Here is a nice interview with actor-turned-director, Michael Biehn. He discusses what got him to direct his first film, “The Victim,” which premiered on DVD this week, his relationships with directors, James Cameron (Terminator, Aliens, The Abyss, T2, True Lies, Titantic, and Avatar) and Robert Rodriquez (Grindhouse Presents: Planet Terror, Sin City, Desperado, the Spy Kids Trilogy, and Machete), as well as a bunch of his film roles.
Michael Biehn Directs The Victim
Actor Michael Biehn (The Terminator, Aliens, Tombstone) was at Horrorhound Indianapolis the weekend of Sept. 7-9 for two cast reunions—one featuring cast members of The Terminator franchise, and the other assembling the “largest cast reunion ever” for Aliens.
But Michael had more to celebrate than the company of the two reunions. His directorial debut, a grindhouse movie called The Victim, came to DVD this week, on September 18. Michael sat down with us to talk about his new movie, a lot of old ones, and how Robert Rodriguez and James Cameron helped him in taking the leap into directing his first feature.
For the interview, Michael was joined by his wife, Jennifer Blanc-Biehn, who, with him runs Blanc/Biehn Productions. Not only did Michael direct the film, but he and his wife also play the lead roles, and co-produced the movie together. Read what they had to say after the break.
You’re currently promoting The Victim. It’s your directorial debut—a fun sleazy grindhouse flick. Without giving too much away, what can people expect from this movie?
MB: Well, it’s a very low budget movie. It’s what I would call an exploitation movie. It’s a movie that is got a lot of sex, violence, a little bit of dirty cops, drugs. It’s got a serial killer. I tried to take all the elements that I could that were staples of the exploitation genre and put them all together. I had a really, really small amount of money, so I had to depend on all those small little different items. Mostly it’s a lot of sex and fighting. A lot of times when I introduce the movie, the first thing I say is “If you don’t like fucking and you don’t like fighting, you might as well get up and leave right now.”
After almost two years of working on it, it’s finally being released on DVD this week. What’s that like?
MB: I’m glad to get it behind me, to tell you’re the truth. I didn’t think it would take so long. I thought I was going to make it, and do all the post on it, and then eventually it would just sell itself, I guess. So we made it—and shot it in 12 days. And we shot it in what you call “day for night.” About 80 percent of it takes place at night. So the movie looks like night, but we shot it during the day, with camera trickery and so forth to make it look like night, so we didn’t have to light the nights. The movie was done well over a year ago. So then I had to get people to see it.
It’s really hard to get people to see movies—you’d be surprised. You just can’t send a movie over to a distribution company and say, “Here, take a look at my movie.” I mean you can, if you know somebody. But you never really know if it gets looked at. So we kind of had to go with film festivals. And all these comic-con type of deals. We’ve showed the movie at about 6 or 7 or 8 of these. And when we showed it in Texas, people from all parts of the state came in, and they would review it. We showed it in San Francisco, and got reviews there. Once we started to get good reviews for the movie, then it was a lot easier getting people interested in distributing. But I thought it was a cute enough, fun enough little grindhouse movie that I thought it deserved what they eventually paid for it. So eventually it was bought by Anchor Bay. Then I thought OK, well, we’re kind of finished now. But I also knew that I had to spend all this time now doing all the advertising and all the publicity.
What is that like? I mean, you guys are constantly promoting the movie. I follow Jennifer on Twitter. You’re here, you’re there, you’re doing fests. What’s that like—being a producer and promoter now?
MB: Well, it’s not something that I really like doing. And it’s not something that I would do again. I think it’s one of those things that you do. This was my first movie that I had ever directed, and because it as such a low budget movie, I had all the control over it. And it’s kind of my baby—I see it that way. Although I did have a lot of help. A lot of people helped me make the movie. I kind of see it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Could I direct another movie again in the future? Yes. Will I ever have the same passion that I had directing this one? Probably not.
You’ve spoken several times crediting Planet Terror director Robert Rodriguez and his book, ‘Rebel Without a Crew,’ for inspiring you to direct. You’ve probably worked with 50 different directors. But even after all that, were you prepared for the insanity that going to come over the 12 days of shooting?
MB: Yeah, I was ready. I was definitely ready. I had been on a lot of sets before and, by that time, I’d worked with Billy Friedkin a couple of times [on Rampage and Jade] and I’d worked with Cameron three times [The Terminator, Aliens, The Abyss], and Michael Bay [on The Rock], and some interesting folks. And I’d seen big sets and I’d seen small sets.
