With a lead role in "The Terminator" and noteworthy follow-ups in "Aliens," and "The Abyss," the rough-and-tumble Michael Biehn carved out a devoted following among sci-fi and action film fans - especially in those movies directed by his good friend, James Cameron. Often turning in highly convincing performances as soldiers, cops or other men of action - he played Navy SEALS in three movies - Biehn frequently stole the scenes he was in, either with a rousing speech or sly remarks to upper ranking officials. The fact that he was undeniably handsome in an old-Hollywood, matinee idol kind-of-way, was not lost on the female contingent either. Although he never achieved A-list status, he remained a staple of genre movies, often turning up as authority figures in later years, playing sheriffs in both the cult horror film "Cherry Falls" and in the '70s schlock film homage-to-end-all-homages, "Grindhouse," from filmmakers Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino.
Biehn (pronounced "Bean") was born on July 31, 1956, in Anniston, AL, but grew up in Lincoln, NE before moving at age 14 to Lake Havasu, AZ.. After graduating from high school, he enrolled at the University of Arizona on a drama scholarship, but left for Hollywood before completing his degree. Thanks to his good looks and a rugged quality, Biehn had little trouble landing a slew of television parts at the start of his career. Starting his science fiction career early, one of his first appearances was in the pilot episode of the sci-fi series, "Logan's Run," (CBS, 1977-78), based on the theatrical movie of the same name. Biehn played the role of a "Sandman" - part of a futuristic police force charged with rounding up citizens for extermination when they reach the old age of 30.
Biehn went on to land bit parts in episodes of "The Runaways" (NBC, 1978-79), the acclaimed drama, "Family" (ABC, 1976-1980) and a 1979 episode of "The ABC After School Special" (ABC, 1972-1995) entitled, "The Big Secret." He also had an uncredited appearance in the 1978 feature film "Grease," playing a high school athlete hanging out in the background. It was his role as an obsessive stalker of Lauren Bacall in the 1981 thriller "The Fan" that first garnered Biehn some notice, as he was finally able to exhibit the kind of intensity that would pay off in his later efforts. He followed that film with a supporting role in the 1983 drama, "The Lords of Discipline," and a recurring role as Officer Randall Buttman on the esteemed police drama, "Hill Street Blues," (NBC, 1981-87), during the show's fifth season.
But it was with his part in what seemed to be just another small sci-fi B movie that put Biehn officially on the map - 1984's "The Terminator." Biehn auditioned for the role of Kyle Reese, a protector from the future, sent back in time to stop a deadly robot - played by then-body builder Arnold Schwarzenegger - from killing an innocent woman, Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), who will to give birth to a resistance leader destined to save mankind. Biehn nearly lost out on the role, the story went, because he said his lines in a Southern accent he had picked up while performing on stage in "Cat On a Hot Tin Roof." It was not until his agent called, that producer Gale Anne Hurd and director James Cameron reconsidered him. The low-budget movie made a profitable run in theaters but formed a huge fanbase on cable television and home video, turning out to be a career-maker for almost everyone involved. Despite his leading role, Biehn never actually shared any scenes with Schwarzenegger, even though he was frequently asked about his co-star. The most important relationship forged onset though - one which would make Biehn's career - would be between the actor and his loyal director-turned-friend, Cameron.
In what many believed to be his pen-ultimate role, Biehn reunited with Cameron for the director's follow-up project, "Aliens" (1986), playing futuristic bad ass, Corporal Dwayne Hicks. Managing to be both no-nonsense and sarcastic at the same time, Biehn nearly stole the show, whether sleeping through a harrowing plunge into a planetary atmosphere, or his response to the phrase, "No offense" when being called "a grunt." - the ultra-calm Hicks simply replies, "None taken." Biehn so enjoyed the role, that when his character - one of only three survivors from the initial marine unit that had touched down on the alien-infected planet - was killed off at the beginning of the David Fincher-directed third installment, "Alien 3," the actor admitted to being bitterly disappointed. The fans seemed to be in total agreement, with many of the film series' fans mentally ending the franchise in their minds with Cameron's second film.
Biehn's next project was the 1988 horror-thriller, "The Seventh Sign" - an unmemorable showcase for Demi Moore. That same year, he appeared in a handful of forgettable movies such as "In a Shallow Grave" and "Rampage," before again working with Cameron, in his undersea action epic, 1989's "The Abyss." Knowing one of his favorite utility actors' strengths on screen, Cameron cast Biehn as yet another tough-talking soldier, and Biehn - this time sporting a less-than-attractive moustache - turned in a nuanced performance in a film more notable for its thought-provoking CGI majesty than action or thrills. Biehn began developing a core of devoted fans, who followed obscure details of his life and films, such as a running gag where, in every Cameron film he appeared in, Biehn is bitten on the hand - by Linda Hamilton's character in "The Terminator;" by the little girl, Newt, played by Carrie Henn, in "Aliens," and by Ed Harris' character in "The Abyss." Along with Biehn, Cameron's other repertory go-to actors he not only respected, but depended upon to make his stories come alive included Bill Paxton (Pvt. Hudson in "Aliens;" Brock Lovett in "Titanic;" Simon in "True Lies") and Jenette Goldstein (Pvt. Vasquez in "Aliens;" Janelle Voight in "T2: Judgment Day;" the Irish mommy in "Titanic").
