Interview: Michael Biehn (The Victim)

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By Simon Miraudo
March 19, 2013

Michael Biehn – formerly Kyle Reese in The Terminator and Corporal Hicks in Aliens – steps behind the camera for The Victim, an ultra-trashy, Grindhouse-inspired horror flick with low morals, short skirts, and a genuinely nifty twist ending. Shot in less than 12 days (and only put into production because the financier’s “check cleared”), it concerns a mysterious drifter (Biehn) who is reluctantly dragged into harm’s way when a terrified murder witness (Biehn’s girlfriend, Jennifer Blanc) knocks on his door. We spoke with Biehn about his filmmaking temperament – which he describes as a mix of William Friedkin, James Cameron, and Michael Bay on their worst days – and his fiery working relationship with Blanc. He also discussed his “really bad” first directorial effort, not appearing in David Fincher‘s Alien3, and the continuation of the Terminator/Alien franchises all these years later (“downhill mush,” is how he describes them). Hear the interview here!

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SM: You’ve been acting since the mid-70s. When did you start feeling like you wanted to actually work behind the camera too?

MB: Really, I never wanted to work behind the camera. I’ve never wanted to be a director. When I was doing The Divide for Xavier [Gens], I saw a kid who was reading [Robert Rodriguez’s] Rebel Without a Crew. I had worked with Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino on their Grindhouse movies, and I kind of said to myself at that time, “Wouldn’t it be fun to just go out and make a little grindhouse movie for $100,000, or $200,000.” I was able to raise that money. There was this script that I had written about a year earlier that was a Saw rip-off, but it needed a lot of work. I thought, “Maybe I’ll take that money and this script and make this little movie.” It came together really fast, because a lot of times people tell you they’ve got money, and they don’t really have it. This guy told me had money, and like most people, I didn’t really think he did. All of a sudden, his checks started going through. [Laughs] I had to, in a very short period of time, write a script; it was really a page one re-write of my story, which was called The Victim. I did that in three weeks, and during that period of time, I also did all the pre-production on it, which includes location, casting, wardrobe, dealing with the Screen Actors Guild, getting all your permits, and all that kind of stuff. Usually you have a script before you do that, but we did it while I was writing the script, and people followed me around and I told them what we needed.

We just rolled straight into a twelve-day shoot, so from the moment I realised I had to make something, because the check cleared, until I finished the movie was five weeks. It was this experience where I kind of took all the knowledge I had from all the movie sets I’d been on all my life, including some very, very good directors, and did my best to throw down a story. When I was making it, I was just thinking, “Okay, I’ll make this little movie and maybe I’ll sell it to Netflix.” It was just this small little thing. The idea that the New York Times reviewed it, to me, was absolutely incredible. It’s kind of like my career as an actor. When I came to Hollywood, if somebody would have told me, “You can make a career doing commercials for the rest of your life in Los Angeles,” I probably would have sold my soul for that opportunity. Instead, I’ve been able to work on all these television shows and movies, and with all these great directors,  and meet all these great people and so on and so forth. The same thing with The Victim. I had no idea it would blow up the way it blew up. It’s been fun.

SM: Well, there’s a happy ending, if not to the movie, than certainly the experience of working on The Victim. You almost made your directorial debut on The Blood Bond, but I understand you had a bit of a bad experience in post. Were you apprehensive after that experience to direct again, or did it further inspire you to do your own thing this time around?

MB: Yeah, that’s really what it did. [Bey Logan] had a script, and he wanted me to come over and help rewrite it, and help him direct it. I think he used my name eventually on it, because he thought it would help him. But I didn’t have anything to do – after we shot it – with cutting the movie or the sound or any kind of visual effects or any kind of anything. I shot it like I did, as an actor, and I did the same thing as I did on a lot of movies: I helped the director set up scenes and rewrote scenes, and so on and so forth. He gave me a director’s credit on it, because he thought it would sell better. I don’t know why he did what he did. He was a really nice guy. He sent me a rough cut of the movie, that we had shot, and it was really bad. Really bad. The idea that he put me on as director was a little bit disheartening. I don’t know. That was a completely different experience. When I did The Victim, I had total control over the script, the story, where we were going to shoot it, all creative elements, all production elements. And then, who we were going to sell it to, when we were going to sell it, for how much. I didn’t even direct Blood Bond. He just put my name on it, I think, to maybe make more money that way. I was really kind of confused by that experience over there. I did help him a lot. Me and some friends of mine did rewrite the story he had. But that was an odd experience. The Victim is my baby, if you want to call it that, because I wrote every word. Every sound in it, every part of it is something that I had to sign off on.

