Michael Biehn on The Victim, William Friedkin, and his favorite antagonist role
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Welcome to Random Roles, wherein we talk to actors about the characters who defined their careers. The catch: They don’t know beforehand what roles we’ll ask them to talk about.
The actor: Michael Biehn began his acting career in 1977 with a blip of an appearance in an episode of the short-lived Logan’s Run television series, but by the end of the ’80s, he’d become a big-screen action hero, thanks in no small part to his collaborations with James Cameron on the trifecta of The Terminator, Aliens, and The Abyss. Most recently, Biehn has been bouncing between both sides of the camera, writing, directing, and starring in The Victim.
The Victim (2012)—“Kyle”
The Blood Bond (2010)—“John Tremayne”
The A.V. Club: You appeared at the Blood At The Beach horror festival in Virginia Beach earlier this year, where you screened The Victim well before its eventual release by Anchor Bay. How many festival appearances do you usually make per year?
Michael Biehn: Well, we’ve done quite a few over the past year. I think we’ve done maybe… four or five? Not this year, but in 2011 we did quite a few. The one in Virginia Beach was our first in 2012, I think, but last year we might even have done six, because this movie I directed and Jennifer [Blanc-Biehn] produced was this little grindhouse movie that we were trying to get out in front of people. What we were doing was, we’d go to these shows and we’d play The Victim and try to get as many people as we could in there, and then a lot of times it’d be people who’d review it. And we got picked up by Anchor Bay as a result. Because of that, though, we’ve slowed down on the festivals. But Anchor Bay thinks it’s still good for us to go out once in a while, because usually only about 50 or 100 people see these movies. They usually aren’t even in theaters. It’s like in the old days, where people would put up a sheet and do screenings that way. [Laughs.]
AVC: You’re also credited as a writer and director on the 2010 film The Blood Bond. Was that your very first experience as a director?
MB: Okay, here’s what happened with The Blood Bond. It was a guy by the name of Bey Logan. He had a script, and he asked me to rewrite it, and if I rewrote his script, I could direct this movie. We were going to work in China. So I went over there and had some friends rewrite his script, and I basically did a lot of the directing on the set, and I thought I was gonna be the director, but what happened was that when I left China… I thought I had some pretty good material. I had a trailer that I thought was pretty good, and I thought I was gonna be brought back over to Hong Kong to cut the movie and do all the post-production on it, all the sound, visual effects, and so on and so forth. And they never brought me back. There were some problems, it turned out, with the Screen Actors Guild.
We were under the impression that we were working under the Screen Actors Guild tent, and that turned out not to be true. The production value, because we were shooting over in China, was so poor that my whole character really needed to be looped, but I didn’t find that out until I got back to Los Angeles, and because it wasn’t a SAG production, I couldn’t go back to do any looping, so… I don’t consider that to be a Michael Biehn production. I consider that to be a Bey Logan production. Supposedly the cover of the DVD lists me as having directed it, but it’s not even my voice! I had nothing to do with the movie after the physical production, I didn’t get a chance to edit the movie or colorize it or do any music on it, none of the things that usually kind of pull a movie together.
I thought there was a movie there, but it turned out that… [Hesitates.] I’m not even sure he hired an editor. I think he edited it himself. I’m not sure. But it was kind of a shame. I thought there was a movie there, but by the time he got done with it, from what I understand, it wasn’t very good. The post-production values, the sound design of the movie, the music… I guess he went out and he shot some extra footage, and he put that in the movie also. He sent me a rough cut of it, actually, but I watched about 10 minutes of it, and I was like, “Ugh, this isn’t the movie I shot, that’s for sure.” And that was kind of the end of it. I think Bey kind of shot himself in the foot. I don’t know what happened, whether he ran out of money or what. He’s a nice guy, but he didn’t have me back to finish what I started. The experience was difficult, because nobody knew how to make a movie there—the sound guys didn’t know how to do sound, they didn’t know how to light it, they didn’t know how to do anything—so me and about three or four other guys kind of made that whole movie. It was fun. I had a lot of fun doing it. I just wish I would’ve had a chance to finish it.
