Don’t Feel Bereavement For The Victim
by Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2011 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: March 2, 2011.
You know Michael Biehn, or at least you know his roles. He’s been in some of the iconic films of the past few decades.
Biehn protected Linda Hamilton from the murderous android from the future in The Terminator. He was a tough future marine taking out space creatures in Aliens. He was a crazed gangster in Tombstone. He was a Navy Seal in The Rock. He was Anne Hathaway’s dad in Havoc.
In recent years, Biehn has been getting more and more into independent filmmaking. Oh, sure he still does a decent amount of big-name projects to keep his feet wet, like for example he was in Robert Rodriquez’s Grindhouse entry Planet Terror or the soon-to-open 80s comedy Take Me Home Tonight. However, he has also been appearing in a quirky variety of smaller films from the recent Psych: 9 to Streets of Blood to the upcoming The Divide.
He has also decided to make the jump behind the camera. Last year he made his directing debut with The Blood Bond. He is currently finishing The Victim, his second film as a director, which he also wrote and costarred in – with his girlfriend Jennifer Blanc (Blanc also produced the film.)
Biehn just loves working. In fact, he is constantly taking on new roles in a wide variety of films. He recently called me to discuss Bereavement, one of his latest films to be released and his first true horror film. Still, at the beginning of the interview, he candidly admitted, “You know, Jay, to tell you the truth, it’s been quite a while since I’ve done it. I think I’ve done about ten movies in between, so my memory of the experience is not going to be as good as it was if you were interviewing me right after I finished.”
Ten films in three years.
Just like a shark, Michael Biehn has to keep moving.
And move he does, building a fascinating and varied body of work and getting the chance to work with some of the great talents in Hollywood. In fact, he has been in three films by James Cameron, arguably the most popular director of all time, after having helmed the first two Terminator films, Titanic and Avatar.
“I’ve always had a great experience with Jim,” Biehn says. “I caught him early in his career. He was always like a kid in a candy store. Very smart, obviously, knew everybody’s job on the set better than them. I’m glad he can’t act, because I think he would do that, too. He’s intense. He works sixteen hour days. But, he’s one of these guys that is really fun to watch make movies.
“He, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarentino, Billy Friedkin, Michael Bay – all directors that I’ve worked with that are just really brilliant and fun to watch,” Biehn continues. “Jim seems to have a reputation for being difficult on the set – when he did Titanic and True Lies – but I never really saw that in him. I worked with him in his early years and it seemed to me like he was just having a lot of fun. He used to bring us in – a lot of directors don’t want to show you the footage, don’t want you to see dailies, because they think you’ll change your performance and that kind of BS – and Jim used to always say, ‘Come look at dailies. I’ve got this scene cut together. Come look at this.’ He was very enthusiastic about keeping his actors and the rest of the crew involved in screenings of a cut scene of tech noir out of The Terminator, rough cuts, special effects shots. Take you down to the special effects studio; show you what stuff was going to look like. He was very excitable at the time and very fun and seemed like he was having a great time.”
Still, when he was starring in The Terminator, it was simply supposed to be a low-budget action film, much like many of the other ones he has made since. Biehn acknowledges he had no clue it would become a pop culture phenomenon.
“We didn’t really think it was going to…,” Biehn says. “I didn’t know at the time that it could ever end up being a deal that ended up having four or five sequels. We had fun making it, but no, we didn’t have any idea.”
Of course, Biehn had already caught Hollywood’s eye long before that mega-hit.
Odd trivia fact: his first film appearance was an bit performance as a high school basketball player in the classic musical Grease. However, he first really turned heads as an obsessed admirer of an aging actress played by screen legend Lauren Bacall in the early 80s thriller The Fan.
Since then he has been in dozens of films and television performances, often playing crazed tough guys – which is kind of funny to Biehn, who is nothing like that in real life. In fact, Biehn says he felt the most kinship to a character he did in a film that almost no one has seen.
“There’s a film that I did that people really do not know very well,” Biehn recalls. “It was a little movie that I did for Billy Graham, actually, the evangelist. He has a film company. His son Franklin Graham produced a movie called The Ride and it had a Christian theme to it – about an alcoholic [who] finds God. It is a very small movie that we made in Phoenix about ten or twelve years ago. That portrayal of that character really is like me. I am an alcoholic. I’ve been sober now for three years. There was kind of a sense of humor about the character. He’s kind of charming, he’s fun, but he gets angry. That character is more like me than any other character I’ve ever played before.”
