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O.J. Simpson Almost Played The Terminator in the 1984 Sci-Fi Classic (Did You Know?)

O.J. Simpson Almost Played The Terminator in the 1984 Sci-Fi Classic (Did You Know?)

Reading Entertainment Weekly’s “oral history” of the 1984 sci-fi classic, “The Terminator,” in celebration of its 30th year since its release, I came across this section from the lengthy piece that I thought was well-worth sharing.

It’s part of the conversation between director James Cameron, then Orion Pictures chief Mike Medavoy (the company that backed the film), and star Arnold Schwarzenegger, as they recall when Orion Pictures proposed that the production should star then retired NFL star O.J. Simpson as the lethal killing machine from the future.

  • CAMERON Medavoy came to me and Gale and he said, “Are you sitting down? You must sit down. I want O.J. Simpson for the Terminator and Arnold Schwarzenegger for the good guy, whatever his name is.”
  • MIKE MEDAVOY That did come out of my mouth. At the time, O.J. Simpson had one of those commercials for Hertz where he jumped over a counter and ran to get a rental car. It was all of that athletic stuff, which I thought the Terminator should have.
  • CAMERON Gale and I just looked at each other and thought, “You’ve got to be f- - -ing kidding me.” Mind you, this was before O.J. was actually a killer. We might have reconsidered after he had killed his wife. [Laughs] This was when everybody loved him, and ironically that was part of the problem—he was this likable, goofy, kind of innocent guy. [Laughs] Plus, frankly I wasn’t interested in an African-American man chasing around a white girl with a knife. It just felt wrong.
  • ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (The Terminator) Mike Medavoy came up to me at a screening and told me that they already had the Terminator cast with O.J. Simpson, but they would like me to play Kyle Reese. And he told me I should go meet with the guy who’s going to direct it.

Needless to say, the notion of casting Simpson didn’t go any further than that, with Medavoy adding, “I don’t think we went beyond the idea… Jim [Cameron] didn’t like the idea at all.”

No kidding!

Cameron’s comment that he, frankly, wasn’t interested in an African American man chasing around a white woman with a knife, was quite prescient, won’t you say?

Besides the aforementioned Hertz commercials Simpson had done at the time, he’d also had parts in “The Towering Inferno,” on the big screen, and “Roots,” on the small screen. He went on to co-star in “The Naked Gun” and its sequel years later, before gaining infamy a decade later, when he faced a murder conviction for killing his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman. He was eventually acquitted of the murders, although a civil suit later awarded a wrongful death judgment against him. 

Read EW’s “‘The Terminator’ at 30: An oral history” here.

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