You just kind of go on autopilot. You just get going and get moving. It was very important for me to get a shot off in the first 30 minutes of the day. Because a lot of times, people come in, they have a coffee, they want to sit around and have breakfast. But I was like “No, man.” 30 minutes, no matter what it was, even if it was an insert. And we got rolling and we doing like 45 setups a day. We had one camera. We were just jumping from one shot to another shot to another shot to another shot. Some of the kids—they would get 2 or 3 takes. If I wanted something specifically from them, I would get it from them. And then I’d turn the camera back on myself. And I’d bet you 80 percent of the shots that I have of myself I did in one take. And then I went back into the cutting room and realized I wished I’d had more takes of myself. But what are you gonna do…
Speaking of grindhouse movies, you appeared in Eli Roth’s “fake trailer” for Thanksgiving, which was featured in the middle of Grindhouse. And that movie might actually happen. Has he talked to you about that? Because he just said something about this.
Michael Biehn Directs The Victim
MB: When? When did he say that?
In the past few weeks.
MB: You know, I’ve been hearing that rumor for a long time—almost ever since the movie came out. And I’ve never heard anything from Eli. So I don’t know anything about it. It would be fun to work with him. He’s a really nice guy and I enjoyed working with him on that little bit. I happened to be over in Prague and they were shooting Hostel 2 or 3 there, and I was working on another movie and he heard I was there so he asked to come over and do that. It turned out to be a really fun little moment in the video. I really enjoyed working with him. He’s a very talented guy.
You mentioned previously that you showed an early cut of the film to James Cameron.
MB: I didn’t show him an early cut, I showed him the only cut. What’s interesting about Jim is that he has this big studio with a camera and seating and so on and so forth for viewing. I came in early because my movie has to be calibrated correctly because I shot it day for night. So if it’s too light, it looks silly, and if it’s too dark, it’s too dark. So his two assistants came in, and I said let’s put it up. They put up the movie and I looked at it and I said, “No, that’s too light.” They messed around with it; Jim was supposed to be there in about 15 minutes and the tension was starting to rise and they couldn’t get it to look right. So they started putting filters in front of it and I said, “OK, well that’s a little bit closer.” So they put another filter in front of it, and I said, “That’s what it’s supposed to look like, but now it’s all washed out because you got too many filters in front of it.” So then Jim walks in, and he’s like, “Hey, guys! What’s going on?” We said, “Well, we can’t get it calibrated,” and he said, “What are you talking about? Here, gimme that thing!” He started working with it and [thought he had it fixed], and I said “No, Jim, that’s not my movie.” So he worked it some more and I said, “No, Jim, that’s not my movie.” [Laughter.] So I made him watch it on my computer that I brought. So here we were sitting in his huge screening room, and he’s hovered over this MacBook computer with the little headphones. So that’s how he saw the movie!
You came very close to being cast as Colonel Quaritch in Avatar. [The role eventually went to Stephen Lang.] When you met with Cameron recently, did he talk about Avatar 2 or 3? The casting didn’t work out for the first one, but what about the sequels?
MB: As far as Avatar goes, we didn’t talk about Avatar 2. I would love to work with Jim again, but I have a strong feeling that maybe if there was something in Avatar 2, it would be a straight out offer to me, and I think he might have indicated something to me in our meeting, which he didn’t. You never know, but I doubt that there’s anything in Avatar 2 for me.
Jennifer, tell us about the future of Blanc/Biehn Productions. The Victim is your first production, but I know you have a new feature in the works called Treachery. Is the future of Blanc/Biehn exploitation films? Horror films? Low budget films? What can people expect?
JBB: It’s not all grindhouse. Treachery is a psychological drama. And it’s really shaping up. It’s in post-production right now. Michael will have a final sign off on it, but it’s Travis Romero’s film. Travis wrote and directed it. He was [a story editor] on “White Collar,” and he was one of our producers on The Victim. But we do have other grindhouse-type movies on the slate. We’re trying to, hopefully, by January , be [remaking] Hidden in the Woods, which is a movie that was just shown at FrightFest that Patricio Valadarres, who is a Chilean director, made. It’s his first film that he’s actually shown outside of Chile. And we loved it, so we optioned it and we’re putting that together through Skype calls and all kinds of stuff right now. And we have another film that Xavier Gens [who directed Michael in the 2011 film The Divide] came up with the idea for, which is a zombie movie.
JBB: Yes. And that’s in the grindhouse vein a little. It’s a zombie movie.
Is that in pre-production?
JBB: That’s in the funding stages of pre-production.
Jennifer Blanc-Biehn and Michael Biehn
Michael, take us back. How did The Victim come about?
MB: They approached me with The Victim … well, not “they,” but the kid who wrote it [Reed Lackey] approached me like three years ago. And I read it at that point and thought this it would be way too much work as far as a rewrite. It would have been a page one rewrite. It was his first attempt at a screenplay. It had some interesting elements, but it was a page one rewrite, and I just thought it was too much work. So when I decided I was going to do a film and we found out we thought we had some money, I thought that if the money was good, there’s that old script I can remember reading—The Victim.
