By Tom Gliatto
Updated August 05, 1991 12:00 PM

IN TERMINATOR 2, WOMAN WARRIOR LINDA Hamilton wants to save the world from nuclear tyranny despite the rottenness of mankind. When she sounds off about it, her young, streetwise son, John Connor, played by Edward Furlong, mutters. “Lighten up.”

Furlong, who turns 14 this week, probably wishes he could say the same to his real-life mother. Chomping off more than $115 million in ticket sales during its first three weeks of release, the adrenaline-pumping Arnold Schwarzenegger flick has made Furlong—as the Big Guy’s scrappy sidekick—the hottest screen kid since Macaulay Culkin glued a burglar to the floor. Furlong’s knotty family situation, though, makes Home Alone look like I Remember Mama. “The way my mom is handling things isn’t helping,” says the 112-lb., 5’4″ actor, sinking—a bit sulkily—into a couch and wringing his hands, his long hair hanging over his forehead. “She takes a step backward every time I take a step forward.”

Mom Eleanor Torres, 32, has filed a suit against Furlong’s aunt and uncle—with whom he now lives—challenging their control over her son. (Many details, including the size of the young star’s growing estate, have been sealed by the L.A. County Court.) The trouble started last summer when Furlong moved out of the modest three-bedroom Pasadena house he shared with his mother and his half-brother, Robert, now 10. Since then he has been living in Highland Park with his mother’s sister, Nancy Tafoya, 31, and her half-brother, Sean Furlong, 22. “I came to live with Sean and Nancy because I felt happier with them,” says Furlong. As for the unhappiness he felt with his mother, whom he now visits a couple of times weekly, Furlong will only say, “My mom is going through a difficult period, and it caused her to say and do things that weren’t good for our relationship.”

Torres admits he has cause to feel hurt. “I’m a single parent,” she says. “I’m not able to juggle all the responsibilities of a two-parent family.” An unsalaried worker with the Pasadena Committee on Children and Youth, Torres is divorced from fabric salesman Moises Torres. (Furlong has never met his real father, about whom Torres refuses to elaborate.) Still, she says of her son’s move, “it’s not unusual for a male child his age to want to separate from his mother.” Her suit against her sister and half-brother is expected to be settled in September.

Painful though it may be, it was Furlong’s alienation that landed him in T2. While hanging out last summer at a Pasadena youth center, he was spotted by casting director Mali Finn. He stood alone, she says, away from the other kids, watching her watching him. When Finn, who had been hoping to find an unknown with just the right, raw-nerved stuff, asked Furlong to improvise a scene, “I was intimidated by him. Eddie really gave me a tough time. If I touched him, he pulled away. He called me things like ‘frog lips.’ He had this real strong presence.”

Furlong may not have had any acting experience, but he did have lifelong showbiz ambition. He says he has been fascinated by movies since age 6 and has seen Aliens more than 20 times. “I love violent movies,” he adds. That includes T2, of course (for which he earned a reported $30,000). “It was like they were paying me to play with Arnold,” he says.

But can Furlong play the Hollywood game? His uncle thinks the old aloofness will help. “Eddie,” he says, “has a great ability to step back and view things from afar.” He’d better. After all, Furlong, who is headed for Seattle to shoot American Heart with Jeff Bridges, is learning to dodge screaming fans, rub shoulders with the likes of Christian Slater and Whoopi Goldberg at opening nights and date Punky Brewster herself, 14-year-old Soleil Moon Frye.

He’s also trying to keep his tangled family life in perspective—or maybe simply out of perspective. “I can’t say, ‘This is going on. I have to be depressed,’ ” he says. “Why waste all your energy on being depressed? Waste your energy being happy.”