MB: Well, The Victim was a completely different kind of story. The Victim was basically a movie that I dreamt up in my head, saying, “I want to make a movie, and I want to make a grindhouse movie because I worked with Quentin [Tarantino] and Robert [Rodriguez].” I got a little bit of money from some people, and it was such a small amount of money that I… I didn’t have enough money to do visual effects, I didn’t have enough money to do makeup effects, so I couldn’t do zombies, I couldn’t do vampires. I didn’t have enough money for stunt men. I didn’t have hardly any money! I had enough money for one camera. [Laughs.] So I said, “Well, I’ll make a little exploitation movie.”
So I got Jennifer Blanc, my girlfriend, to star in it with me, and I got her to take her clothes off. And she looks really good with her clothes off. And I got Danielle Harris to take her clothes off, and she looks really good with her clothes off, too. So I said, “Well, I’ve got the sex covered now. What else can I do to exploit it without spending money?” [Laughs.] So I thought dirty cops were good. Some drugs. Maybe a little bit of torture. A little bit of action. And then I just threw in a serial killer. And I wrote it in three weeks, and during that three-week period of time, we went into pre-production. So we went into pre-production without a script, and we did all of it without a script, while I was writing.
We did pre-production and casting, dealing with the Screen Actors Guild, crewing up… all that kind of stuff. Wardrobe, makeup, cameras, all of it. Hiring people, contracts, and so on. We did that in three weeks, and then we rolled into a 12-day shoot. We shot it in 12 12-hour days, and it turned out… you know, it turned out kind of cute, and it’s been very well-received at these film festivals that we’ve had it in. And a lot of these signing opportunities turned out to work really well for us, because people who hear that we’re screening the film in town, like local newspapers or Ain’t It Cool News or Huffington Post, have turned up. It’s amazing how many reviewers have been out there. We’ve gotten a lot of very nice notices, and if you go to our website, GrindhouseTheVictim.com, you can see some of the write-ups.
AVC: What was it like working with your girlfriend in a work capacity? This wasn’t the first time you’d worked together, but you were at the helm this time.
MB: Jennifer and I are very… volatile people. [Laughs.] We’re volatile at home, and we were very volatile on the set. And I was very volatile on the set. I mean, people always ask me about working for Jim Cameron, for Michael Bay, for Billy Friedkin, working with Val Kilmer, with Mickey Rourke… I would say that you could take all five of those guys, put ’em all together, and on their worst day, it would be like me directing The Victim for all 12 days. [Laughs.] I was like a maniac. I think a writer who was on the set described me as part drill sergeant, part raving lunatic. And when you have one camera, and you’re doing 40 setups a day, that’s kind of what you have to be. But we got it done, and it’s my proudest achievement in my 35 years. Not as an actor, as it turned out, but as a director. My performance in it is okay, too. It’s hard for me to compare my own performances in stuff, but I think it’s okay. But just the fact that I got this all done from beginning to end… I was doing The Divide, and I saw a kid reading a book, Rebel Without A Crew, which is Robert Rodriguez’s book, and I thought, “Y’know, I’m gonna make a movie.” Two weeks later, I got this small amount of money, and five weeks later, it was in the can. And I give Robert and Rebel Without A Crew a thank-you in the credits of The Victim for being an inspiration. I have a lot of respect for him. Looking back on it, it was quite an achievement. I think I’m prouder of The Victim than anything else, just because, if nothing else, it doesn’t look silly, it doesn’t look stupid. It holds up. It’s fun. A lot of people have enjoyed it, and I’m real happy about it.
Logan’s Run (1977)—“Sandman”
MB: First time in front of a camera. Got my Screen Actors Guild card. I was scared. I only had two lines, and they were the same line: “Runner headed toward Quadrant Four!” I haven’t seen it in 35 years, but I remember doing it, sitting there and going over it and over it until they said, “Action!” And when they did, I said it the first time, and then my mind went blank. I was like, “Oh, my God, what’s my other line?” And then I went, “Oh, right: ‘Runner headed toward Quadrant Four!’” [Laughs.] So, yeah, I managed to get through those two lines, and that was my first time on film.