Despite the following he had developed with his tough guy roles throughout the eighties, by the early to mid nineties, Biehn's star inexplicably faded. He narrowly missed being cast in high profile roles that could have put him over the mainstream top - he was in the running to play the title superhero and his alter ego, Bruce Wayne, in "Batman" (1989), as well as was an early choice to play Peter Parker/Spider-Man, when James Cameron was still attached to the superhero film in the beginning stages of development in the early 1990s.
After again playing his stock-in-trade role of soldier in "Navy SEALS," (1990), Biehn reunited with Cameron for sequences in "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" (1991), but those scenes were unfortunately cut from the final film, remaining unseen until they were included in a special director's cut edition released on video. He did manage to make a memorable part out of Johnny Ringo in the very popular Wyatt Earp western, "Tombstone," (1993). After another small part, in the detective thriller "Jade" (1995) - a film which virtually derailed the career of its new TV-turned-movie star wannabe, David Caruso - it was his part as a soldier, in the Nicholas Cage ass-kicking actioner, "The Rock" (1996) that was really one of his last recognizable big screen hurrahs for mainstream moviegoers. Playing a Navy SEAL for a third time, Biehn's searing speech to a group of U.S. military defectors, delivered at the middle of the movie, was a pulpy high point in one of the better-regarded high-octane action films of the 1990s, especially among Biehn's still loyal legion of fans - even if he did die a bloody death after getting his point across.
At that point in Biehn's career, the quality and quantity began tapering off. What followed post-"Rock," was a slew of smaller police thrillers, many of them straight-to-video. However, he did remind people of his powerful onscreen charisma when he played a town sheriff suffering a moral quandary in the 2000 cult horror film, "Cherry Falls." Delivering a borderline, tongue-in-cheek performance, Biehn played Sheriff Brent Marken, in the twisted tale of a serial killer who targets only virgins - leaving the local kids with only one way to spare themselves. His role in "Cherry Falls" was one of the first parts to capitalize on a post-modern recognition and appreciation of Biehn and his role in genre films of the 1980s.
After performances in films such as "Art of War" (2000), "Clockstoppers" (2002), and the indie film "Havoc" (2005), Biehn showed up on television, playing the part of a police commissioner on a 2006 episode of "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" (NBC, 2001- ), entitled "The War at Home" as well as the leading role of Judson Cross in the Canadian actioner, "Adventure, Inc.," (syndicated, 2002-03). He also appeared in episodes of the short-lived glossy soap series, "Hawaii" (NBC, 2004) - one of the first time fans had seen him on screen for awhile. Though the show suffered a quick death, the fact that Biehn was back on screen again after seemingly disappearing off the face of the planet, was good news to fans who had never forgotten his unique appeal.
Two people who could see the potential comeback and wanted to give it to him were film-boy geek directors, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, who taped the actor to appear in their bloody B-movie opus, "Grindhouse" (2007). As the grimacing Sheriff Hague, Biehn had parts in both the Robert Rodriguez installment, "Planet Terror" - a nod to schlocky, John Carpenter-style sci-fi action/horror flicks of the late '70s and early '80s - as well as a small part in a spoof trailer for the '70s-style horror film, "Thanksgiving," directed by Eli Roth. In between gun battles, Biehn's tough-talking constable forever hounded his estranged brother, J.T., played by Jeff Fahey, for the recipe for his barbecue sauce at the diner outside of town. Biehn played the role mostly straight, but his presence amid blood-splattered zombies, randomly exploding squad cars and an inept deputy played by venerable effects guru Tom Savini, gave the film some of its biggest laughs. In a film widely heralded for its cameos, Biehn's first appearance onscreen was often heralded by cheers of recognition - signs that fans were fully ready to welcome his slightly older and rugged, but still badass persona back to the big screen.
Lt. James Curran
FOX Classics TV guide
Thursday, 23 May 2013
- 7:30 AM Open All Hours
- 8:05 AM Yes, Prime Minister
- 8:40 AM On the Buses
- 9:15 AM Are You Being Served?
- 9:50 AM 'Allo 'Allo!
- 10:25 AM M*A*S*H
- 10:55 AM Keeping Up Appearances
- 11:30 AM Jeopardy!
- 12:00 PM Murder, She Wrote
- 1:00 PM The Virginian
- 2:30 PM Walker, Texas Ranger
- 3:30 PM Gunsmoke
- 4:30 PM Bonanza
- 5:30 PM The Golden Girls
- 6:00 PM 'Allo 'Allo!
- 6:30 PM Are You Being Served?
- 7:00 PM Jeopardy!
- 7:30 PM M*A*S*H
- 8:00 PM Keeping Up Appearances
- 8:35 PM Papillon
- 11:00 PM East of Eden
- 12:50 AM Running Scared
- 2:30 AM Murder, She Wrote
- 3:30 AM Walker, Texas Ranger
- 4:30 AM M*A*S*H
- 5:00 AM The Big Valley
- End of programming for Thursday, 23 May 2013