'Terminator 2': The Real Reason Denzel Washington Refused to Play Miles Dyson

Terminator 2: Judgement Day is often mentioned in the short list of sequels that may improve upon the original. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton returned, with new cast members Edward Furlong as the young John Connor and Robert Patrick as the latest model T-1000 terminator. Writer/director James Cameron wanted Denzel Washington in the movie, but Washington said no.

In a 1992 interview for Malcolm X, Washington explained exactly why he wanted no part of Terminator 2, or at least not the part Cameron was offering. Joe Morton got the role of Miles Dyson.

Miles Dyson in ‘Terminator 2’: The role Denzel Washington snubbed

Terminator 2 picks up 10 years after 1984’s The Terminator, although the sequel came out in 1991. Sarah Connor (Hamilton) is committed to a mental hospital for her warnings of the Skynet robot apocalypse. Her son, John (Furlong), lives with foster parents when two terminators come from the future.

The T-1000 is there to eliminate John Connor so that he can never lead humanity to victory over Skynet in the future. A reprogrammed T-800 terminator (Schwarzenegger) protects John. When they break Sarah out of the hospital, she’s not too happy to see the same robot that originally hunted her in 1984.

Miles Dyson makes a quick introduction early in the film as an engineer at Cyberdyne, the company that will build Skynet. Later in the movie, Sarah attempts to kill Dyson to prevent him from ever building Skynet. She can’t bring herself to do it, though, and Dyson ultimately helps the trio destroy his research. 

Why Denzel Washington said no

In 1991, Washington wasn’t quite the movie star he is today. He had successfully made the leap from TV’s St. Elsewhere to movies. He had earned an Oscar nomination for his supporting role in Glory. He starred in movies like Mo’ Better Blues, Ricochet, Mississippi Masala and The Mighty Quinn before playing Malcolm X in Spike Lee’s movie. 

Washington was not, yet, a meme expressing relief. He would win the Oscar for Best Actor for 2001’s highly quotable Training Day and become such a phenomenon that Jay Pharoah impersonated his movie persona on Saturday Night Live. When Washington spoke with Premiere Magazine in 1992 for Malcolm X, he didn’t mince words about his feelings about the Terminator 2 role. 

“No offense to Jim Cameron, but when I read the script, I thought, ‘All he does is look scared and sweat,’” Washington told the magazine. “I had to pass. I don’t know if I have room to embarrass myself, or people, through my work. A script comes to you. You make a decision on it.”

Joe Morton actually used that to land the role 

In 2017, Cameron re-released Terminator 2 in 3D. Morton reflected on his role with Metro that year and said he actually got the role by mocking the cliche that Black character die in horror and sci-fi movies.

“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,” Morton told Metro. “Cameron laughed and then gave me the part. 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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