JBB: It [Reed Lackey’s original draft] was like a novella. It was very descriptive.
MB: It kind of all fell into place all at the same time. And so when the checks started clearing, I thought Oh my God, these guys are serious—I have to write and direct this movie! So I wrote the movie in three weeks. And during those three weeks, we had pre-production without a script, and usually when you do pre-production … you know, you have a script! So basically we cast it, we crewed it up, we found our locations, we did everything that dealt with Screen Actors Guild. So everything was happening so fast, and then we just rolled into a 12-day shoot. I, personally, had never worked on a movie before that had anything less than 24 days to shoot it. So it was this mad dash from the moment that I found out my check just got cashed. At that point, I just didn’t want to embarrass myself. My name’s going to be on it—I better get moving on this. That’s kind of how it all came about. It just fell into place. But it fell into place in a way that, from the moment that I knew that I was going to direct it to the time we wrapped it, it was five weeks. So it was done extraordinarily quickly for a movie.
We’re really pleased about it [the finished product]. And I’m really excited because there are a few reviews that have come out in the last few days, and I’m like, Oh my god—they get it. Even though it’s a fun grindhouse movie, it’s campy in areas, whatever you want to say about it—there is a message there. There is something underlying that a couple of people have picked up on. It’s that women can use their sexuality to get them out of situations and no man seems to be able to turn down sexual situations with women that are enticing.
And was that intriguing element in the source material? Was this “sexuality as power” theme in the novella?
JBB: This was all something that kind of came out of Michael putting the whole thing together.
MB: And since it is a grindhouse movie, I don’t like to wax poetic about it, like “It’s something special!” But I do find it interesting that very, very powerful men—like Arnold Schwarzenegger, like Eliot Spitzer, like John F. Kennedy—just can’t say no. And it gets them into these situations that are bad for them and end up ruining their career. John Edwards, too.
JBB: And for a small little movie, it does have this underlying theme. If you think about it, every guy in the movie seems to get into trouble in some way having to do with sex with a woman. A sexual situation.
MB: And who knows? It might be your [Jennifer’s character’s] downfall.
JBB: Yeah, we don’t know yet. Or it could be your [Michael’s character’s] downfall! [All laugh.]
Will there be a “making of” element on the DVD?
MB: Yes. Jennifer is most responsible for the “making of” video on the DVD. It’s like 25 minutes, and it’s a lot of fun—the video. You kind of get to see—like I was saying before—that you just don’t have any time to waste. You can kind of see it from my energy; I was just going from one thing to another thing to another thing. And there’s no time to think Hmmm, where am I going to put the camera here? You just throw it down! So there’s a real nice “making of” video that goes along with it. And what I really want people to think about when they rent the movie or buy it or learn more about it, is that it was really made for fun. It’s not a horror movie. It’s kind of— I call it “cotton candy.” You eat it and it’s really good while you’re eating it, but then it’s gone and you move on.
JBB: We want people to have fun with it.
Changing subjects … I love dispelling rumors. So I wanted to ask—
MB: Please—I like dispelling rumors, too.
Michael Biehn and Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2: Judgment Day
I asked you about Terminator 2 yesterday. [At the Terminator reunion panel featuring Michael, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong and others, I asked Michael if there was any truth to the rumor that James Cameron’s original concept for T2 was to have him play the T-1000 villain, thereby cleverly switching the hero/villain roles for he and Arnold Schwarzenegger in the sequel. Michael said he had never heard Cameron discuss such an idea, and that it seemed highly unlikely that the concept was true. In the end, Michael filmed one scene for the sequel—a dream sequence with Linda Hamilton that saw him reprise his role as Kyle Reese—that was cut from the theatrical version but appeared as a deleted scene on DVDs.] For a while, you were listed, as The Man in Black for The Dark Tower on IMDB when it was in pre-production with Ron Howard. Is there any truth to that casting?
JBB: What’s this?
MB: Stephen King’s Dark Tower.
JBB: [to Michael] Do you remember that?
MB: Yes. I remember people asking me about it. Ya know, I’ve been listed for a lot … I mean, I was supposed to be Spider-Man…
[Editor’s note: In the late 80s and early 90s, James Cameron was developing a take on Spider-Man, and a concept art drawing he created still survives. The concept art has Michael’s face next to a cityscape of New York with what appears to be Venom or Spider-Man in the black symbiote suit flying through the air.]
You need to use all these rumors to your advantage somehow.
MB: I would love to be in all of these movies. [Laughs.]
JB: It actually works to his advantage because of … because of this. With the rumor mill, people are always talking about him. So in a weird way, I think that works to his advantage.