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SM: And you also cast your partner, Jennifer Blanc in it. Can you tell me what it’s like to, both, act opposite and direct your girlfriend?

MB: Well, Jennifer’s a bit of a force of nature herself. She helped put the movie together, and now we have a production company. She was working on producing the movie, casting it, working with the Screen Actors Guild, dealing with the unions, make-up, wardrobe, locations, and all that kind of stuff. She’s just as responsible for the success. Whether you like the movie or don’t like the movie, she’s as responsible for it as I am. So, we work well together. We’re both very passionate people. We can be screaming at each other one minute, and kissing the next minute. There was a lot of yelling on that set, and that was mostly coming from me. People ask me about directing, and I don’t really want to be a director. I did it just for fun; just to do a little grindhouse movie. My directing style was, if you took Billy Friedkin, if you took Jim Cameron, and if you took Michael Bay, all of them on their worst day, and wrapped them up together, and that would have been me basically, directing this movie. We only had 12 days to shoot it, and we’re doing like 45 set-ups a day, where normally you do 10 or 12. We were just racing around. I was screaming the whole time. Not at people personally, but, “Come on, let’s move. Shut the f*** up, we’re shooting.” It was crazy. It was like pushing a boulder up a hill, getting to the top of the hill. And then you get to the other side, and have to start chasing it down the other side.

SM: So you don’t see yourself directing again in the future?

MB: No, no, no. I’m not a director. I don’t really think of myself as a director. I like to produce, and produce younger people like Roger Corman did. I’ve got a movie called Hidden in the Woods, which we’re gonna do next. It’s a Chilean director, and it’s a really good movie. I want to remake that, an English version, so people will see it. They’re all very low budgets. When you make all the decisions, you don’t have to get up at six in the morning in Lancaster and sit there all day long for an AD to tell us they’re not going to get to our scene, so go home. That’s the life of an actor; sitting in a make-up chair at six o’clock in the morning, then sitting around all day long, and then maybe getting to your shot, maybe not. By the time they get to your close up, that you’ve been waiting all day to do, it’s the last shot of the day, and they’re rushing through it. This is an opportunity to make these small little movies and give some opportunity to some young people that are starting out.

SM: It sounds like you’ve built up a little grindhouse enclave of your own.

MB: Yeah, it just kind of happened. It turned out you can make a little bit of money making these small movies. It’s just so much nicer to be able to be the one who calls all the shots. “OK, I want to make this movie, with this director, and shoot it here.” Look at it, and say, “Let’s change the music around, and do this or that.” I consider, what I did on The Victim, like a coach on a football team. Now, I want to step back and be like the owner, who basically lets someone else coach the team, and play the game, and do the game plan and everything. You just every once in a while step in and say, “What about this, and what about that? You might want to try this?” If need be, you need to fire somebody. It’s kind of a relaxing position to be in. At my age, I’m tired of being in make-up chairs at six in the morning. [Laughs]

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SM: You mentioned James Cameron before, and you’ve worked with him on a couple of occasions, in The Terminator and Aliens franchises, among other movies. Both of those franchises are still kicking on. How do you feel about the continuation of those series decades later?

MB: Well, you know what, I saw Alien recently. Ridley Scott’s a brilliant guy; a really brilliant filmmaker. Cameron’s a brilliant filmmaker. It’s kind of hard to follow those guys. David Fincher did [Alien] 3, and David’s probably won an Academy Award or two now. But, as great as a director as David is – and he’s done some really great movies too – there’s something about Cameron and Ridley Scott that is very, very hard to follow, I would say. I think of The Terminator as being The Terminator 1 and The Terminator 2, and I think of Aliens as being Alien 1 and being Alien 2, and the rest of it is all downhill mush after that, on both of those series.

