Michael Biehn stars in sci-fi thriller The Divide, which is out in cinemas now. Total Film chatted to the acting legend to discuss his sci-fi past, present and future. Here’s what he had to say…
On working on The Divide…
"It was kind of a unique experience because Xavier Gens directed it, and Xavier's kind of a David Lynch character - he looks kind of normal but has bizarre and wild ideas about things.
“The story takes place in a bunker, my character's bunker, and I play this burnt-out, 9/11 guy. I've kind of given up on the world but I work as a building superintendent and I've turned the basement of the apartment building into a survivalist bunker thinking that something was going to happen, and something does happen.
“There's a nuclear event of some kind and before I can get the door closed on the bunker, about 4,5,6 people squeeze their way in and so what we're left with is a bunker that was built for one guy to last a year or two, and then there's a bunch of people down there, and it's me and Milo Ventimiglia, Rosanna Arquette, Courtney B Vance and a lot of real good actors.
"Food starts running low and radiation poisoning is leaking into the space we're working in, and things go a little bit awry, to say the least. It's a very, very, very dark look at humanity. I call it a psychological horror story, and it's very dark, kind of Requiem Of A Dream dark"
“It was a lot of fun to do because Xavier gave us a lot of chance to improv and take the screenplay in different directions to what it was originally intended to go, and everyone was really very dedicated, and a lot of the young people like Michael Eklund and Milo just really, really cared about the project.
“And we had a lot of fun. Mostly because we'll never have the opportunity to have that freedom to write… rewrite… We shot it chronologically and I've never shot a movie chronologically before."
On the atmosphere between The Divide cast on set…
“Somebody would come up with some sort of improvisation that would change the story and, we knew how it was going to end, but in between it wasn't very linear, it was all over the place.
“And people were doing improvisations that Xavier liked and he would shoot them and cut other stuff out. He'd cut other actors stuff out and then they'd get angry and by design he kind of got the actors against each other, and so the actors… most of them didn't like each other, they split off into a couple of different camps and there was a lot of hostility and ugliness between the cast, but it was fun.
“I was kind of neutral. My character's kind of a neutral character. I wasn't really part of one of the camps but… It was a bizarre experience, I can tell you that, it was wild. They were very angry people down there.
“I think Xavier intended it to go that way.”
On getting into character when playing a nasty piece of work…
"How do I get into character? You know, this is always like ‘the actor defending his antagonist’ but Mickey was a guy who - you'll see bits and pieces of it throughout the movie - was a 9/11 survivor and he was a first responder and kind of went in with his fire team and he was the only one who made it out, and it kind of left him with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“And he ended up drinking and losing his job, losing his family, and becoming very paranoid, racist… building this bunker in case anything like this ever happened again.
“And actually Mickey is a character who was supposed to be the antagonist in the movie, and because there was so much improvisation, it kind of ends up that I'm the only character in the whole movie who has any semblance of redemption.
“I go from somebody who really has lost his humanity to finding a little bit of it at the end of the movie, and everybody else loses their humanity completely and utterly. So it was an interesting thing to play because that's not the way it was written. When we were shooting, that's the way that the improvisations took us and that's just the way that the character ended up.
“And there's another character named Bobby who probably ended up assuming what I'd call the antagonist role of the piece and he wasn't so prevalent when we started shooting but the more we worked, the more cool stuff he threw in, and he was pretty nasty and Xavier liked his stuff and he ended up being the antagonist.
“So this guy [Mickey], I just kind of felt sorry for him. He was just a brute who had been hurt so badly since 9/11 that he'd just given up and he hated everyone and everything. But he does find a shred of humanity at the end of the movie.”
On his affinity with post-apocalyptic stories…
“I think what happens is that I got cast with Cameron in The Terminator which is very much [post-apocalyptic], then there's this one. I can't think of too many post-apocalyptic stories I've actually been in before.
