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Joe Morton landed his Terminator 2 role thanks to an off-color joke

Joe Morton also exclusively told Metro why the role of Miles Dyson was so important
Joe Morton staring at the Terminator hand
[Photo: Tri-Star Pictures]

Joe Morton is well aware that Terminator 2: Judgment Day is his most defining role. While the 69-year-old actor has appeared and excelled in the likes of The Brother From Another Planet, Speed, Ali, American Gangster and, most recently, Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice, it’s his part as Miles Dyson, the oblivious creator of Skynet, that gets him recognized on the street.

But while Morton’s acting prowess, and the way he made Dyson a compassionate and endearing character, is a big part of the reason why James Cameron cast him in the film, it also turns out that he has a Richard Pryor joke to thank for helping him secure it. Joe Morton admitted as much to me when I recently discussed the return of Terminator 2: Judgment Day to the big-screen, this time in 3D, as he recalled his interview process for the blockbuster.

“I went in and read, and [James Cameron] asked me to wait, and I went to read again, and he said, ‘Why was this character, why was this film so important to me?’ And I said, ‘Well because of a joke that Richard Pryor had told.’ And he said, ‘What’s that?’ And Richard Pryor joked that the reason black characters either get killed off in movies or are not in them at all is because Hollywood doesn’t think they’ll be there in the future. Cameron laughed and then gave me the part,” Morton remarked.

“He obviously knew what I was saying. It was a long kind of, I hate to use the word, tradition. In every sci-fi movie I saw there was a black character in it that was killed off early. Or there was no black characters at all. Or the black characters were insignificant. I think he knew what I was saying right away, and I think it’s what got me the job.”

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While Joe Morton wouldn’t go as far as to say that the character of Miles Dyson is progressive, he did note that it was immediately striking that he was “central to the core of the film,” something that was rare in mainstream blockbusters at the time.

“There weren’t that many black male actors doing that kind of thing in mainstream films,” Joe Morton continued. “So the fact that he is essential to the plot. For all intents and purposes he is Doctor Frankenstein, he creates the monster. So from a moral stand-point that’s why he has to die in the film, as does the monster.”

And what deaths they were. Both Joe Morton’s as Miles Dyson and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s as the T-800 are regarded as two of the greatest in modern cinema history. You can remind yourselves exactly why both of these scenes made such a huge impact, and why Terminator 2: Judgment Day is still the pinnacle of the action genre, when it is released back into cinemas in 3D on August 25.