Posted April 18, 2012 by David Watson in Features
 
 

Actor Michael Biehn


He’s faced Terminators, aliens, zombies and Val Kilmer. Now Michael Biehn talks the End of the World, exploitation movies and getting his wife naked with Cinema Editor David Watson.

He’s faced
Terminators, aliens, zombies and Val Kilmer. Now Michael Biehn talks the End of the World, exploitation
movies and getting his wife naked with Cinema Editor David Watson.

If you grew up in the ‘80s, you can’t help but be nervous
interviewing Michael Biehn. The
man is an icon. In a career that’s
spanned 35 years he’s played cowboys and space marines, cops and psychos. He’s been a Navy SEAL (3 times!), kicked Wesley Snipes’ ass, been Anne
Hathaway
’s dad, traded Latin insults with Val Kilmer and had his head shrunk by Patsy Kensit. Yup, you
read that right. He once made a
film where Patsy Kensit played his psychiatrist. And Biehn made you
believe it!
He’s worked with
everyone from James Cameron to Charlie Sheen. Growing up, he was one of my
heroes. Even if he did once play a
character named Randy Buttman he was still the guy who crossed time to pick a
fight with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In his new film, Xavier
Gens
’ bleak, brilliant post-apocalyptic thriller The Divide, Biehn’s facing the End of the World yet again, his
character Mickey a traumatised ex-fireman forced to shelter a disparate group
of survivors of a nuclear attack on the Big Apple. Trapped in Mickey’s basement bomb shelter, with food and
water running out, these former friends and neighbours (among them Rosanna Arquette, Milo Ventimiglia, Lauren
German
and the fantastic Michael
Eklund
) quickly descend into savagery. With the swaggering, bigoted, alpha male Mickey offering
Biehn his best role in years, The Divide
isn’t for the faint-hearted.

Says Biehn: “Xavier had done a movie over in France called Frontier(s). Ross Dinerstein
who was the American producer over here said: “I want you to take a look at
this movie.” I did and I thought
this guy obviously visually has got a lotta talent. He (Dinerstein) said he had a movie called The Divide and Xavier was gonna
direct. I asked him what the basic
premise was and I said: “Yeah, I’ll work with this guy,” I think he’s a very
talented director.

“So Xavier got over here, or I got on the telephone with
him, and said to him the character of Mickey that I play, I thought needed some
fine tuning, to say the least, and he told me basically at that time, he said:
“Well, when I come over we’re going to get together a week or ten days before
we start shooting and we’re going to do, like, an actor’s improvisation.” He
had a writer by the name of Eron Sheean
and said: “We’re gonna rewrite the script. We’re gonna change things. We’re gonna do improvisations and if they’re good they’re
gonna go in the script as long as they work.” He said I’d be able to take that character and make it my
own, so that’s when I said yes to the project. And that’s exactly what we did.

“We shot the movie in sequence so it was interesting, there
was a lotta improvisation, a lotta writing and a lotta rewriting, while we were
making the movie. So the script
was never a script. It was kinda
this evolving piece of story and it would move off to where we thought it was
gonna go and back and then move even further off because the writing that
Xavier liked and because the improvisations Xavier liked, this would cause
friction among cast members because scenes they thought they were going to come
in and shoot that day were being overridden by somebody else’s scenes they had
written or somebody else’s improvisation that they had done and he’d want to
shoot that instead and that led to a lot of hostility between the actors.

“When you throw me and Rosanna Arquette, Courtney B.Vance
and Michael Eklund a big chunk of meat, screen time, you know, you better watch
out because we’re all going to go after it with gusto.

“I thought it was a fine cast, everybody did a good
job. I think Xavier did that to
create tension among the characters.
Which he did. The cast
members all hated each other and I think that shows up in the film every once
in a while. I know the difference
between true “I hate you,” as an actor compared to “I hate you,” as a
character. I think it’s a really
well-acted movie, I think it’s shot beautifully, the music’s great… You know, it’s just a question if you
wanna walk out of the movie theatre, if you want an experience, if you want to
let yourself experience…It’s a harsh look at humanity.”