SM: Sure. Well, I think Hicks’ demise at the start of Alien 3 is still considered one of the great mistakes in genre film history.

MB: Well, yeah, yeah. I was a little surprised when it happened, I tell ya. [Laughs] But that’s the way things go. I forgot what I did instead of that. Maybe because of that I was able to do The Abyss, or something. I don’t remember. Just having the chance to work with Jim was good enough. There have been a lot of movies that have gone my way, and a lot of movies that haven’t gone my way. That’s one that didn’t go my way, for whatever reason. I’m not sure what their idea was behind it.

The Victim is available on DVD and Pay Per Play from March 27, 2013.

4 Responses to “Interview: Michael Biehn (The Victim)”

  1. Janet Pamela Fletcher nickname janjan Reply July 30, 2013 at 1:45 am

    G’day Michael, Me Janet, Love your movies, and your work, I want to collect everything you have worked on, when are you going to visit South Australia , and make a movie with us with the South Australian Film Corporation, I wnat to make a movie called Min Min Lights but dont know how to go about it, maybe you have some ideas. Love Jan

  2. Janet Pamela Fletcher nickname janjan Reply July 30, 2013 at 2:01 am

    Can’t wait to see the Victim, if its as good as all your work, it will be enjoyable from my side of the track as a fan, and it sounds creepy, and I love horror movies and thrillers.

  3. Janet Pamela Fletcher nickname janjan Reply July 30, 2013 at 2:30 am

    Just had an idea Michael, would you like to help me with making my movies, out here in South Australia South Oz for short, somehow finance is the key word, ofcourse, and apart from Min Min Lights which is an Aboriginal Mystery of Lights that are seen in the vast outback of Australia which South Oz if apart of, we are a very big state, then I have another movie on the back burner called Blokey, which is slang English Cockney that is in our Aussie Language I even use it, and the third movie I would love to get done if it ever is, called War Brides and this one is about during World War Two, when the fighting in the Coral Sea, North of Queensland here, with Americans and Japanese and Australians, . when Australia was being attacked and the threat of being taken over by the Japanese, the Americans came to help us fight and save the day for this country, my father was in the Army 2nd 43rd and he always told me it it wasn’t for the Americans coming here we would have been taken over, so my story is about when the Americans came here the girls here in this country, were so smitten with the Americans that a lot of them went back to America as brides, hence War Brides I have a few more movie projects to write out, put on the back burner, Let me know what you thing do they sound interesting enough.

  4. Janet Pamela Fletcher nickname janjan Reply July 30, 2013 at 3:44 pm

    Happy Birthday Michael hope you have a great day and I am down here in South Australia wishing I was celebrating your birthday with you, I should send you a Koala shouldn’t I? a real one I mean call it HICKS or RIPLEY. You should come out to our Festival Of Arts we have here in Adelaide South Oz short for South Australia, some movies you may have seen, made in Sth Oz is Wolf Creek, just made wolf creek 2 as well awful creepy they are, true story, I also want to make one about the Nullabor Bymph about a woman running around the outback with the Kangaroos, travellers in the outback have sighted this Nullabor Nymph we call her a true story too, I want to make a movie out of, others made here in Adelaide SHINE WITH GEOFFERY RUSH, you would know that movie, some of Priscilla Queen Of The Desertand some of the Mad Max series were made here Hollywood too has come to South Australia and they made Red Planet and Pitch Black, it looks like Mars up North here, dirt is red and very dry South Australia is one of the driest states in the driest continents on the planet.
    I can’t wait to see you film The Victim are you coming down here to publicise it,? or has it been out for awhile I will buy it too.So ooroo chook have a great birthday I will also write with a pen a proper letter to your company, hope they will give it to you, send some stuff on South Australia for you’se all, and personal photos Richard says Hi

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