Now that Arnold Schwarzenegger has agreed to reprise his role as Hollywood's favorite cyborg in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (for a reported $30 million), only one question remains: Will Linda Hamilton be back as Sarah Connor?

While out promoting his latest popcorn flick, Collateral Damage (due Feb. 8), Schwarzenegger gave TV Guide Online the scoop on the fate of T3's ass-kicking mom. (Her son John, the role originated by troubled thesp Edward Furlong in T2, reportedly will be recast.) "She is coming back... [but] as a past experience, not driving the current story forward," he says of Hamilton, the ex-wife of Terminator and T2 helmer James Cameron. "She's in flashbacks. I think [T3 director Jonathan Mostow] felt like [he] didn't want to have the exact same cast and be limited in the story.

"So let's assume [Sarah] has died already and [John's] on his own, rather than having the mother still there whining away," he continues. "Jonathan was very adamant that he wanted the kid now to be 22 or 23, the mother has died, and let's move on; let's have him be on his own — let's let him have a girlfriend."

And what about reports that Shaquille O'Neal is in talks to join the cast? Laughs Schwarzenegger: "He's the only one that's saying that, right?" (We'll take that as a "No!")

T3 is scheduled to hit theaters in July 2003, but as the 54-year-old action hero knows full well, release dates are made to be broken. The terrorist-themed Collateral Damage, for example, was slated to bow Oct. 5, but the Sept. 11 attacks forced Warner Bros. to push back the opening until Feb. 8.

For his part, Schwarzenegger believes that there's never been a better time to inflict Damage on audiences. "Several action movies have been released since [Sept. 11 and] have done extremely well," he says. "I think a lot of people were concerned that Black Hawk Down was too tough of a movie so soon after, and sure enough it went through the roof.

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