“I think The Terminator is... I guess it's post-apocalyptic… Actually, it's not! There hasn't even been a bomb dropped then, I don't think I've ever even been in one before – The Divide is the first one I've ever done.
“Maybe Aliens was post-apocalyptic, and Terminator 2 certainly had that post-apocalyptic feel to it but, y'know I got lucky enough to work early in my career with Cameron and he had that kind of vision and works on a lot of that kind of genre, certainly with Aliens and The Abyss there was a nuclear element to the story.
“And I was playing these rough-and-tumble military guys and I do think that you do get typecast a little bit in this business if you're not real careful and I ended up going from that to Navy Seals, The Rock… I must have a streak of crazy in me too. I'm either the military hero or the crazy guy, the guy who's lost it.
“So, I think that… I don't know if I play military guys better than anyone else but I know that I play crazy people pretty well [laughs]. So I ended up on things like The Abyss and The Fan, and Mickey, the character in The Divide, he's pretty crazy at the beginning of the movie, and I think it's just a matter of people seeing you do something, they think you do a good job and they have a project that's similar and they think 'Maybe we could get Michael to play crazy for us' or 'Maybe we can get him to put on a uniform for us.'
On Terminator Salvation…
“I didn't see it. I quit watching Terminator after 2, I quit watching Aliens after 2.
“I don't know why I never got round to watching Terminator 3 or 4… I actually saw a little bit of 4 in my hotel room once. I actually watched about 30 minutes of it and I just turned it off because I didn't know what was going on, bombs were blowing up all over the place, there was no dialogue, everybody was shooting everybody.., I was like, ‘Ah man, this is not for me.’
“And, y'know the Aliens sequels... they cut me out of the Aliens sequel so I was like 'Fuck you' to them, I'm not going to watch them again. I booed the Aliens sequels…
“Alien 3 - when the previews came on in the movie theatres I was booing that. People think that 'It's the Alien sequel so it'll just be great' but they forget it was Ridley Scott and James Cameron, y'know? And with Terminator it was James Cameron, James Cameron...
“You just don't follow those guys. You really don't. You've really got to be good to follow those those guys… And Fincher ended up being a great filmmaker but his Aliens was not, I don't think, as good as the rest of them.”
"That one I'm interested in, because it's Ridley Scott. That one I'm very interested in. Ridley's a guy that'll do something interesting and he's been making interesting, wonderful movies all his life.
“I mean when you go back and look at something like Blade Runner, and from Blade Runner on he's just made great films."
On almost appearing in Avatar…
“Yeah, we talked about it for a while and when Jim cast Sigourney he felt that there was too much of a connection between Sigourney and I from Aliens and went with Stephen Lang, who's a good friend of mine - I did Tombstone with him and I was really happy Stephen got the role because he's been around for a long time and he never really got a lot of recognition…
“Well, I would have been happy if I got the role, but if it wasn't me, I'm glad it was Stephen because he's been around, he's a great actor and he's never really got a lot of recognition so good for him.
“And I would work with James on washing his car, y'know? He's just a brilliant, fun guy to be around.”
On being inspired by directors…
“I directed a movie recently called The Victim, and Robert Rodriguez kind of inspired me to do that and I have this quote that I was quoting a long time saying that Robert Rodriguez inspired me to direct this movie.
“And one day a journalist said, 'Well, what about Cameron, didn't he inspire you?’ And I said, 'Well Robert Rodriguez inspired me to make this movie but I'd take a bullet for Jim Cameron' and that's pretty true because Jim has kinda given me and my family the opportunity to live a really great life and the opportunity to play some great roles and get some great recognition.
“He jumpstarted a career that was doing OK, but I probably would've ended up on some silly television series or something like that, and I really owe a lot to him and I really would take a bullet for him.”
The Divide opens in cinemas on 20 April 2012, and it will be available on Video on Demand from 30 April, before appearing on DVD and Download from 14 May.
For more info on the film, visit The Divide’s Hubsite.
Read our The Divide review.