This week, we’re bringing you a series of interviews from The Victim, and first up for you is Michael Biehn. Biehn talks not only about acting and writing (and getting choked out in) The Victim, but about his classic roles as Kyle Reese in Terminator, acting in Aliens, The Abyss and more. Synopsis and interview after the jump!
The Victim Synopsis:
Annie’s (Jennifer Blanc) life is in jeopardy after she’s witnessed the horrific rape and murder of her closest friend. Fleeing from two attackers (Ryan Honey, Denny Kirkwood) she stumbles across Kyle (Michael Biehn), a recluse living in the middle of the woods. Kyle finds the stillness of the woods comforting. The ruggedly handsome loner stays far from civilization – that is – until a single knock on his door throws his solitary life into chaos. Two worlds collide in this psychological thriller that will make you question your trust in mankind.
Is “The Victim” is your first foray into screen writing?
Michael Biehn- I actually wrote a film called “Bloodline”. But that move turned into a problem with money. I’m not 100% sure exactly what happened with it. I think that the producer cut it himself…There were so many problems with it. All I know is that I was not brought back into it.
“The Victim” was originally a story by Reed Lacky. What stuck out with this story to make you want to take it on to adapt it for the screen?
Michael Biehn- At first it wasn’t so much the story as much as it was just a need to work. I came back from working on “The Divide” and got a novella- kind of a half screenplay /half book kind of thing. I looked at it and thought, “If I could straighten this out, it could be a good little thriller.” So I contacted the people who optioned it and made a deal with them that if I had control of the entire project, I would write and get it made. But I would say the thing that really grabbed me about the story was its power of women and how it can be the downfall of men’s reputations. The sexuality of them and how it can easily destroy a powerful man. It also has a serial killer aspect to it. I watch a lot of TruTV and and fascinated by true crime. I know how odd that sounds, but it’s true. How can people be like this? What makes them go do the extremes that they do? It is the total voyeurism that we hate about ourselves, but that the same time- we can’t look away. We just HAVE to keep watching. And that is why I really loved the story and by the time I was done with it, I had four really juicy roles, mostly for Jennifer and Ryan.
Roles actors can really sink their teeth into.
MB- Exactly. Ryan is a good cop who makes a big mistake, then covers it up and it just gets worse and worse, snowballing out of control. And Jennifer is a girl that witnesses a crime and her only way of surviving is using her sexuality to come out the other end.
The more that I researched this film, the more it came across that it was a real labor of love for EVERYONE involved. What can you tell me about that?
MB- This was the first time we ever started with nothing to make a movie. I have always wanted to do this. To be the man who makes all the decisions. But I am lucky enough to have had a HUGE amount of help. Having Eric Curtis on lighting was great. He really added so much to our shooting. Brock (Morse) for his directing of it. So many people helped out where ever it was needed. Most of the people worked for deferred money. So they really believed in this film and in me. It meant so much to me to see how hard people worked every second of every day. My own house was the production office. I had six to eight people living there at any given time. We had everything from craft services to the copy machines churning out scripts and schedules constantly. We just stuck to the story and it all worked Of course, I was a total drill sergeant on the set. People needed to have tunnel vision to make our days. I just wanted to get the shots and move on. I was constantly yelling, “Let’s go! Let’s go!” Our shoot was to be 11 days, 12 if we really needed it. But we got it done in 10. Averaged 34 shot set ups a day and we did 5-10 takes of each set up, all with one camera. It was a very intense shooting schedule, but everyone came together for the one goal. Seriously, everyone owns a part of the movie.
I see that Jennifer Blanc-Biehn also produced the movie.
MB- Jen did an amazing job producing it, and it was hard, hard work. She handled all of the hard stuff (laughs). All of the contracts, dealing with SAG, the vendors, the set disputes, most of the location deals that have to be arranged. People saw how passionate she was and how much I was pushing this and they got excited as well and pushed themselves harder than I could have ever asked of them.
I saw the now infamous “Choke Out” scene. Where Ryan used the official LAPD chokehold on you and you passed out. Did you release that yourselves to show that nobody chokes out Michael Biehn unless Michael Biehn wants to be choked out?
MB- (Laughs) No. We released the choke out scene to really get people excited about the movie. I moving so fast to get stuff done that I was really not thinking. My feeling was that that we should show he is a cop and he would know the real choke and would use it in this kind of situation. The LAPD used it for years, and there were some deaths as a result of it. So again, not thinking as clear as I maybe should have been and said “Lets do it” but our stunt coordinator (Tony Snegoff) said no way as he knew how dangerous it could be. I wanted to get it all in and just went “No! Fuck you man. We can do it.” As this is how I was for the entire movie: me saying let’s go – let’s go.
