By
Mackenzie Hamilton
Photography by
Zach Fernandez
Styling by
Star Burleigh

Grooming by Andrea Pezzillo at Exclusive Artists using Omorovicza and Hanz de Fuko. Photographer’s assistant: Raymond Morris. Stylist’s assistant: Lily Shahinyan.

Gabriel Luna Is a Terminator With Heart


Gabriel Luna vividly remembers the excitement he felt the first time he ever saw a Terminator movie. When he was nine years old, his mother treated both him and his younger brother to a trip to the movie theater to watch the 1991 classic Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which saw the return of Arnold Schwarzenegger as a benevolent T-800 robot sent back from the future to fight off an improved model, Robert Patrick’s T-1000, who has also been sent back in time to destroy Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) and her son, John Connor (Edward Furlong), the future leader of the resistance in the fight against the malicious machines. “She took us to see T2, that shit was crazy. My brother and I just loved it!” he recalls. “We had all the action figures and we would play in the backyard.”

Naturally, Luna was thrilled when he learned he would be carrying the torch as the new terminator, a Rev-9, in director Tim Miller’s reboot of the series, the recently released Terminator: Dark Fate. Also starring the rising science-fiction star Mackenzie Davis, Dark Fate is the latest film in a franchise that spans over three decades and includes six films, a television series, web series, and multiple comic books. It’s also the first in a rumored trilogy that resets the established timeline by retconning the events of the three most recent films to take place following Judgement Day.

Luna’s Rev-9 terminator is the latest version, made of more durable liquid metal and with an ability to split into two independent machines, an “endoskeleton” and an “exoskeleton.” “I was so, so happy, completely over the moon when I got the email from Tim saying I was the guy,” says Luna, “because I would be the successor to Arnold and Robert, Linda Hamilton was back to take her rightful place as the center of the story—the queen Sarah Connor—and I would be there in the next chapter of the story that I’ve been watching my whole life.”

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For Luna, the Terminator films have a personal connection—he laughs when remembering how his cousins who “showed me all the shit I wasn’t supposed to see” let him watch the original Terminator as a child, but he also recalls how he related to the character John Connor on a more empathetic level. Growing up in Austin, Texas, Luna was raised by his teenage mother after his father passed away unexpectedly while she was pregnant with him. “I remember watching the movie and seeing Edward Furlong, he was my age and that was a big element—and that’s a big element with films in general, you have to have somebody to identify with, and when you do, you really enjoy the film, you have great empathy for whatever that character is,” he explains. “For me, it was John Connor and Arnold Schwarzenegger was his best friend, like a surrogate father to him, and all of that hit me very hard, struck me, coming where I come from.”

The 36-year-old Luna’s classic Texas roots were most likely a big help when preparing for the physically demanding role. He grew up as an athlete and was the captain of his high school football team (“you get a football and a guitar when you’re born,” he jokes about Texas, “they put them right to you as you pop out of your mom and your pair of boots comes later when you’re actually walking”) until an injury left him sidelined. Unable to play football, he had no excuses when the drama teacher, Mr. Sharp, suggested that he audition for the school’s play. “I was in a technical theater class getting my fine arts credit by swinging a hammer,” he says of his time building a set for the school production. “I’m in that class because I love to sing, I love to dance, I love to draw, but I didn’t want to be seen doing any of those things. I was a bit shy.”

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Initially rejecting Mr. Sharp’s suggestion to audition, it took a personal moment for Luna to find the courage to audition for the school play. “I got a call from my grandmother saying, ‘Gabe, come over to the house. I found a box of your father’s things and I want you to have it.’ I sped over there because any information I had about him was always helpful, it helped me to understand who I was and why I did certain things,” he explains. “At the bottom of the box was a VHS tape. I put the VHS in the VCR and it was a tape of my father in a play that he wrote, starred in, and directed for our church eight months prior to my birth and five months prior to his death. It was the first time I’d ever heard his speaking voice, the first time I’d ever seen him moving around, animated. It was the first time I’d ever seen him alive. Up until that point, I had a cassette with a song, a Christian song they sing at Easter called ‘Rise Again.’ I played it at my grandfather’s funeral and it’s in the video—the actual performance of that song is in the video. I got to watch him actually sing that song being in the play and then I’m crying my eyes out. When I first emerged from those emotions, the first clear thought I had was, ‘You know what, I’m going to go tell Mr. Sharp I’m going to give it a shot.’ I had said no because I was afraid, and now I’m still afraid but I feel like I have to do it.” Luna admits he was “kind of terrified” when he entered the room for his audition, but fortunately, the opening scene he read for the play felt familiar. “The scene is the main character standing in front of two unmarked graves talking to this old woman asking her which one belongs to his father and my first thought in my head is, ‘I know what this feels like, I’ve done this before,’ and I wasn’t nervous all of a sudden. I read the scene. There have been a few instances in my life where it’s just felt like breathing, it’s definite, and that’s one.”

