''No matter where I go, the first question I always get is 'When are you going to do another 'Terminator?'''' says the 55-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger. ''I never had any doubt there would be another one. Which isn't to say there was never a reason to doubt...''
You see, some funny things have happened to the James Cameron-created sci-fi franchise since 1991's ''Terminator 2: Judgment Day,'' the sequel to the 1984 original that established Cameron as a tech-wonk auteur and proved that Schwarzenegger could be more than just ''Conan the Barbarian.'' Shortly after ''Terminator 2'''s release, Carolco Pictures, which owned the franchise, went bankrupt. Much legal wrangling ensued, with various companies and individuals jockeying for the rights. (The ultimate winners were producer Andrew Vajna and European media giant Intermedia.) A long, tortured development followed, culminating in Schwarzenegger signing up for a record $30 million, and ''U-571'''s Jonathan Mostow agreeing to direct after Cameron decided to pass. ''I had some trepidation filling his shoes,'' says Mostow. ''But I had to put all that off to the side. Everyone will see this movie and make comparisons, but I can't control any of that.'' Schwarzenegger admits he had his own worries about working for anyone else but Cameron. ''I missed him a lot,'' he says. ''With Jonathon Mostow, I didn't feel [the same kind of] confidence in the beginning. But he proved to me that he had what it takes to make this work.''
Mostow and his star won't divulge much about the plot beyond the bare minimum: 10 years after ''Terminator 2,'' the malevolent machines at Skynet send a next-generation Terminator (Kristanna Loken, late of the short-lived TV series ''Unhappily Ever After'') back in time to kill future resistance leader John Connor (Nick Stahl, inheriting the role from ''Terminator 2'''s Edward Furlong). The human rebels counter by reprogramming yet another Schwarzenegger model to save him. Mostow says ''Terminator 3'' -- with an estimated budget of $150 million -- will have more than 600 F/X shots. The one he's most proud of? ''Can't tell you that either,'' he says. ''Nice try, though.''