NEW ORLEANS — The latest Terminator movie just hit the big screen with the new film “Dark Fate,” but even if you've been a fan since the 1980s, you may not know that its star, Linda Hamilton, moved to the Crescent City years ago.
So when it was time to get back in shape, she did it in New Orleans.
"I'll be back." It's iconic, the words of cyborg assassin Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1984, The Terminator. His mission: Kill college student Sarah Connor, a waitress, played by Linda Hamilton.
But seven years later when Arnold gave us that new iconic phrase, in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the world witnessed her transformation into a muscled, ferocious warrior. Even Arnold was impressed the first day on set.
"I come from the physical fitness world where you reshape and resculpt your body, but that, that I saw there, was extraordinary," Schwarzenegger said back in the ‘90s.
Linda had a baby two weeks before starting training for that 1991 hit. In a few months, her trainer, from Israeli special forces, taught her to run, climb, fight and handle weapons like military elite.
Now it's 28 years later, at 63, Linda Hamilton has fallen in love with New Orleans, so much so that she moved here without knowing anyone.
"Architecture, the color, the fact that it's authentic, that I would be a minority," Hamilton lists about why she loves the Crescent City. "These things matter to me and because strangers call you 'Baby.' And that's truly why. It's like, where else does that happen, where such big heart folds, are thrown at you, of love by strangers."
And if there's any doubt that she truly transformed her West Coast life to the Crescent City, there's a gold number “9” around her neck.
"There's nothing like the Saints fans or the Saints. I am so invested. I mean, last year I had banners outside my house, I mean huge banners," Hamilton said.
But Academy Award winning director-writer, James Cameron, was not done with the Terminator or Linda as Sarah Connor, and searched for someone to get her back in warrior shape, before the filming of the just released Terminator 6: Dark Fate.
"I was kind of out of shape. I quit smoking. I had gained weight," she recalls.
So, two years ago, the man who is internationally famous for blockbusters: The Terminator, Titanic, The Abyss, Aliens and Avatar, called fitness expert Mackie Shilstone.
"So when James Cameron called, I didn't know who he was. I'm thinking, 'What team does he play for,'" Shilstone said.
Linda had never heard of Mackie either. He comes from decades of training world champion athletes: Serena Williams, prize fighters Riddick Bowe, Bernard Hopkins, Roy Jones Junior, quarterback Peyton Manning and elite U.S. Military Special Forces. He tried to dissuade them.
"I said, 'You know Mr. Cameron, my blood is real. Your blood is fake.' I said, 'You want me to take a 61-year-old woman and you want me to get her ready for an action movie?' I said, 'I'm going to kill her in the first two weeks,'" Shilstone said.
But the deal was made.
“He's intense. He owned me for a year. He absolutely owned me for more than a year," Hamilton said.
"The Linda Hamilton transformation back to Sarah Conner, was the single, longest, continuous, project I've ever had in 43 years," Shilstone notes.
In Mackie's world, it's about science and medically supervised training. Everything is precisely calculated.
"You can do a 25OH vitamin D which has a half life of 14 days, verses a vitamin, 125 that only has a half life of about 14 hours," Shilstone explains as he gets very technical about each supplement he used for Linda.
Fourteen different supplements of vitamins, minerals, probiotics, proteins, amino acids, collagen, omega threes were phased in and out. Mackie assembled a team with lung, heart and physical medicine doctors, a physical therapist, chiropractor, pilates instructor, and a dietician. There were lab tests, DEXA scans for bone density, and to make sure she lost fat not muscle. Six days a week, Mackie worked out with Linda for an hour and a half.
"Push, push, push, push, push, fight," Shilstone demonstrated the moves he had Linda do.
Every exercise was matched to movement she'd have to do as a fighter. He taught her it was about the way she moved, to not move like someone in her 60s.
"Launching quickly so you're not like, groaning when you get up which was, is what a lot of people my age do," Hamilton laughed.
She also had two more elliptical cardio session a day on her own, with Mackie remotely monitoring her heart rate, and calories burned on his phone.
They practiced fighting on a football field. A computer record and personal notes were kept on everything. He got in her head. The studio called him “The Mackinator.”
"Big brother never sleeps, alright. I said, 'We're going to understand the enemy,'" Shilstone told Hamilton.
Perfectly portioned meals were sent to Linda from Healthy Course Meals in Gretna.
"We were directed on how to cook her food, so basically they told us, 'OK, this chicken has to be this amount of sodium, this amount of oil, and this weight,'" said the owner and operator of Healthy Course Meals Betty Archote.
It was Mediterranean style: Salmon, turkey, chicken, and lots of vegetables. Sugar and simple starches were gone. It had to be anti-inflammatory.
"Inflammation and pain went out of my body within three weeks, and I just remember the moment of him looking at me with such delight and going, 'They're not going to believe your footwork.' That kind of enthusiasm is so contagious," Hamilton said.
"She has shown her body fat level got down to an all-time 18 percent for a women. You can't go find an athletic college female out there at that body fat level," Shilstone said of Hamilton.
Linda took time to write a message of encouragement to military special forces that Mackie volunteer trained, who are now deployed on the other side of the world.
One of them texted back, “Ha, ha. That's badass,” to Mackie on his cell phone.
Linda put in the hard work. She never wavered or cheated. Her legs looked so good, she was asked to do some of her own stunts. Now after Mackie tried to avoid the job of transforming a Hollywood actress, the two are close friends.
"I really think Mackie is the greatest person I've ever met. His devotion, I mean his dedication, far outweighed mine," Hamilton said with praise.
After all, there's a lot at stake when you're helping someone save the future of mankind.