'I'm a badass!’ How Linda Hamilton embraced her strength and vulnerability as a sci-fi queen

"Did I see myself as an action star? No. Or the tough woman? No," the "Terminator" franchise star tells Yahoo Entertainment in a new interview.

Actress Linda Hamilton.
Linda Hamilton stars as General McCallister in SYFY's "Resident Alien." (Rich Polk/Getty Images for IMDb)
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Linda Hamilton doesn’t just grab your attention, she commands it — much like the characters she’s played onscreen. It’s evident that her power lies not just in the iconic roles she’s played throughout her career but also in the unguarded moments she conveys to the audience.

“We hear things as actors like, ‘Oh, you taught me that I can be strong,’ and it’s lovely to have heard that for years, but I don’t necessarily feel strong all the time,” she tells Yahoo Entertainment in a new interview.

That’s not easy to admit for someone whose characters radiate authority and confidence.

From the headstrong Sarah Connor in the Terminator franchise, to her Golden Globe-nominated role of assistant DA Catherine Chandler in the 1987 TV series Beauty and the Beast to the tortured General McCallister in SYFY's Resident Alien, now in its third season, Hamilton is known for playing strong women. But these types of roles weren’t something she pursued as a young actress studying under famed acting coach Lee Strasberg. As she explains it, the roles found her.

“I don’t think any actor goes, ‘This is how it’s going to unfold,’” she says. “Did I see myself as an action star? No. Or the tough woman? No. I was going to be a Shakespearean actress.”

For Hamilton, sci-fi offers her an escape into a world with uncharted rules. She buries herself in fantasy novels or the latest sci-fi fan fiction during her free time. “Pride, jealousy, greed and power,” she says, are quintessential Shakespearean tropes, but they also make up the backbone of good sci-fi storytelling. That’s what attracts her to the genre the most.

Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor in James Cameron's 1991 blockbuster Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor in James Cameron's 1991 blockbuster "Terminator 2: Judgment Day." (CBS via Getty Images)

“These stories are sort of outside the common realm,” Hamilton says. “That makes me very interested in playing wild, crazy characters so much more than, say, the ‘professional woman.’ Not that there aren’t great films about professional women, too, but I like my sci-fi world. It’s truly a world I love.”

Hamilton first portrayed Sarah Connor in James Cameron’s 1984 film The Terminator. She stayed with the character in sequels Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) and Terminator: Dark Fate (2019).

As Connor, Hamilton plays a mom who comes face-to-face with a robot sent from the future to kill her and her son who’s destined to save humanity from an apocalypse set forth by machines. The role became the gold standard for female action stars. Yet, it wasn’t until the third installment in 2019 that Hamilton, then 63, understood what it all meant.

“It was only after I finished Terminator: Dark Fate, or was halfway through, that I woke up one day and went, ‘I’m a badass!’” she says. “You see, there’s a difference between acting like a badass and being a badass. It was never something that came natural to me. I don’t assign to myself what other people see, but after getting through that — the physical hardships, my age, the constant stress of the character for months on end — only then did I realize that I’m a badass.”

The epiphany came at the tail end of a career decision she made to play fewer leading roles, preferring smaller parts or projects that didn't require as much time on set so she could be with her son Dalton Abbott, whom she shares with her ex-husband actor Bruce Abbott, and daughter Josephine Cameron, whom she shares with her ex-husband director James Cameron.

Now, with a new role in the final season of Stranger Things and the upcoming film Osiris, Hamilton is “fully embracing” her role as a sci-fi queen.

“I’m having a good time,” she says. “Sci-fi has come so far in the last 30-something years. It used to be all about dragons and things, but now it’s just so rich, so much smarter than it was.”

In Resident Alien, Hamilton's McCallister is a high-ranking military officer who’s secretly hunting extraterrestrials. When an alien named Harry, played by Alan Tudyk, wrestles with the moral dilemma of his secret mission to kill humanity, McCallister finds herself in a unique situation: Should she kill the thing she’s hunted all her life or join ranks to help end a possible human genocide? She ultimately chose the latter.

“She’s joined Harry to defeat the aliens,” Hamilton says of her character's arc in Season 3, which premieres on Feb. 14. “In the first two seasons, I'm pretty much hunting him and trying to find him. So, it's a very different world for her, but that doesn't mean it's going very well.”

Hamilton as General McCallister in
Hamilton as General McCallister in "Resident Alien." (James Dittinger/SYFY/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

The idea of humanoids and aliens isn’t entirely far-fetched to Hamilton.

“Yes, I do believe in aliens!” she says. “There are just too many stories of [alleged sightings]. I’m more inclined to believe that it’s time travel, and [aliens] are just us from the future. … I mean, we’re really just steps away from understanding the multi-universe.”

Of all the things Hamilton has accomplished in this multiverse, there’s still one dream she hasn’t achieved.

“I want to be in a Western so badly!” Hamilton says. She even took up riding and jumping horses again as a way to manifest a role into existence. “I’m going to grow my hair long until they give me a Western!”

Resident Alien Season 3 premieres on Feb. 14 at 10 p.m. ET on SYFY and streams next day on Peacock.