Biehn’s also just made his directorial debut with the
low-budget exploitation thriller The
Victim
starring his wife, Jennifer
Blanc
.

“A lot of people come to me and say they have money and a
script and will I get involved and I’ll say yes and it turns out they don’t
have money and they’ll go out and try to raise money on my name.

“This guy came to me and said he wanted to make a movie and
I said: “Ok, start writing cheques,” and he did. So, once he started writing cheques and they started
clearing, I had to write a script.
I had a very, very low budget and I said at the time “Listen, I’m gonna
make a little exploitation movie.
I don’t have any money for special effect vampires or zombies, I don’t
have any money for special effects makeup, I don’t have money for car chases or
huge fight sequences or big crowd sequences. It’s gonna be a small grindhouse movie.

“And I just basically thought it’s gotta have sex and
Jennifer (producer and wife Jennifer Blanc) and a friend of hers, Danielle Harris, were willing to get
naked for me. I figured dirty cops
are always good. Drugs. Little bit of torture. Little bit of action. And then I just kinda threw in a serial
killer.

“It’s a small movie but it’s a fun movie. So I basically
wrote that script in 3 weeks.
During that 3-week period of time we went into pre-production. So we went into pre-production without
a script and we didn’t have a script until we started shooting. And then I shot it in 12 days. 12 12-hour days. The difference between Xavier’s
experience, which was one where he had a lot of time, and one in which I didn’t
have any time at all and Xavier was doing 4 or 5 setups a day and I was doing
45 setups a day.”

Having worked with some of the biggest directors in the
business, directors known for their temper tantrums and single-mindedness, what
was Biehn the director like?

“I basically was the exact opposite of Xavier,” says
Biehn. “I said: “This is how
you’re gonna do it.” There was a
journalist on the set once and he described me as a cross between a drill
sergeant and a raving lunatic.
Which is pretty much true.
I blew up. I screamed. I’ve worked with Jim Cameron…I’ve
worked with Billy Friedkin…I’ve
worked with Michael Bay…Kilmer, a
bunch of people.

“And everybody’s got these reputations, they’re such tough guys,
hard guys to work with. You can
take all those guys, wrap them up on their worst day…and that was me every day
of shooting. I had to get it done.

“And we got it done.
We made a nice little movie I’m proud of. I’m probably prouder of that achievement than anything that
I’ve ever done before. We’ve got
real good reception, we got picked up by Anchor Bay who are distributing The Divide and we’ll be out this Fall
and I’m excited about that.”

He continues: “It’s a fun little movie. It basically starts out saying: “This
is not based on true events.”
Kinda gives the idea that we’re having a little fun with it.”

As an actor, Biehn’s always been known for his commitment
and intensity. Now he’s moved into
directing, it doesn’t look like he’s going to be lightening up anytime soon.

“Well, I am a family man and I take my kids to the beach
like anyone else but people don’t see me that way,” says Biehn, “I guess my
family does, but people see me, I don’t know what it is, something about me
people find…intense.

“And I can be intense.
I can be, like, very inside of my head. I was at lunch a couple of years ago and I was by the craft
service table and a young actor walked up to me and said: “What are you
thinking? I looked at you and you
looked so intense. I just want to
know – what is going through your mind right now?”

“And I looked at the lunch table and said: “Fritos or
cheetos?” I don’t know. It’s something about the way my manner
is. I’ve never really been able to
play much comedy.”


David Watson

 
David Watson is a screenwriter, journalist and 'manny' who, depending on time of day and alcohol intake could be described as a likeable misanthrope or a carnaptious bampot. He loves about 96% of you but there's at least 4% he'd definitely eat in the event of a plane crash. Email: david.watson@filmjuice.com