By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Michael Biehn has the distinction of having been part of two of James Cameron’s science-fiction franchises: “The Terminator” and “Aliens.” He also starred in Cameron’s underwater-themed thriller “The Abyss.”
Since making those now-classics, the 55-year-old Alabama native has made many more good movies, a few average ones and “a lot of garbage,” he candidly admits.
“I’ve done a lot of terrible movies and a lot of terrible television shows so I could pay for my children’s upbringing,” he says, adding, “I’ve had a little bit of fondness for the drink. It adds up.”
Sitting alongside his third wife, actress-producer Jennifer Blanc, for an interview, he appears ecstatic. “The Victim,” his first foray into writing and directing, has been picked up by Anchor Bay Films, it was announced that morning.
“It’s got naked women, dirty cops, a little bit of action, a little bit of torture and a serial killer—I’m very excited about it,” says Biehn, who wrote the low-budget grindhouse-style film in just three weeks prior to making it last year.
In addition to making his feature film directorial debut, Biehn stars in the R-rated psychological thriller along with Blanc and Danielle Harris (of the new “Halloween” films).
The nice thing about doing a small budget film, he says, is he gets to be his own boss, making all of the creative and production decisions.
“That’s how I want to work from now on,” he says, sounding like an actor who has seen it all. “I don’t want a network or a director or a studio telling me what I have to say, and when I have to say it.”
Alas, his task at hand today is more obligatory. He is here at a Beverly Hills hotel to promote “The Divide,” a dark, post-apocalyptic drama, in which Biehn stars. Making the movie, he very clearly points out, was a grueling experience—the toughest of his career.
“The actors started fighting on the set and they were really fighting, going at it,” he recalls. “They were really upset with each other, and I’ve worked with (notoriously mercurial filmmakers William) Friedkin, (James) Cameron and Michael Bay, but I’ve never been on a set where there was this much discord and tension, and producers being called down to break up fights. It was nasty, really nasty.”
The rugged-looking actor explains what led to the disharmony on the set. He asserts French director Xavier Gens, gave all the actors carte blanche to rewrite Karl Mueller’s script the way they saw fit. Instead of making everyone happy, though, it only led to chaos, as everyone wanted to inject his own ideas into the story.
“If you walked away from the set for a while, the next thing you knew they shot something that was supposed to be your scene the previous day,” he recalls. “You had to hang around and make sure your character was still going to be in the movie when you came back.”
Gens, who previously directed the Luc Besson-produced “Frontier(s), filmed “The Divide” chronologically, so the mood on the set deteriorated as the production went on. It was a case of life (almost) imitating art.
“The actors hated each other,” he recalls. “There were different groups, different factions. And those factions would change. People ask me, isn’t it hard to take the character off when you leave the set? For me, it’s easy. But they would take it back and spend the night in front of the hotel entrance smoking and cursing the guys that weren’t there. They were angry. Xavier set that all up.”
Biehn plays Mickey, a former New York City firefighter who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder following 9/11. In the subsequent years, his wife and son left him, and he has become a loner and survivalist, hording food and other supplies in the basement of the apartment building where he is a maintenance man.
Following a nuclear attack on the city, several of the apartment’s residents seek refuge in the basement, where Mickey tries to appoint himself in charge. Chaos and confusion soon take over as food and water become scarce. More disturbingly, social mores and conventions begin to break down, as the survivors realize there is no hope of anyone coming to rescue them.
Biehn describes his grizzled, cigar-smoking character as “half crazy by the time the movie starts,” and goes downhill from there.
The film also stars Lauren German, Milo Ventimiglia, Courtney B. Vance, Ivan Gonzalez, Michael Ecklund and Rosanna Arquette, who snaps after losing her daughter to the cruel enemy just outside their bunker.
Biehn says he fears the film may be prophetic.
“I worry about what’s going on in the world,” he says. “I worry for my children and grandchildren because I don’t think we’re that far away from what’s going on in ‘The Divide.’ When people break down, they break down. See what’s happened in Libya and other parts of the world. It’s almost everywhere and it’s scary.”
Meantime, Biehn, who made his film debut in the 1978 musical “Grease,” says he is pleased to be entering the next phase of his career—as a filmmaker.
“The reason I liked doing ‘The Victim’ so much is that I got to make the decisions,” he says. “But it’s hard finding stories. I’m still looking for the next good story.”