By: Adam Pirani
Lean, tall, muscular, Street-smart, battle-worn, sensitive beneath. In his SF movie roles, actor Michael Biehn has exemplified these qualities. As Kyle Reese, the android-seeker in Terminator, he risked time travel, the disbelief of 2oth-century law enforcement authorities and the trust of the woman he had come to protect -- as well as a long night shoot on the streets of Los Angeles -- to hunt down the unstoppable Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger).
It's surprising therefor, that Biehn confesses a liking for playing "bad guys" -- psychotics, racists, wierdos and other "nasty, nasty characters," he reveals. "The only two heroic roles that I'm known for have been in Jim Cameron movies. I did a movie many years ago, The Fan, with Lauren Bacall, where I played this psychotic young guy. It wasn't a very good movie. Then, I did The Lords of Discipline, where I played this racist, terrible young cadet at a militairy school. And I did a four-hour TV movie called Deadly Intentions, where I played a schizophrenic doctor who was emotionally abusing his wife."
"I find those kinds of characters to be absolutely fascinating, and I've been very lucky that Jim cast me in a couple of heroic roles. It's funny, because even after Terminator, I would go up for good-guy roles, and directors, producers and casting people would say, 'Well, no, Michael is too intense, too this, too that,' because they've seen me play all these bad guys, these crazies."
"Somehow, in Terminator, the character was -- Jim had an expression that I remember reading in the first script, that I thought was a perfect description of Reese: 'A hot-wired rat in a urban maze.' So, I always thought of that as I was making the movie, and I guess Reese was a little rat-like -- real lean and scarred and everything. But to me, Reese was the best hero role that I saw come along in a long, long time. I thought Reese was a great hero, but somehow people don't think of him as a nice guy, and I guess he wasn't a nice guy."
If the Cameron-Biehn collaboration as director and actor sounds like a fated crossing of the paths (they've worked together on Terminator, ALIENS, The Abyss and Terminator 2: Judgment Day), the reality is that their working relationship on Terminator came about in purely routine manner -- and almost didn't happen at all. "I just came in as an actor and read for the part," Biehn says. "I read for [producer/co-writer] Gale Anne Hurd, and then for Jim. I read for Jim a couple of times, actually. I was trying out for a play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, in LA, and these interviews were going on at the same time. So I kept coming in to read for Terminator, and I was playing Reese with a southern accent because I was working so much on the other deal."
"They kept saying to my agent, 'Well, we like Michael a lot, but we don't want to cast somebody who's southern.' And my agent said, 'He's not southern, he comes from Nebraska! And he has lived in California for 10 years! We don't understand.' So, when they finally said something to me about it, I said, 'Well, it's because I'm going from this interview to that interview and back again.' Once they realized that I could speak without a southern accent, I guess that decided it."
Terminator was trip in time that Biehn enjoyed. "I was very eagor to do it," he says. "I spent a lot of time with Jim before we started filming. We would shoot guns together -- real guns, and really fun guns, like Uzis and sawed-off shotguns, all the stuff we used in the movie. We would go out to the rifle range and just blow everything down. We talked about the character a lot, and by the time we started that movie, we were just ready to rock and roll."
Biehn's enthusiasm for the film increased even more during production. "I knew that the action stuff was going to be really good, because I could just seen it when it was being filmed. I got more and more excited about it. I started watching dailies every day, and I remember watching the movie's last two reels for the first time, mixed together, and I went home and couldn't sleep for two nights. I just knew that this film was so exciting, and that people were going to flip out over it. Which they did."
"I'm also very proud of the fact that -- and nobody really talks about it very much, and it doesn't get much attention -- but the film has, I think, a very beautiful love story. Everybody things of Terminator as Arnold running around, chasing me and blowing things up. But when I see the movie, it breaks me up in the end: Sarah (Linda Hamilton) with my baby. To me, it's like a sweet, very passionate love story. And I'm proud that in a movie that was basically sold as an exploitation, Schwarzenegger shoot-'em-up, that Linda and I were able to bring across a human aspect to the story. It has been overlooked, and, as people look back on it in the future, the'll see that there is a very human element to Terminator. It isn't all just machines and mechanics.
After his Terminator role (I've never had as good an experience working with anybody as I have with Jim"), Biehn was eager to appear in another Cameron movie. "Gale called me up and asked me if I would come in and play this role of Corporal Hicks in ALIENS," he says. "Hicks is the one guy you can count on in a bad situation. He is one of those people who don't lose their heads -- a quintissential hero. I had read the script two or three months earlier, and I had liked it very much. I just said, 'Absolutely, yes.' I got on the plane three days later and was shooting a couple of days afterward."
"One good thing about Jim is that he loves working in film so much, and he loves other people knowing about film. He's very open as far as actors seeing dailies or coming into the editing room. He just loves to talk about film; he's like a teacher whon loves telling you about it: explaining cameras, lenses and shots."
Working with Cameron is always a delight for the actor. Biehn says that the director's enthusiasm and tireless work inspire a 100 percent approuch from his cast and crew. "Jim has an incredible drive as far as making movies goes," biehn extols. "The best example of that goes back to Terminator. We had finished principle photography, and the following day after we finished, I went to the production office in Hollywood and they had cut together some bits of the movie. It was going to to into theaters as an early trailer."
"I walked in the office, and Jim was sitting there. It was about lunchtime, and he had a pen in his hand and paper all over the place, with notes that he had written. He was writing away. He said, 'Hi, Mike!' and just kept writing, and I said, 'How you doing, Jim. I came in to see the--' 'Yeah, yeah, the trailer's right over there.' And then I asked, 'Jim, what are you doing?"
"He said, 'I've fot to get this treatment of ALIENS' --or the first draft, it was something like that-- 'done by lunchtime.' And he was eating these cheese snacks. 'I don't have time for lunch.' He was just hauling ass!"
"This is the day after we finished Terminator, which was, by all accounts, from a director's standpoint, a very gruesome three-month schedule where he was getting up at 6 a.m. and then watching dailes until 8:30 or 9 p.m. Most people would take a week or two off and fly to Bermuda and rest on their laurels a bit. But no, Jim was absolutely consumed with it."
"I think Jim has film in his blood and just about nothing else. He enjoys it immensely, and he's the kind of guy who will always be consumed with it. I really feel that Jim has the same sort of talent as Steven Spielberg or George Lucas."
The actor -- whose first screen role consisted of two lines in the Logan's Run TV pilot -- is very proud of Terminator and his other genre work, but us equally enthusiastic about his credits outside the SF-fantasy realm. "I've never been that big of a SF buff," says Michael Biehn, who currently stars in the Hurd-executive-produced action series Adventure Inc. "I'm looking for something a little bit lighter, and/or to play another bad guy [as he did in Clockstoppers]. It would be nice if I could go back and forth playing bad guys and good guys. Of course, my agent wants me to only play good guys, but that will never happen."