and I] couldn't find any real way to bring importance to his death," Morton said. "I told James I had been in a [car] accident a few years before where my lung collapsed, and showed him what the result of that was, and once I showed him that, that's what he decided to put in the movie, and it really did work. It was pretty special."
Even then, he couldn't have possibly realized how recognizable Miles' death scene would become. For example, this YouTube video of those last gasps expertly looped for 15 minutes is in the top results when you search the character's name:
Did he think then that a close-up on his face as he died would be one of Terminator 2's most iconic scenes?
"Not at all! Not at all," Morton said. "I mean, you just go in and you do your work, and then the film is over and everybody goes home. So no, there was no sort of expectation that people would think what a great moment that was. And I didn't realize to what extent people did think that until shortly after the movie opened. I think I was at the 3rd Street Promenade here in LA, and a bunch of guys came out of one of the restaurants and ran up to me, talking about how much they loved that death scene.
"In one sense, it kind of made me chuckle, because I felt like I was in a movie inside a movie," he continued. "Where a fan will say to a famous actor in the movie 'Oh, I love the way you died in such and such a film,' that when people said that to me, that's kind of how I received it. It was very strange, very surprising, and at the same time, very rewarding."
He also shared the story of how he got the role, which he considers fairly progressive for the time.
"I think it's something that James did deliberately. I think he specifically wanted that character to be black. When I interviewed for that part, at one point James asked me why it was so important to me, this character, and I said it was because of a joke that Richard Pryor had told," Morton said. "Richard Pryor said that the reason black characters in science fiction films either don't get cast at all, or they die early on in the film, is because Hollywood doesn't think we're going to be around in the future. And I think James's whole thing was he wanted a black or minority character to be sort of central to changing the world."
Luckily, that's changed significantly in the two and a half decades since Terminator 2's original 1991 release, Morton said.
"I think things have changed tremendously over the years, in terms of casting and in terms of how individuals or certain groups of individuals are looked upon, and I think probably in some way Terminator 2 helped create that change," he said.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day 3D arrives in theaters today, Aug. 25.