Michael Biehn is a bloody legend. He’s in Aliens, The Terminator, The Abyss, Navy Seals, Tombstone, The Rock and Planet Terror. He’s worked under the direction of James Cameron, Michael Bay, Robert Rodriguez and William Friedkin. He’s acted alongside, well any and everyone: Schwarzenegger, Sigourney Weaver, Charlie Sheen, Sean Connery and Nicolas Cage. Aside from his works he’s also a bloody legend because he’s smart, focussed, hard-working, dry, funny, very polite and actually happy to let you geek at him fella.
I was lucky enough to bag a time slot with him to talk about his latest film The Divide, which Martyn four-starred earlier this week. It’s a taut and downbeat, post-New York nuclear attack B-movie and it’s directed by Xavier Gens (Frontier(s) and the forthcoming The ABCs of Death).
Biehn thinks of it as a “psychological horror story” and when I ask why he wanted to get involved he tells me that it was all about the director. After watching and loving Frontier(s) and being told that Gens had a project called The Divide that “needed some work”, he jumped at the chance to work with Xavier and help with “reshaping the script”.
It sounds like Xavier Gens is a bit of a sneaky sadist at heart as Michael explains the Frenchman’s sinister plot to wind the cast up to create the all-against-all dynamic he wanted to capture.
“There were a lot of actors doing improvisation and writing and giving scenes to Xavier, who would decide what he wanted to shoot. So there was a lot of intensity as actors were losing scenes and screen time. When you take people like me and Milo (Ventimiglia), who’s a pretty intense guy, and a seasoned pro like Rosanna Arquette, and you throw a big piece of meat in the middle of the room and say “go at it!” y’know everybody starts fighting for their turf and territory. It led to a lot of hostility amongst the cast and I think Xavier planned that, right from the very beginning.”
Biehn’s character, Mickey, has had a bit of a rough time of it.
“He’s a 9-11 survivor with post-traumatic stress disorder. He loses his family, loses his job and turns into this paranoid guy who builds a bunker for himself.”
Initially Mickey wants to keep it to himself, but when forced to shelter a bunch of other survivors, humanity doesn’t end up showing it’s best side – “It’s like Lord of the Flies, there’s sex, violence, murder, rape. It’s humanity at its worst.”
I ask if he has any plans or strategies in place, in case of a real-life nuking or zombie apocalypse. “Noooooo” he’s answers a little disapprovingly and I worry that he thinks I’m taking the mickey. But he carries on:
“Not really. I don’t foresee a situation where Los Angeles would be threatened by a nuclear event. It might happen in my lifetime, but I don’t think it’ll happen in Los Angeles”. As perhaps to be expected from an actor who has played a lot of dyed in the wool American military types over the years, he makes it clear that he doesn’t think any country that does have the capability to do such a thing would “be able to touch us.”
We’re getting on pretty great so I decide it’s safe to start fishing around his greatest hits. To ease us in I ask who, out of all the tough people he’s worked with, is the hardest in real life. The capacity of one to be “hard” gets a little lost across the Atlantic, so I plough on explaining that I mean if there was a Royal Rumble between the toughest actors he’s ever worked with, like Schwarzenegger, Connery, Sigourney, Ed Harris, Kurt Russell, Tony Todd and Sonny Chiba, who would come out on top?
His answer is immediate and surprising:
“Harris. I’d put my money on Ed Harris. Yeah. You know there’s an intensity about Ed Harris. In his prime I definitely would not want to fuck with him”. We laugh, but he’s deadly serious “We used to go to the gym, when we were doing The Abyss. I’d go to the gym and I’d ride my little bike or whatever but he had a bag and he’d be hitting it really intensely, that was his work out. I know he’s small, but out of that group, that’s the guy that I wouldn’t wanna tangle with.”
So there you go, NEVER fuck with Ed Harris. Check out the blooper reel from The Rock if you need any more convincing.
There are lots of Biehn-y rumours around, like how he was originally going to be the T-1000 in T2 and even Spider-Man, when the web-slinger was a potential project for his mate Jim Cameron. There’s no truth in the T-1000 thing but he still:
“[I] always thought it’d be a good idea! I remember thinking that would be a cool idea if I came back as the bad guy, but obviously Jim Cameron knows what he’s doing.”