You’ve said previously that one of your favorite moments on film is in Tombstone, when you have your final gunfight showdown with Val Kilmer. If I had to pick one, I’d say the shower scene with Ed Harris in The Rock is pretty darn awesome. Jennifer, your turn. What’s your favorite scene of his?
Michael Biehn as Johnny Ringo in Tombstone
JB: I think that probably, for a woman, you know, seeing him go up against Val Kilmer [in Tombstone] and be able to spin that gun [in the duel scene], at the speed and confidence level that he was able to—it was very sexy. That’s what I’m going to go with. But he has an amazing, amazing plethora of performances, including a lot of movies that we’re not talking about today. Obviously the answer for most women is going to be Kyle Reese and “Come with me if you want to live,” but I like bad men— like sexy, naughty men. So Johnny Ringo, twirling his weapon, threatening lives. That kind of stuff. [They both laugh.]
Well, on that note Jennifer just mentioned, let’s talk about some of your movies that you rarely get asked about. Let’s have some fun. I’m going to throw out a past movie of yours, and you tell one interesting thing from that movie. It can be anything. Anything at all. First one: The Art of War.
[Michael can’t think of anything. Everyone laughs.]
JBB: I’ll do one. Wesley Snipes had a gym on set.
MB: Yeah. That’s a good one.
The Lords of Discipline.
MB: I met Bill Paxton.
And did you guys connect immediately?
MB: Pretty immediately, yeah.
Michael Biehn as Kyle Reese in The Terminator
And he had worked with James Cameron before—building sets. Did he mention this?
MB: No. I don’t think we talked about Jim.
So you guys got cast independently for The Terminator?
“Hill Street Blues.” [Michael appeared for three episodes in the fifth season.]
MB: Well “Hill Street Blues” was an interesting thing.
JBB: I’ll say something: Betty Thomas is taller than Michael.
MB: I learned an important lesson on that project. I was doing a scene with Betty Thomas, who’s tall. And she was on one side of me, and Ed Marinaro, the former football player, was on the other side of me. And he’s a big guy, too. And so I never thought about it when I was making the movie—like everybody else, I didn’t know about these things. And so when the show came out, I realized, when I looked at it, that since most of my scenes were with those two, I looked like that kind of short, angry guy knocking the battery off my shoulder. But it worked really good for my character, you know? Because he was like this angry misogynistic, hateful, sadistic guy.
JBB: I’ve never seen that! Can we get that?
MB: Last I checked, the fifth season isn’t on DVD yet.
Next movie: Clockstoppers.
Gale [Anne Hurd] produced it; Gale cast me. It’s the only time I’ve ever played a movie with a—what do you call it? [He points to just below his lower lip.]
A soul patch?
MB: A soul patch, yeah. [Laughs.]
That was Gale, too. Shot it in Canada, shot it in Bristol in England, and we shot it in Marseille in France. And it was a lot of fun making, but was probably the worst material that I’ve ever had to work with. [Jennifer laughs.] I was rewriting and rewriting and rewriting, and it was driving the producers crazy. But just some of those scripts were so god-awful.
Most of the stuff that was shot of me climbing—basically I was laying on the ground, and the camera was turned sideways laying on the ground next to me, to make it look like I was climbing. [Laughs.] I didn’t like heights, scared to death of heights. I still don’t like to walk out on balconies in hotels. So it was scary!
Matt Craven and Michael Biehn in K2
Dying to Get Rich: Susan’s Plan.
MB: [to Jennifer after she starts laughing] Do you have something?
JBB: I do. Rob Schneider did his impression of Christopher Walken and about 15 other impressions that we had never seen before.
MB: Just to kill time?
JBB: Just to kill time.
MB: Yeah. He was very funny. And the director, John Landis, is great. He’s funny, and fun, and he’s a great, great guy to be around.
Last one. Deadfall.
Val Kilmer very, very wisely pulled out of it at the last minute. [All laugh.] He and his wife at the time, Joanne Whalley-Kilmer, pulled out about a week before they started shooting, and so they called me. And like an idiot, I said yes. I came in and did it, and it was … it was … it’s … it was … [All laugh again.]
Deadfall is kind of creeping up the cult ranks because of Nicolas Cage’s performance.
It’s the only time you’ve ever seen Nicolas Cage where a director didn’t have the reins on him, saying “OK, Nic, pull it back a little bit, pull it back.” Because he’s a brilliant actor. He just needs to be held down just a little bit. Like in The Rock. He was brilliant in The Rock. But in this one, his brother [Christopher Coppola], who directed the movie, just let him go. And that’s the Nicolas Cage you get when you don’t ask him to pull it back a little bit.
Original interview conducted by Chuck Sambuchino and appears on Slashfilm.com.