Navy SEALs (1990)—“Lieutenant James Curran”
MB: That is a movie which… [Long pause.] I was really disappointed with that movie, because we had the Navy behind us, we had a really, really good producer, Bernie Williams, we had a great crew and a great cast. We had Charlie [Sheen] and [Bill] Paxton and me and Joanne Whalley, Dennis Haysbert… just a great cast. We had a script that could’ve been worked on, could’ve been made a lot better, but they wanted to make this kind of silly movie about Charlie Sheen running and jumping on the back of a car, putting it in reverse, and driving it off a ramp. The director wanted to make… I don’t know what he wanted to make. A comedy or something. I guess he considered it like an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. I wanted to do Top Gun, and Paxton wanted to do Top Gun. We wanted to make a really good movie, and it really turned out to be kind of a mish-mash and not a very good movie at all. So it’s really kind of… yeah, it’s probably the worst experience of my life, working on that movie.
AVC: Wow, really? Bill Paxton didn’t exactly love it, but he at least enjoyed the golfing scenes.
MB: Well, yeah, I can see that. Paxton basically… what they basically had us doing in the original script was playing volleyball, okay? And it was like, “Dude, come on, man, they did that in Top Gun. Do we really have to do the exact same thing?” So we came up with the golfing stuff, and I remember that Bill came up with—he’s kind of a director himself now, but at the time, he came up with a list of different shots and different things he thought would be really cool. And Lewis Teague [the director], who somehow failed upwards in his career at that point—I think Navy SEALs was his final failing—wouldn’t shoot the stuff.
Still, I’m surprised that Bill has any fond memories of that movie at all, because Bill was, I think, kind of frustrated, too. I just thought there was a possibility to do Top Gun, you know? I thought there was a possibility to show Navy SEALs in a real light, not some sort of crazy jumping out of cars, jumping into rivers kind of shenanigans. I think you’ll probably see the first real great portrayal of Navy SEALs when Kathryn Bigelow’s [Zero Dark Thirty] comes out. I think she’s working on that. So you’ll see it in that. But the thing about the movie Navy SEALs is that it was just such a waste. The script could’ve been shaped to be much better, and you just hate to see all that talent and passion go to waste.
Tombstone (1993)—“Johnny Ringo”
MB: Johnny Ringo is my favorite antagonist. Johnny Ringo is a character that I always played as somebody who kind of had a death wish. He was tired of boozing it up, tired of women… He was bored with life and wanted some excitement, and his way of getting that excitement was having a shootout with Doc Holliday and/or Wyatt Earp. Wyatt Earp was who he was looking at, really. The thing about Johnny Ringo that’s kind of sad, actually, is that they changed his story. Johnny Ringo never shot a priest. Johnny Ringo never shot anybody. That was all done for the movie. Johnny Ringo was known for calling Wyatt Earp out for a gunfight, and Wyatt Earp declined. [Ringo] was one of the cowboys, but that’s really where he got his reputation: calling out Wyatt Earp, and Wyatt Earp saying, “I don’t want to fight you.” He never killed anybody; that was all made up. But that’s my favorite antagonist that I’ve ever played, and there’s a moment in that movie where I say to Doc Holliday, “My fight’s not with you,” and he says, “I beg to differ.” And there appears to be kind of a twinkle in Johnny’s eye, and that’s where I’m basically saying, “Let’s do it.” I think that’s one of my favorite moments in my film career. There was an excitement about it. It’s like guys who go bungee jumping. How close can they get to death without dying? That’s the exciting part of life, and that’s what Johnny Ringo was to me. The rest of it was just a big bore. [Laughs.]
AVC: You added Val Kilmer’s name to that list of volatile people earlier, but most people consider Tombstone to be among his finest moments as an actor. How was he on the set?