Fair enough, but what about the Spidey thing? “I did ask Jim (James Cameron) about that and he was like “Well, no. You’re ten years to old for it”.
I remember the first time I saw Alien³ I was absolutely gutted when we found out that only Ripley had survived and that poor Hicks and Newt had bought the farm when they crashed on Fiorina ‘Fury’ 161. Surely Hicks himself was, and still is, pissed, right? He begins rather zen about the whole thing.
“No, maaan. That was twenty years ago. In fact I directed a movie recently called The Victim and there’s a credit sequence at the beginning that I kind of borrowed from David Fincher (Se7en obviously), to say well “You didn’t give me that role, I’m gonna borrow something from you.”
Though initially seemingly cool about it, the more he talks about it, it becomes clear that, yes, of course he’s still pissed about the whole thing.
“It was very painful. It was a franchise, it meant a lot of money. I did talk to David about it. He wanted me to sign off on Hicks having one of those alien’s burst out of his chest, not me, but a dummy. I got angry with him and yelled at him and told him that if he wasn’t gonna put me in his movie, I wouldn’t let him have something come out of Hicks’ chest! Of course, at the time, I didn’t know Fincher would become David Fincher, so I shoulda been nicer to him!”
He’s not done, while we’re on the subject:
“Over the years I have always said “fuck Aliens 3!” I’ve always said that the good Aliens’ ended at 2 and the good Terminator’s ended at 2.”
Quite so, but what about Prometheus?
“I’m looking forward to Ridley Scott’s follow-up. THAT ONE I’ll watch, that one I’ll go see. Ridley, to me, has always been one of our finest film makers. He’s a brilliant guy, he’ll do a great job with it.”
On the subject of directors, I wonder if and how any of some of the big name one’s he’s worked for have influenced his own approach to directing.
“My style of directing was described by one writer, that was on the set, as “part drill sergeant, part raving lunatic”. So I think you could take Cameron, who’s got the reputation, Michael Bay, who’s got the reputation, Friedkin, who’s got the reputation and Val Kilmer and Mickey Rourke and roll them into a ball and on their worst day that’d be like me directing every day.”
He’s already written and directed the aforementioned The Victim and also The Blood Bond, so is that what he’s happiest doing now? Is that his new career path? Mayhaps. He says he currently has a “three picture deal of grindhouse movies” and that…
“As long as I’m in charge, I’m happy making low-budget movies. The minute someone else tells me what to do will be the day that I quit directing. I’d like to produce, there’s probably a lot of people out there better at directing than me! Kinda like a classy Roger Corman thing is my goal.”
My time has run out and though I’m trying to wrap up, I hear him tell his handler at the other end of the line that he wants one more question. Well I was going to chicken out of this one, but it’s all I have left on my crib sheet. “I like to imagine that you and Bill Paxton are best friends”, I start, “and that you hang out all the time and run your old lines from Aliens”. It’s true. I do. They might not run around each others houses with imaginary Pulse Rifle’s, but Pax and The Biehn sound pretty tight.
“We don’t run our old lines from Aliens!” He laughs. “That’s for sure, but Bill and I are very close. The problem with actors, that are working all the time, is being in the same place at the same time. Bill lives in a little community about an hour outside Los Angeles, so I don’t get a chance to see him very often, but when I do, we fall right back into the same relationship. The last time I saw him was for an Aliens reunion photograph with Sigourney and him and Lance Henriksen.”
You can see some video from that day right here.
Massive, massive thanks to Mr. Biehn for his time and for being an absolute pleasure to get to talk to, as well as the frankly fantastic folk at Fetch for sorting it all out.
The Divide is out theatrically on the 20th of April, available on VOD on the 30th and will be available for download and on DVD on the 14th May.
There’s also a fanhub for The Divide, where you can see an exclusive Making Of, read and watch more interviews and even see poor Rosanna Arquette slowly degenerate from radiation sickness.