Subject: Michael Biehn, 53-year old American actor (turned writer and director)
Date of Assessment: March 2, 2011
Positive Buzzwords: Intensity, ability to speak wordless volumes, James Cameron
Negative Buzzwords: Lack of star power, James Cameron
The Case: Upon initial contemplation of this week’s subject, the first question that springs to mind is this: What the hell ever happened to Michael Biehn? Such an involuntary reaction is based upon an assumption that Biehn’s a relatively lost visage of the 1980s; but anyone who’s been paying attention would realize that Biehn’s been (for the most part) working steadily as an actor even though his big-time blockbuster roles have long since ceased to exist. Naturally, he came from humble beginnings by steadily landing a lot of television work, including both regular series (even an “ABC Afternoon Special”) and made-for-TV movies before moving into feature films. Upon arrival within the celluloid realm, Biehn initially appeared to be a natural born villain as he stalked Lauren Bacall in The Fan. He then convincingly portrayed a racist military cadet in The Lords of Discipline, but he was soon to receive a reprieve from villainous typecasting. In fact, Biehn was sure to make use of his very intense screen presence in several different capacities. Indeed, his talent for an “ability to speak wordless volumes” makes a damn good case for an unofficial lineage to the likes of Timothy Olyphant. Not a terribly bad legacy, is it?
As fate would have it, a few heroic roles were soon on the way for Biehn when fate intervened in the form of director James Cameron, who harnessed the actor’s talent for the iconic Kyle Reese in The Terminator. Biehn’s portrayal of a soldier sent back to save Sarah Connor, the future mother of the leader of the resistance, was not only a perfect demonstration of survivalism but also more than a little bit romantic too, all in the midst of a sci-fi action film. It must have been a difficult role to pull off, but Biehn’s performance as Reese inspired a Seriously Random List that received more than just a few hel-lo’s. In another Cameron film, Aliens, Biehn was much less frantic as the steady, calm Cpl. Dwayne Hicks. Then, Cameron once again made use of Biehn for a slightly darker role as the Lt. Hiram Coffee, who quite literally veers off the edge in The Abyss. As much as many of us tend to laugh at Cameron’s overwrought cheesefests these days, the egomaniacal director can be credited with the good sense to repeatedly cast Biehn in his early films, and this collaboration resulted in three very iconic characters, for which Biehn shall always be fondly remembered.
Unfortunately after such a promising stride, Biehn’s high-profile days were limited. After a few relatively well-received outside projects (Rampage; The Seventh Sign), Biehn learned that his part in Terminator 2: Judgment Day was left on the cutting room floor (although Cameron later included this scene in a Director’s Cut). Then, a role in Aliens 3 fell out from underneath him; further, although he was shortlisted to play Bruce Wayne/Batman (before MIchael Keaton owned it) and Peter Parker/Spider Man (the latter of which was an abandoned Cameron project), these hopes also fell by the wayside. Most recently, Biehn lost out on the Avatar role that ended up going to Stephen Lang, since Sigourney Weaver was already on board, and Cameron reportedly didn’t want the audience to be thinking of Aliens.
However, Biehn was not one to stay down for long. Following the initial T2 snub, Biehn went on to make a very respectable turn in Tombstone as legendary gunslinger and quick-firing outlaw Johnny Ringo. Since then, Biehn’s only other blockbuster turn was for Michael Bay (The Rock), which I find rather interesting because that movie signaled the end of mainstream Biehn. Ironically, Bay generally takes credit for starting acting careers (“I like to think that I’ve had some luck in building actors’ careers with my films.”) not ending them. Of course, we cannot honestly blame Michael Bay for Biehn’s inexplicable fall from the upper echelons, although it is rather tempting to do so.
As time went on, Biehn continued to locate steady, under-the-radar movie roles, and he is nothing if not consistent in his efforts to keep on acting. While he’s longer the star of high-profile movies, he’s still making a respectable living. Admittedly, most of Biehn’s output would be considered imminently watchable garbage (some of which can be further classified in the guilty pleasures realm): Navy Seals; K2; Deadfall; Jade; Dead Men Can’t Dance; American Dragons; Chain of Command; Susan’s Plan; Cherry Falls; The Art of War; Clockstoppers; Planet Terror; and a brief appearance in Eli Roth’s fake Thanksgiving trailer (“son of a bitch”). Plus, Biehn’s still turning in regular appearances on television: 22 episodes of “The Magnificent Seven,” 22 episodes of “Adventure Inc.,” and 7 episodes of “Hawaii.” Throughout his lengthy career, Biehn has played lots of lawmen, detectives, and Navy SEALs, but he can still convincingly pull off all sorts of roles including (as is his specialty) villains with a bit vulnerability to them. Biehn has a talent for creating audience empathy for some of the most reprehensible characters known to the big screen, which isn’t an easy feat to continually pull off by any stretch. No free passes given here, but Biehn at least deserves an honorable mention for life.
Prognosis: In the future, I can almost certainly predict that Michael Biehn will not make a grand return to blockbuster movies, but he’ll continue to do more than okay for himself. This year, Biehniacs can revel in the fact he’s featured within seven films (Take Me Home Tonight; Bereavement; The Divide; Yellow Rock; Puncture; The Dark Forest; and The Victim). Hell, he’s not only starring in the latter film but also earning his first writing and directing credits. Go with him if you want to live.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at agentbedhead.com.