MB: Val’s great. Val’s somehow gotten a reputation for being difficult. I don’t know why, actually, except for that he works very hard. To give you an example, Val and I went out the day before we shot that scene, and we choreographed that scene together. It was Val and I who decided that we weren’t going to be walking 10 paces, turning, and shooting, like they’ve done in a million other movies. We thought, “Well, wouldn’t it be fun if we did it kind of close, where we’re just, like, 2 or 3 feet apart from each other?” And we went out and rehearsed that, and we spent six or eight hours rehearsing it, kind of doing that thing where we’d walk around each other, sizing each other up, and then how I got shot and how I still continued to pull the trigger even though I had a bullet through the brain. All of that stuff, Val and I rehearsed the day before we shot, and that’s the kind of actor that I know Val Kilmer is. I mean, he is passionate and he wants to get it right, and he is like me and like Jim Cameron and like a lot of people who are like, “I’m making a movie here. I’m going to do the best I can, and if you’re not with me, then get out of the way.” But I’ve never heard him raise his voice on the set. He’s very smart. Sometimes he can say something and then, like, a few seconds later, you say to yourself, “Wait a second. Did he just put me down? I’m not sure.” [Laughs.] But by that time, it’s too late to say anything back to him. So, yeah, he’s very smart, I’ve always enjoyed working with him, but, yeah, that’s the kind of passion he has, that we went out and rehearsed that stuff. Everybody still talks about that scene, and that’s because we worked hard on it. That wasn’t just, “Okay, everybody, let’s get together and shoot this, all right?” That scene was rehearsed for eight or 10 hours the day before. So there you go.
The Abyss (1989)—“Lieutenant Hiram Coffey”
MB: Misunderstood. [Laughs.] People always say, “Oh, he’s such a good bad guy,” but… Okay, here I am, I’m just this lieutenant, a guy who’s used to taking orders, cut off from my chain of command. Then I get the underwater sickness, so I’m not quite right, anyway. And then I have these people running up to me, yelling at me that there’s aliens in the water and they’re friendly. I mean, what would you do? [Laughs.] Would you really believe that there were aliens in the water, or would you believe that it was some Russian deal? So I had a lot of sympathy for him, and I had a lot of sympathy for the fact that he was used to, “Come on, give me an order. I’ll march up the hill or whatever you ask me to do.” But when he had to make the decisions, and his mind wasn’t working the way it should be because of his sickness and people were telling him that aliens were running all over the place, it just kind of sent him over the deep end. I’ve always felt a little bit sorry for Coffey, and I’ve never even really thought of him as an antagonist. I just think of him as somebody who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
AVC: The Abyss is kind of viewed as the underrated James Cameron film. What’s your take on it?
MB: First of all, the thing that’s interesting about that movie is it’s the first time I think they really used CGI in a major way in a film. You watch movies now and you see this CGI and you think, “Oh, that’s fake. That’s CGI.” But if you go back 20-plus years to his film and look at his CGI, it really stands up. He’s a brilliant, brilliant guy. For me, I think Jim has always been brilliant in just about everything he’s ever done, whether it was Titanic or True Lies or any of his movies. But I think he was just good when it came to the end of The Abyss, and he wasn’t quite as brilliant as he’s been for the rest of his career. He had a choice between two endings, and Fox wanted him to do the shorter ending and he wanted to do the longer ending, and they made him do the shorter ending. So who knows what would’ve happened with the longer ending? I saw it, and… you know, I think that when you have a good movie, you have to have a great ending. And if I could ever point out any flaw in any Jim Cameron movie… which I’m sure will be the headline of your story… [Laughs.] It would be that the end of The Abyss was not as exciting as the rest of the film.
Criminal Minds (2009)—“Detective Ron Fullwood”
MB: That happened… I took that job the day after my father died, just to keep my mind off of what was going on. I don’t really remember very much about that shoot.
Hill Street Blues (1984)—“Officer Randall Buttman”
MB: Well, that was a great character for me. I loved that character because he was just such a total asshole. He was a racist, he was a misogynist, he didn’t like women, he didn’t like anybody, he was a loudmouth, he was crude… What was cool about him was that I got to work with Betty Thomas and Ed Marinaro, and when I was standing between the two of them, I looked like a shrimp. I mean, I’m 6 feet tall, but Ed’s gotta be 6-foot-2 or 6-foot-3, and Betty’s gotta be 6-foot-1 or 6-foot-2, so I looked like Robert Conrad, like any minute I was gonna say, “Knock this battery off my shoulder!” [Laughs.] I looked like the little guy, who was always feisty and yelling and stuff, and I had a great time doing that character. It’s one of my favorite characters, in fact. I loved him.