This is not to say that Biehn doesn’t enjoy playing characters that are very different than he is.
“I liked all the characters I’ve played,” he says. “I never have any trouble getting into the characters that I play. But, sometimes I’ve had to make some tough decisions about working. I’ve had to take jobs that I didn’t want to take, for the money, for my children. Those are the kind of things that are really difficult to work on. When you really know the material is not very good and you’re trying to make the best of it. Lipstick on a pig or polishing a turd, however you want to describe it.”
Still, one of the nice things about Bereavement was that he again played a character who he could relate to. In the film he plays a concerned family man who takes in his teenaged niece (played by Alexandra Daddario) when her parents are killed in an auto accident, only to find he has to protect her from danger close to home. Writer/director Stevan Mena had targeted Biehn as his fantasy actor for the role, saying that Biehn always plays the coolest guy in the room and that it would be fun to put him in a situation that audiences normally would not expect of him.
“I liked the whole experience,” Biehn says. “I liked working with Stevan. As far as the character goes, he was somebody that is really more like Michael Biehn than the characters I play. I seem to have been kind of typecast over the years as a DA, a cop, a Navy Seal, a Marine – always these tough guys. Tough Army guys and stuff like that. I’m not really that way at all. So it’s nice to be just a normal person and to be able to play a loving and caring person as compared to a hysterical and/or angry and/or insane killer. It’s kind of fun.”
Bereavement was a prequel of the film Malevolence, a horror film released several years ago by Mena about a serial killer who lived in an abandoned meat-packing plant in the middle of the country. When some people stumble upon his lair, the killer goes about violently removing them all from his home. Biehn had not seen the earlier film before he was approached for the new project.
“I wasn’t aware of Malevolence,” Biehn admits. “Really, the reason I got involved with the movie was I’d never done a horror movie before. They made that offer to me and I went out and rented Malevolence. There was something about the way that it was shot and lit that I thought was really extremely well done. Again, horror stories are kind of not my thing and violence and so on and so forth is not quite my thing, but it was so beautifully shot and beautifully lit that I knew that Stevan had something. I knew he had talent. I gave him a call and we talked for a while and I decided to do it.”
As an actor who has worked with some of the biggest names in Hollywood, he was impressed by Mena’s passion and skill at filmmaking.
“I liked him,” Biehn says. “First of all, he’s got a very good sense of humor. I don’t think he takes himself all that seriously. I think he takes his work very, very seriously. But what I liked about him was there’s a lot of guys around that take their work very seriously, and are very talented, but they take themselves very seriously too. He doesn’t. He can poke fun at himself. I had fun with him. There are a lot of directors I work with that are so intense and so driven that they are fun to watch, but you don’t really get to interact too much with them. I used to joke with him about shots and stuff that I didn’t think would work. I would joke with him, ‘Well, that’s going to end up on the editing floor. You’ll never use that.’ He’ll say, ‘You’ll see, you’ll see.’ I had a good time with him. I haven’t seen the movie [yet], but if it has the same style as the first one, I’m sure that it looks pretty good. He’s a guy that has got a lot of talent, but doesn’t walk around with his chest stuck out. I had a lot of fun with him.”
Biehn was also impressed by his young co-star, Daddario, who has since the filming taken significant roles in Percy Jackson & the Olympians, Hall Pass and the TV series White Collar.
“The thing about star quality,” Biehn says, “you know there are a lot of pretty girls in Los Angeles. When I met her, there seemed to be kind of a depth to her. Then when I worked with her I felt she was a really good actress. I kind of thought it would take a while, but I thought she was going to make a splash somewhere along the line, because she’s not only beautiful, she was very talented.”
Daddario enjoyed the experience of working together as well, saying, “He’s great. He’s a wonderful guy, very professional, really nice to talk to.”
There is one very disturbing undertow in Bereavement. In it, a small child is witness to some horrific murders in the slaughterhouse. Though he did not have any scenes with the child (“I was basically in and around that house most of the time, [or] driving her to school.”), Biehn was conscientious about the fact that a child actor was being exposed to such graphic material.