After the successful audition, Luna brought his natural leadership to the stage in a starring role. He was quickly noticed by the artistic director at St. Edward’s University in Austin and accepted a full-ride scholarship for their acting program. For Luna, however, despite all his formal training, it’s the lessons he learned early on in high school that continue to drive his method. “Truth be told, I learned a lot. I’ve learned techniques, I’ve learned other things, I’ve learned through all the actors I’ve worked with, but all I needed was that first thought when I had that script in my hand thinking, ‘I know what this feels like, I’ve felt this before.’ That’s informed my process throughout my life,” he says. “I have a lot of experiences so when I get there on the day I don’t have to fake it, to be a phony. I just felt that it’s important to really live a life and not go from trailer to trailer to try to have something to draw on.”

Unfortunately, there’s no personal experience to rely on when you’re playing a homicidal assassin robot from the future. “I can’t go on a murderous rampage through Mexico City or just ramming through the world like a bus obviously,” he laughs. In preparation to play the Rev-9, Luna drew upon the technical skills he acquired at St. Edward’s, relying on the deep-dive lessons he learned about the Suzuki method, a physical form of training that includes the technique of putting your body in uncomfortable positions and being able to speak from those places in a natural manner. “As the Terminator, you have to have precise focus and you have to have efficient movement and always forward momentum, always being in attack mode, no unnecessary flourishes, be like water, be very adaptable,” he says. “That certainly applies when you’re made of liquid metal. There was a lot going into it. It started as a very physical approach to building the character at first.”

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The biggest difference between the Rev-9 and previous models is its charisma—Luna’s own charm and effortless personality round out his Terminator, giving him a chilling edge reminiscent of a psychopathic serial killer. He is also the first Latino Terminator and, in a film that takes place predominantly in Mexico, it allows his character to blend into his human surroundings, unlike Schwarzenegger’s T-800, who is built like a tank, and Patrick’s T-1000, whose mechanical precision and stone-cold face betray his machine-like qualities. “I try to make the human simulation very real, just have that not be rushed into all of the guy playing a machine playing a guy. It should just be two human actors having a scene,” he says. “That’s terrifying if the Terminator can be that believable, have him infiltrate it so well that he’s indistinguishable from anyone else. I could flash a smile, I could catch flies with honey, use my charm to disarm people and lull them into a false sense of security and then take their head off.”

As for what’s next for Luna, it’s currently up in the air after recent plans for his next project were derailed. After being held under contract for over two years to star in a Marvel TV Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. spinoff and to reprise his role as Robbie Reyes in Ghost Rider for Hulu, the highly anticipated show was abruptly canceled due to rumored creative differences between the artistic team and the streaming service. “I started taking precision driving courses and refreshing my motorcycle skills. I was boxing with Freddy Roach at Wildcard gym in Los Angeles just ready to rock,” he recalls. “Then it got pushed once, it got pushed twice, and then three weeks before the new start date that we had, I get a call from Jeph Loeb and he says, ‘Gabe. this is the hardest call I’ve ever had to make. They pulled the plug and I made you promises.’” Despite the disappointing setback, Luna is moving forward—he will next be seen opposite Geraldine Viswanathan as a high school teacher in the Sundance favorite Hala—but is otherwise taking his time in seeking out the next opportunity, content just to enjoy the present. “I’ve received a few offers. I haven’t really decided what the next thing will be, but I have the time now to do any of those things. I’m not exactly sure what the future holds…or I should know, I’m from the future!” he laughs. “I should already know, so we’ll see.”

Terminator: Dark Fate is out now.

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By
Mackenzie Hamilton
Photography by
Zach Fernandez
Styling by
Star Burleigh

Grooming by Andrea Pezzillo at Exclusive Artists using Omorovicza and Hanz de Fuko. Photographer’s assistant: Raymond Morris. Stylist’s assistant: Lily Shahinyan.

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