The Runaways (1978)—“Mark Johnson”
MB: Ah, I was so young then, I didn’t really know what I was doing. I have very fleeting memories of being excited that I was in a television series. I remember fighting with [producer] Quinn Martin over the fact that I wanted to wear overalls, and he wouldn’t let me wear overalls on the show at certain times. I thought they were cool back then! [Laughs.] That was a very, very long time ago. It’s kind of hard to remember. I remember they replaced the lead actor with the guy from The Brady Bunch [Robert Reed]. He was very nice. Every television series I do seems to do 22 episodes and then go away. Same with The Magnificent Seven. I think we may have done less of Hawaii. I never could get a television series over the top.
The Magnificent Seven (1998-2000)—“Chris Larabee”
MB: That was a lot of fun. I enjoyed that. I had a line producer on that television series, John Watson, who used to listen to me. [Laughs.] The scripts would come out, I’d look at them, and I’d say, “Well, this doesn’t make sense and that doesn’t make sense,” and he would actually get the writers to change things. John was kind of like a father figure to me on that show, because it’s hard when writers write stuff that doesn’t make sense, or things are being shot that don’t make sense. And I could always run to John, and he would back me up, which was great. I owe John Watson a lot. I love him. And [executive producer/writer] Pen Densham. But especially John. John used to always joke about the fact that, like, he’d be in his office and he always knew when I was coming, because he could hear these spurs coming down his hallway. [Laughs.] Because I’d be coming in for changes to the scene that day or the script the following week, whatever. But he’d hear the spurs and he’d go, “Fuck, here comes Michael Biehn again…”
AVC: The Magnificent Seven was also one of the first series—possibly the very first—to earn a reprieve from cancellation as a result of an Internet campaign from fans.
MB: Well, that’s what they say. They say that a lot of people wrote in, and we did get a few extra episodes out of it. But we just couldn’t push it over the top. If you look at the history of westerns… Tombstone cost $65 million, it made $65 million at the box office, so it’s obviously into profit at this point, but it was not a hugely successful movie when you think about how much people like the movie now and how people talk about it now. Unforgiven, if I’m not mistaken, won Clint Eastwood an Oscar for directing, it won Best Picture, and something like six or seven more nominations beyond that. But I think that movie still only did about $90 million. So I think the western is a genre that… well, I know Quentin [Tarantino] is doing one, and I hear Robert [Rodriguez] is doing one now, too, but it’s been a genre that I know has been tough to sell overseas, and of course they’re expensive to make because of all the period stuff. And from what I understand, teenagers and [people] into their early 20s aren’t really interested in them. So they’re hard sells. They did the combination Cowboys And Aliens, which was… [Long pause.] An interesting movie, I’ll call it. That was, I thought, an interesting idea from the beginning, but… If Quentin can turn his movie, Django Unchained, into a hit, or if Robert can make a hit western, then maybe they’ll come back. But even when we were doing The Magnificent Seven, it was a genre that was kind of losing steam in a hurry.
Rampage (1987)—“Anthony Fraser”
Jade (1995)—“Bob Hargrove”
MB: Well, on Jade, I had no idea what I was doing. I don’t think anybody had any idea what they were doing. It was a Joe Eszterhas script. To me, none of it ever really made any sense. I didn’t realize until the read-through that I was the bad guy in it. It was like a jumbled mess. And the movie came out a mess, too. It had great people on it, though. It had [William] Friedkin directing, it had Chazz Palmenteri, who was nominated that year for an Academy Award, it had Linda Fiorentino, who had just come out with that famous movie she did [The Last Seduction], and it had David Caruso, who’s a fucking brilliant actor when given the right material, and a very smart guy. Like Val. Very, very smart. So a great cast, great director… everything but a script. So that one was as bad as other one was good for me.
On Rampage, I collaborated with Friedkin on my character, script-wise. Not the script itself, but just on my character. And he was very collaborative. He turned out to be quite the interesting person to work with. I’m sure if you’ve ever heard anything about him, you’ve heard stories about him being an absolute maniac on the set. But I understand it now. Now that I’ve directed my own movie, I understand it. You’re responsible for what goes on, and if it’s not right, you’ve got to make it right, no matter if you have to do it yourself. I love Billy. He’s interesting, smart, funny, loving… He’s got many, many sides. But you don’t want to get on his wrong side, that’s for sure. [Laughs.] But he’s very smart, knows history very well, knows theater, books, and of course, film. I think when you talk about Friedkin, you talk about a guy who’s made the best horror ever made, which is The Exorcist, and the best buddy-cop movie, which is The French Connection. And he did the best car chase of all time! You put all that together, that’s a pretty good career right there.
