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Kristanna Loken
Sunday Herald (May 2003)

Wrapped in the white towelling bath robe that she’s lived in for the last two days and curled up on a sofa in an enthusiastically air conditioned suite in The Dorchester, Kristanna Loken doesn’t look like the next great feminist heroine. She doesn’t feel like one either. Her schedule for the last 48 hours has run “talk, steam room, talk, sleep, talk, massage, talk”, and now she just wants to go back to bed. But for all her genial fatigue, this supermodel turned actress is on the cusp of overturning one of the most potent male symbols in cinema.

Loken is the latest twist in the Terminator franchise. She plays the Terminatrix - or, mind your aching sides, the Herminator - in “Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines”, a technologically superior and perfectly moisturised killing machine sent to off the rusty old Metal Mickey that is Arnold Schwarzenegger. While Arnie lumbers around like a robot Dr Fox in last season’s biker gear trying to protect the now adult John Connor, Loken’s T-X is sleek and emotionless in red leather, a fitting nemesis for the man who famously forbids his wife to dress in anything other than ladylike skirts.

“I hadn’t really thought of it like that,” ponders Loken, who owes her precise good looks to Norwegian grandparents. “When I got the role I thought ‘ok my first big job and I’m pitted up against one of the strongest male figures in Hollywood. What does that represent?’ I guess you could interpret it in many different ways. It was very powerful working with him and with his energy, but I’m not exactly a feminist.”

Schwarzenegger himself, however, was fully aware of the significance of his Terminator uttering the line “I am obsolete”. “He had some scepticism about ‘who is this young girl and how is she going to be more powerful than me in her character?’” remembers Loken. “But through the dedication of my work he really gained respect for me.”

Did they have much in common? “No. Sometimes he opened up to me in the makeup trailer. We’d talk about where we grew up. We both grew up in very small villages. I grew up on a farm. He had a farm as well. So we had that in common.” Perhaps it’s better they didn’t get on as they were having to be adversaries. “Absolutely. That definitely aided it. And that’s probably why we were, not standoffish, but didn’t go the extra step to be friendly.”

In truth, there are clear parallels between the careers of the two actors. Both started out selling image (Arnie as a bodybuilder, Loken as a teenage model for the Elite agency), before moving onto swords and sorcery (Arnie as Conan, Loken as Taja in “Mortal Combat: Conquest” on American television). Loken’s also put in time as a sci-fi actress with bit parts in “Star Trek: Voyager” and a sitcom called “Aliens In The Family”, but even so she knew she’d have to work hard in “T3” to step up to Schwarzenegger’s level.

“When the ‘Terminator’ fans first found out that I was doing the job, there was a lot of ‘how is this girl going to take on Arnie, she’s too skinny’” Loken relates. “So I made a concerted effort to do a lot of training. I put on fifteen pounds in muscle. I did weight training, weapons training. I did this Israeli form of martial arts called Kray Maga that they teach the military. I also worked with a mime coach to get the human/non human aspects of the character, that kind of surreal detachment.”

So what was it like beating up Arnie? Did she land many punches? “No. And I made sure not to. It’s like 30 million dollars, don’t mess this up.” Has she used Kray Maga outside the movie? “I haven’t. Although my trainer did say ‘you’ll find yourself doing things you normally wouldn’t be doing’. One day I got locked out of my house and I decided it would be viable to just punch through the window. It didn’t work the first time, so I got frustrated and I really nailed it the second. There was blood everywhere. It was so stupid and I’m going to have a scar on my hand for the rest of my life.”

Loken’s desire to push herself physically also derived from insecurity about her “birthing scene”, in which the Terminator arrives naked into the present. “It was on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. And I was glad it was the last night of filming because I got to really fine tune my body, for it to look the way I wanted it to look. It was a bit daunting. It was definitely exhilarating and an adrenalin rush.” Did she have a moment of self-realisation, thinking “I’m walking down the street naked”? “A little bit. I tried to remain fairly detached as my character would be. Not knowing that society doesn’t find this acceptable.”

It transpires that this emotional detachment was one of the attractions of the role for Loken. Having grown up on an organic fruit farm in rural upstate New York with her parents and a sister who was sixteen years her senior, Kristanna felt she could relate strongly to a character who is essentially a loner.

“I’ve always been very much that way,” Loken nods. “Feel most comfortable alone. I spend a lot of time alone, travel alone.” Why? “It’s safety and comfort. Not having to worry about anybody else’s schedule. Maybe it’s being selfish in the sense of being able to do what you want to do. Not having anybody to check in with. Not having that responsibly of the other person. Not hurting anybody. Not hurting yourself. Not getting hurt.”

Is she single? “I was for a long time. Finally I got sick of it. Going home alone at night. Buster my dog is great but he’s not much of a conversationalist. But now I have a partner. This is someone that I have known my whole life. He grew up on the neighbouring farm. Always had a crush on him since I was a little girl, called him my fiancé. And we saw each other at the holidays. He was getting out of a marriage and the relationship just changed.”

She must feel like she’s living in a fairy tale. “Yeah, very much so. And he’s way more confident and well adjusted than anybody in the industry that I’ve dated, that’s for sure. It’s nice to have that grounded aspect.”

Having a sister sixteen years older than her probably emphasised this sense of self-sufficiency. “Yeah, absolutely. It was very much like growing up like I was an only child. She was almost like an aunt or a second mother.” Two mothers just means two people to boss you around when you’re a child. “Exactly! Now it’s like a sister sister relationship but before it was not always good.”

Poking out of the bottom of her white robe, Loken’s ankle bears a tattoo of a horse in full gallop. She’s a keen equestrian and has travelled to Hawaii, Ireland and Namibia on horseriding trips.

“I got that tattoo after ‘T3’ ended. Riding and horses always represent freedom and after being so regimented during the film I wanted to have that part of myself.” She continues to talk through her tattoos: next, a crescent moon and star on either wrist. “They have something to do with my philosophy on time. Time is really nothing more than a constraint that society puts on you to dictate how and where your life should be. I’ve got a cherub on my toe, like my guardian angel, my dad. I’ve got the native American symbol for strength. And on my shoulder is a personal crest.”

Is she religious? “I wouldn’t say that I’m part of an organised religion. I’ve studied a lot in Buddhism. Meditation is a huge part of my life. I try to mediate every day. Even in work you can do certain meditation. I had to spend hours at a time in a crane and it was a hundred degrees and I’m wearing head to toe leather and dirt was flying in my face. I had a lot of internal moments.”

Hear that, Arnie? Not only does the Terminator have to face up to a woman, but a peace-loving, horse-riding woman with a fondness for meditation. Let battle commence!

Ian Watson
Music, film, comedy and travel journalist based in London

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