I always thought a chokehold was about losing your breath, not blood flow. And, man, it came up FAST. If you look at the clip, he put it on me, a few seconds later I tapped out, as I knew I was in trouble, but it was too late. My mind was working but my body wasn’t. I couldn’t speak and couldn’t hear and that’s when I knew some thing was wrong. I panicked thinking I was having a stroke or something and Jesus, why wasn’t someone helping me? (Laughs) I came out of it pretty quickly, I wish the camera kept going, and as I was coming out of it, the first thing I heard was Tony saying, “This will never fucking happen again.” I got up and smiled and everything came back into focus. The doc checked me out and I was just right back to “Let’s go and shoot”. I don’t think we are going to use that clip in the actual movie. We’ll use the regular chokehold. (laughs). So we just took the clip and said let’s promote the movie. I just wanted to explain to everyone what happened. I am not a wuss and wasn’t choked out-. (Laughs) I was in charge and I asked it and have nobody to blame except for me.
I caught a few pictures of the Karaoke Wrap Party and saw that Ryan was wearing a T-shirt that had your face on it and said, “I choked out Michael Biehn.”
MB- Yeah, the director made him that and said only HE can wear it as nobody in any other movie has ever choked me out.
Did you sing anything?
MB- Nah. I’m the oldest guy on the set. Was there from 9-10 and then just went home. No singing for me, I have the worst voice ever. I wish I could sing…
I saw online recently a poll that was asking who people would want to see in the cast of ”The Expendables Part 2.” And I saw that you were very high on the list.
MB- Man, I would love to be in “The Expendables.” I loved it. Stallone is a great director. I really liked the last “Rocky.” It had such a human story that the last few seemed to be missing. It brought him back to the center of it. But yeah, I would obviously love to be involved in the sequel. I’ll wait for that call.
You have worked with both Michael Bay and James Cameron. Both of who are the top tiers of action films. Who blows stuff up better?
MB- (laughs) Seriously they are not comparable. It is totally apples and oranges. Michael Bay is not an Academy Awards kind of guy. He is a brilliant filmmaker, don’t get me wrong. But James Cameron is a brilliant mind. You know where he spent his 56th birthday? In a submersible in at 20 thousand feet. And he is in the process of engineering a submersible that will go down 36 thousand feet. Jim went to Department of Energy and offered his ideas to stop the oil spill off of the coast. They went and tried their own things, but when it didn’t work, they tried what he said and it seemed to work. He is a pioneer in the industry. Go back to “The Abyss”- that was one of the first major CGI effects used in film, and it still stands up today. Nobody is in the same league as James Cameron.
You have played some pretty intense roles in your career. Were there any that you just could not let go of.
MB- I’m not really a method kind of guy. (Laughs) The one I fit right into and hard getting out of was Johnny Ringo from “Tombstone.” He was a drunken guy who just did what ever he wanted to. I think he stayed with me a little longer than he should have.
Who are YOU a fan of in the industry?
MB- Sean Penn to me is THE actor of our generation. He is just adaptable to any role he takes on. From “Mystic River” to “Milk,” going all the way back to “Fast Times.” Then there is Denzel Washington, and Leo DeCaprio. He is so young and already has lot of great work behind him. Gene Hackman, Jack Lemmon, George C Scott was a great one. Henry Fonda, Jimmy Stewart are some of the classics. These days look around and you have Woody Harrelson totally coming into his own. Made the changeover from comedy (”Cheers”) to actors actor with “The Messenger.” There’s Gary Oldman, and Jeff Bridges who should have had an Oscar long before last year. The usuals as well, Pacino, DeNiro I could go on for hours.
What is the one role (from any time, genre, era) that you watch every time and wish you could have been cast to play?
MB- I wish I could have played William Forsythe’s role of “JD” in “American Me.” It was just a great role for an actor. Wished I got to play Steve Lang’s role of “Colonel Miles Quaritch” in “Avatar.” Yeah, I waited a long time for that phone to ring to see if I got that part. But I was happy he got it, as he is a friend- he was due for a really big role like that…But that one would have been great.
Who is tougher? Kyle Reese from “The Terminator”, Cpl Dwayne Hicks from “Aliens”, Johnny Ringo from “Tombstone”, or Lt Hiram Coffey’s Moustache from “The Abyss”?
MB- (laughs) Man, people on that set used to say that that moustache wore me in the movie. Without a doubt it would be Kyle Reese- He’s a bare bones kind of guy. Getting ready for that role I read a lot about the Polish fighting the Germans during World War 2 and how they lived in the sewers and in squalor and I took that as to what Kyle Reese should be. He comes into this fight with nothing and even though he is facing insurmountable odds, he does it for what he believes in. But him and Hicks are both bad assed sensitive kind of guys. Many layers…(Laughs)
So when can we expect to see “The Victim”?
MB- The Editor is organizing the last 2 days of shooting just now. I really want to get cutting soon. I am getting very antsy to cut. What I’ve seen looks great so far. Each day of shooting got better as far as coverage and look and procedure. I can’t wait for everyone to see it. We need to do all of the postproduction to it, and then shop it around, so we will see. We are hoping sooner than later.
Thanks Michael! Coming later this week: Ryan Honey, Danielle Harris and Jennifer Blanc-Biehn.