Grindhouse: Planet Terror (2007)—“Sheriff Hague”
MB: Grindhouse was a lot of fun because Robert Rodriguez is one of the most outrageously fun people to be around. He basically said to me… I was talking to him about the casting and how I had to go on an audition for him, but he said, “Ah, you had that part before you auditioned for me.” And I said, “Oh, thanks a lot!” [Laughs.] I said, “Why’d you cast me?” He said, “I wanted to cast you because there’s a certain moment in that movie where all hell is breaking loose, and I wanted to see you coming through these hospital doors, to see you bang through these double doors, and I want the audience to stand up and cheer.” This is while we’re shooting. I’m like, “Oh, yeah? Really? Okay, we’ll see about that. Whatever.” Didn’t give it a second thought. Anyway, we’re at the big screen downtown, a thousand people, and the movie starts, blah blah blah happens, Josh Brolin’s doing his thing. All of a sudden, I come crashing through the front door with a shotgun in my hand… and fucking everybody goes crazy. Everybody stands up and cheers. [Laughs.] Here comes the fucking cavalry, which I guess I represented. Which I guess he knew I represented. That’s Robert. He knew that moment was going to happen if he cast me in that role, as opposed to somebody else, I think, because of all the stuff that I had done back in the ’80s I guess was kind of heroic. But he’s an extraordinarily fun and talented person to be associated with. Plus, he’s just so cool. He’s fun, he plays music, he edits stuff… he’s a guy who will edit a scene that you’re shooting while you’re shooting it. So he’s an editor on the set, which means he can shoot three or four shots, cut ’em together, shoot three or four more shots, cut ’em together, and by the time you’re done shooting the scene, he’s got the scene cut, he throws it on his iPod, and he goes, “This is what you’re gonna see in the theater.” So you basically walk away from that day of shooting, and while you’re standing there on the set, you can watch the scene that he’s cut together, with music. And it really is pretty much the way it is in the movie theaters. I could be wrong, but I’m guessing that Robert has his movies cut in his head while he’s writing them. He’s a brilliant guy. I’d take a bullet for him. And Jim Cameron. Those are my two guys.
Aliens (1986)—“Corporal Dwayne Hicks”
MB: Well, that was an interesting project because I came in late on it. I think what made Hicks such an interesting character was that he was a reluctant hero. There’s a scene in the movie that I think defines Hicks, and that’s where Sigourney Weaver says to Paul Reiser, “I think Hicks is in control here. He’s the one that has to make this decision.” And she looks at him and says, “Am I right?” And I look up at her, and I say [Sheepishly.] “Yeah. Yeah, you’re right.” I don’t want the responsibility. I’m just a grunt, and I do not want the responsibility. And I think that’s what makes him kind of endearing. He’s not a “let’s go out and kick some ass” kind of guy. He’s more, “Well, I guess I have to do this.” That moment, I think, defines Hicks. And the movie itself is just… it’s Jim Cameron at his absolute finest. In fact, I think… Well, I’m a little partial to The Terminator. [Laughs.] But I think those two films are his best.
The Terminator (1984)—“Kyle Reese”
MB: All I can say is that I got to spend a lot of time with Jim, and the reason that movie was so successful was because there was a love story that was involved. There was a girl that this guy crosses time for, and I think that’s a very romantic idea, so therefore I think women liked the movie as much as men. I think people think about that movie as being this huge, huge hit, and it did well. It did, I think, $40 million at the box office. But to give you an idea of other movies that were out at the time, The Karate Kid made $90 million. So it wasn’t that big of a hit at the time. It did okay, but it wasn’t a juggernaut. And I wasn’t flooded with offers by any stretch. [Laughs.] I mean, I think the next movie I did was Aliens, which was two years later, so I definitely wasn’t buried in big offers. But, you know, it came out in ’84, when everybody was buying their VCRs. I think that probably 90 percent of the people, maybe even 95 percent, who saw that movie saw it on VHS. I really think that movie became a cultural phenomenon because of VHS, and I think it may have been the first movie to really do that.
