Although his latest role in Franc Roddam’s mountaineering epic K2 won’t win him any Academy Awards, actor Michael Biehn is one ofthe leading men on the action- movie scene. Trevor Johnston discovers there’s more to this derring-do stuff than meets the eye.
‘Maybe it’s something I should learn to do. I dunno. I guess in theatre you have to stick with what you’re given but I like to put my own spin on my lines. I really need to feel at one with my character.’
From an expensive pastel suite at the Savoy, another young American actor spouts forth on the merits of doing it his way. In this case, tough guy Michael Biehn’s reflections have been triggered by a query as to the different working methods he has come across in the array of filmmakers he has worked with. On his most recent offering, the spectacular Himalayan adventure flick K2, it’s clear that although he got on pretty well socially with British director Franc Roddam, their creative relationship was hardly as harmonious as that achieved with genre maestro James Cameron over the series of films — including The Terminator, Aliens, and TheAbyss — that they’ve made together.
‘Often when you get hold of a screenplay at an early stage, it does need a lot ofwork,‘ explains the native of Alabama, looking his usual tanned and blandly handsome self, ‘and here Franc had so many strong ideas on the characters it was hard to
It was the greatest outdoor tourist trip that you could take, but I have to say that I’m a little more comfortable in a hotel room asking tor room service
shake him. Usually when I play a role I’ll talk to the director at the beginning of the shoot and tell him, “I think I know what you want here, let me just have my own take on it and run with it.” We make sure that we both have the same idea about the character that we’re trying to get across, and certainly Jim Cameron trusts my sense of story-editing enough to let me change his dialogue to fit my particular angle on the part. Franc, on the other hand, was more confident in his script than he was in me as an actor, so having to stick to lines that I wasn’t particularly in tune with was difficult for me.‘
Although the average moviegoer probably reckons there‘s only the merest modicum of acting
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physical roles Biehn usually plays, listening to the actor recount the nightmare of shooting a movie thousands of feet up various mountains does somewhat increase one’s respect for the technical demands he often has to match up to. ‘Because we were doing a lot ofscenes underwater in a huge tank, The Abyss was a tough one,‘ he recalls with a wry smile, broadening as he continues, ‘but it was a picnic compared to K2. Usually when you make a picture you get a schedule that tells you, today we do this scene. tomorrow we do these two scenes, but here. because the weather at high altitude is so unpredictable, the call-sheet had to be much more flexible. Each morning the helicopter would ﬂy off to check on the weather at various locations and we’d be told to be ready to do scene X. for example, if it was sunny, scene K if it was overcast, scenes 8 and T if it was snowing, and so on. Instead of a jigsaw puzzle with 200 pieces, this was a jigsaw puzzle with 1000 pieces.
‘There are actually parts of this movie where my close-up in the scene was shot in British Columbia. Matt Craven my co-star’s close-up will have been done in Utah, while the rest ofthe stuffin the sequence comes from our locations in Pakistan. The scenery was amazing, and I think we’ve got that in the final product. It was the greatest outdoor tourist trip that you could take, but I have to say that I‘m a little more comfortable in a hotel room asking for room service, not really the outdoor type. Franc had this great crew who were all into doing mountaineering documentaries, but I’d be wandering around in a foul mood asking, “How many more days do we have left on this?” ’
A personable and refreshingly open interview subject, Biehn cheerfully admits that his method of choosing roles is ‘really just to take what I can get. There’s so many good actors out there but only a limited amount of good material. I‘m
ability required in the type of straightforward
dealing with a level where it’s either honest or not
K2: ‘spectaculr lenalayan adventu
honest, and ifl feel it has got some kind of integrity, no matter what kind of project it is — a courtroom piece or another action thing — then I‘ll do it.’
While this occasionally results in his involvement in highly, erm, routine fare like Navy Seals or the recent straight-to-video Timebomb, the star is certainly cheered by his close connection with the highly respected Cameron. ‘Ifit hadn‘t been for Jim, I don’t think I’d ever have been in a movie that made any real money. The Terminator was very important for me, and I still think it contains the best work I’ve ever done, but at the time we were all a little surprised that it didn’t do even better. When it came out at first, it only did $40 million whereas, that same year Karate Kid 11 did $65 million. At that moment in time, people really weren’t ready to accept Arnold Schwarzenegger as any kind of a movie actor. I remember actor friends of mine would call me and when they heard I was working with Arnie, they kinda laughed. “Glad to see your career’s going so well, Michael.” I think it would be different now, somehow.’
Though his two days’ work on TerminatorZ ended up on the cutting-room ﬂoor, we‘re due to see more of Michael Biehn when the special edition director’s cut of Aliens hits your video shelves very soon; while William Friedkin is currently preparing a re- j igged version of Rampage, the uncompromising psycho-killer picture in which Biehn plays an attorney in the culminating legal wrangling. Biehn has also been cast to star in James Cameron’s $40 million megapic Spiderman, with Arnie pencilled in as Doc Octopus, which should start shooting sometime this year.
K2 opens in Scotland on Friday 31 January.
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The List 31 J anuary- 13 February 199213