“Well what happens to us happens to us at the end, that was more of a grown-up thing,” Biehn acknowledges. “That’s something that I think you need to speak to Stevan more about, because I didn’t really get to see him at a certain perspective. I think being a child actor is a very, very difficult deal. I’ve been working with child actors for years. Not even, wholly in bad circumstances, but when you take a child and you put them for a month away from home – even if their mother is with them – and they are away from school and they’re just with adults, all day long, every day… if they happen to work a lot, they end up really not having a childhood.
“I don’t really envy children that worked in the business at all. It’ll be four o’clock in the morning and everybody is sitting around smoking cigarettes talking and here is this little twelve-year-old boy or seven-year-old little girl sitting there. I just don’t think it’s very healthy for children, under the best circumstances. And obviously, a lot of them have turned out not too well. You take a guy like Kurt Russell and Ron Howard [who thrive after child stardom] – but there are a lot of stories that go the other way, too. I’m not a big fan of children working in pictures. I just don’t think it is good for them. I would never have my [child do it] … unless I had a child that demanded it, you know. ‘I want to do it. I want to do it. I want to do it. I have to do it. I have to do it. I have to do it. It’s something I have to do. Daddy, I have to do it.’ Then, I guess your role is different, but I certainly wouldn’t direct my child into anything like that until they got of age that they were out of school.”
As Bereavement is being rolled out to theaters across the US, Biehn is looking forward as well as back. While he is happy that the film is being released, he is also excited about a couple of other films he has coming soon.
“I did a movie called The Divide with [director] Xavier Gens, who directed Frontiers over in France and he shot The Hitman over here. Although he wasn’t very happy working with the studio, it made $90 million. The next movie, he decided he didn’t want to work with studios anymore, so he did this movie The Divide. It’s basically about seven or eight people who get shut into a bomb shelter after a nuclear holocaust of some kind. It’s kind of a Lord of the Flies-type of story. It stars Milo Ventimiglia [Heroes] and Lauren German [Hostel: Part 2]. And Courtney B. Vance is in it. Rosanna Arquette. Myself. And a really, really brilliant actor out of Canada named Michael Eklund. That’s a really, really, really good movie. I’ve seen it. [It’s] just psychologically brutal – a lot of great performances in it.”
Biehn was also putting the finishing touches on his own film The Victim while this interview happened – literally, he and his girlfriend were sitting in a car outside outside of his foley [sound effects] guy’s office as we wrapped up.
“Myself and my girlfriend Jennifer Blanc just wrote and directed – I wrote and directed and starred in it and she produced and starred in The Victim. Anybody can go to Grindhousethevictim.com and check out that. I’m in post on that right now, as a matter of fact I’m going to go in there and work with him. We should have that finished February 23rd and we’re going to try to sell that. I’m very excited about that one….”
The movie was inspired by Biehn’s appearance in director Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror (“which is I guess as close to a horror movie as I ever had gotten to other than Steve’s movie”). Planet Terror was half of the ambitious retro Grindhouse double-feature with Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino each contributing a movie which paid tribute to 70s sex-and-violence exploitation films.
“I promised myself I was going to make a grindhouse movie at some point after I finished working with him,” Biehn recalls. “I finished working on Planet Terror and ended up doing a television series and forgot about it. When I was doing The Divide, I was in a coffee shop and I saw somebody reading Rebel Without a Crew, which is Robert Rodriguez’s book. I said to myself I’m going to reread that book and go make a movie. So that’s what we did. I decided to make a grindhouse exploitation movie.
“I asked myself, okay, what do I really need to make this movie? I figured I need some hot chicks, sex, dirty cops, drugs, a little bit of violence, a little bit of torture, a little bit of action, and, well, I’ll just throw in a serial killer. So that’s what I did. I wrote a story around those elements and we went out and shot it in twelve days and we’re really happy with the way that it turned out.”
|#1 © 2011. Courtesy of Crimson Films. All rights reserved.|
|#2 © 2011. Courtesy of BlancBiehn Productions. All rights reserved.|
|#3 © 2011. Courtesy of BlancBiehn Productions. All rights reserved.|
Copyright ©2011 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: March 2, 2011.