AVC: You filmed a reprisal of your role for Terminator 2, but your scenes ended up being cut from the theatrical release. How bummed were you?
MB: A little bit, but not a lot. Because, first of all, it was a long movie. Jim called me, and he explained it to me: It was too long, he had to cut a couple things out, mine was one of the last things to go. But he had two other flashbacks in the movie, and basically what I did in the movie was the same thing I did in the first movie, so it was not like not getting Alien 3. [Laughs.] I got paid a very handsome price for that one day of work. And I’d do anything for Jim. If he asked me to come over and wash his car today, I’d do it. And it’s raining, too! But I’d do anything for Jim.
Coach (1978)—“Jack Ripley”
MB: Well… You know, I was very young, I was very enamored with Cathy Lee Crosby… [Laughs.] As I think she was with me. I haven’t seen that movie in 20 or 30 years, but I think it was cute enough, I think it was fun enough, I don’t think there was anything horrifically stupid about it. It was an exploitation movie. It used sex exploitation. But I think I had a character in there who was attractive, and I had a lot of fun making it, playing basketball and hanging out with Cathy Lee Crosby. It wasn’t too bad for a 19-year-old kid from Arizona. [Laughs.]
AVC: Given how long you said it’s been since you’ve seen it, that would seem to dispel the rumor that Quentin Tarantino actually invited you over to his house to watch the movie because it’s his favorite of your films.
MB: Yeah, uh, that’s not necessarily true. [Laughs.] I was never invited over to Quentin’s house to watch Coach. I was invited over to his house to watch Grindhouse. But he does own Coach, knows about Coach, and he knows more about my career than I know about my career. And he knows more about your career than you know about your career. I mean, the guy is a walking dictionary. Him and Robert Rodriguez, you get them together, and it’s so much fun. These guys are just film lovers. They love film, art, and music; they love talking about movies, watching movies… They’re forces of nature, and when you get them both together, it’s just an exhilarating time. Even though Robert directed Planet Terror, Quentin was on our set a lot—most of the time, actually—and it was just a brilliant, brilliant ensemble to be a part of.
The Rock (1996)—“Commander Charles Anderson”
MB: Well, I have a horror story that goes along with that movie, and then I’ve got a really good story that goes along with it. The horror story is that we had this really big production shot that was set up where one of these trucks pulls up, and there’s 12 of us that come piling out of this humvee, and helicopters are flying by in the background, and other troops are marching, jeeps are driving by. It’s this huge production shot that takes about an hour to set up every time. I came out, and I had this big speech to give that I’d been working on in my head for, like, the last two weeks. So Sean Connery’s standing there, there’s Nic Cage, who’s just been nominated for an Academy Award for Drunk In Las Vegas or whatever it was. [Laughs.] And I come up to give this big speech, and… I just went blank. I’m standing there and I’m not saying anything, and suddenly Michael Bay starts screaming the dialogue to me from off-camera. So he screamed it to me, I’d say it, he’d scream more, I’d say it, he’d scream more… We finally finished it, and we only did one take, because it would’ve taken too long to set up again, but I just felt like a complete idiot. I mean, I froze, and I did it in front of everybody. But Michael kind of poured hot water on the situation, thankfully. Then when we were doing the shower sequence, that turned out to be a scene where… y’know, when I was making it, I didn’t really think it was that big of a deal. But it was the second time I went up against Ed Harris, who’s always been a good, tough guy to go up against, and people always respond to that scene. In fact, a lot of people tell me that it’s the best scene in the movie. So, yeah, I had my highs and lows in The Rock. [Laughs.]
The Lords Of Discipline (1983)—“Cadet Lieutenant Colonel John Alexander”
MB: Oh, I loved Lords Of Discipline. We were young back then, me and Paxton… [Laughs.] We shot it in England, and it was one of my first times having an extended stay in London, which was a great experience. That’s where I met Paxton and we got to know each other and became friends, and then I went on to make another movie with [director] Franc Roddam. I got into that character. I read a lot of white-supremacist books to get into character, and I was totally committed to that racist kind of mindset at the time. I had a lot of fun doing it, and it was a character that was… He was like a laser beam, man. I mean, if you ever see that movie, you know that you don’t want to fuck with that guy. [Laughs.]