Robert Patrick is wearing a black T-shirt and black jeans and drinking black coffee in a hiply unchic Hollywood cafe near his home. His hair is slicked back T-1000 style, and his nearly lashless eyes are a washed-out, postnuclear blue. The most colorful thing about him is the bottle green shade of the sunglasses resting near the ashtray. If not for the self-deprecating laugh and the cigarette dangling from his lips, Patrick would be indistinguishable from his liquid-metal alter ego.
Playing a character without any human feelings might sound like the ultimate thankless role, but he isn't complaining. Raised by a banker and a housewife in Cleveland, Patrick, 31, spent only a year at Bowling Green State University before six years of ''knocking around Hollywood in obscurity,'' taking roles in low-budget films (Equalizer 2000) and a small part in Die Hard 2 ''that finally earned me enough dough to buy my girlfriend an engagement ring.'' T2 is his biggest break yet. ''Before the last audition I said to Jim (Cameron), 'You know, I can do this.' He said, 'I know you can. Don't blow it.''' Patrick took the advice and got the part.
Immediately after being cast as the anti-Arnold, Patrick took a martial-arts crash course, then began exhaustive strength, endurance, and weapons-training sessions. ''For three months,'' he says, ''all I did was sleep, eat, take vitamins, and train.''
Patrick also worked on developing movements that seemed appropriate for a killing machine from the future, and turned to the animal kingdom for help. Observing praying mantises gave him an idea for a sideways tilt of his head, as well as a way of carrying his hands that ''came in handy when they turn into crowbars.'' His cats, Portia and Jet, inspired his fluidity, and eagles were the model for the hooded glare and downward thrust of his head.
During the shoot, Patrick ''walked around not talking much,'' he says. ''I had to keep T-1000 close. So I cranked industrial (rock music) like Nine Inch Nails (younger brother Richard is the group's guitarist) and read grotesque books like Red Dragon.'' And marveled at his own twist of fate.
On Nov. 24, two months into the shoot, Patrick left T-1000 in his trailer and went off to marry his longtime girlfriend, actress Barbara Hooper (The Sisterhood). ''That day I couldn't stop bawling. People were like, 'Quit crying.'''
There are no tears being shed over his career: Since T2 Patrick has been flooded with scripts. He co-owns his favorite one, No Recall, about a mass murderer, and would like to star in it. Is he worried about typecasting? ''I love acting, period,'' says Patrick with a T-1000 stare. ''If I'm going to get hired as a psycho, by God I'll take the job.''