For many of us who grew up watching 80s classics like The Terminator and Aliens, their star Michael Biehn was one of the coolest leading men of his generation. As such, it’s always seemed a bit sad and surprising that he didn’t go on to become anywhere near as big a star as fans expected at the time. Nevertheless, after more than 40 years in the business, Biehn remains a compelling and charismatic actor – and here are some things you probably didn’t know about him.
20. To prepare for his role in The Terminator, he learned about the Warsaw ghettos
To develop his performance as Sgt Kyle Reese, The Terminator’s time-travelling soldier who arrives from a post-apocalyptic era, Biehn turned to history. Specifically, the actor researched the freedom fighters who resisted Nazi rule in the Warsaw ghettos during the Second World War. “There was a group of men and women that fought the Germans from the sewer systems,” Biehn says.
“Coming out of that mind frame of being a rat,” he continues, “and this incredible force is coming at you that you had no chance of ever stopping. I kept reading about their accounts and how it was all about survival. So that’s what I based my character on,” he concludes. “Those fighters in Warsaw.” This was surely instrumental in making Biehn’s performance as Reese one of the most memorable aspects of the 1984 sci-fi thriller.
19. His characters die 44% of the time
While we tend to associate Biehn with tough-guy hero roles, he does have a habit of not making it all the way to the end of the movie. Biehn has died a grand total of 32 times across all his film and TV appearances. In any appearance, Biehn’s characters have a 44.1% chance of dying, according to data compiled by Buzz Bingo.
Perhaps surprisingly, that means Biehn is even more likely to die in a movie than Sean Bean, whose chances are calculated at 42.3%. Still, it’s not entirely unexpected given that Biehn’s breakthrough role – Reese in The Terminator – sees him killed before the end. Biehn’s characters also wound up dead in The Abyss, Tombstone, The Rock, Cherry Falls and Planet Terror, amongst others.
18. He says he would “stand on my head buck naked” for James Cameron
Biehn said in a recent interview, “People ask what’s the biggest break you ever got? It wasn’t that I got The Terminator, but that I met Jim Cameron.” Indeed, for the bulk of the 1980s, you couldn’t really think of Michael Biehn without thinking of James Cameron. Biehn appeared in all three of the writer-director’s first Hollywood movies: 1984’s The Terminator, 1986’s Aliens and 1989’s The Abyss.
Unfortunately, aside from his deleted cameo in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Biehn has yet to make an appearance in another Cameron movie. Still, Biehn has nothing but respect for his old taskmaster, once remarking, “I’d stand on my head buck naked in a movie for Jim Cameron if he asks me to, you know?” If reports are to be believed, we may be seeing Biehn reunite with Cameron soon in the upcoming Avatar sequels.
17. He could have played Spider-Man
In the early 90s, Biehn’s frequent collaborator James Cameron started working on a big-screen adaptation of Spider-Man. As Biehn was Cameron’s main go-to actor at the time, naturally he was linked to the project. Early on, it was thought that Biehn may have been a contender to play the Marvel superhero himself. However, this would have been a bit of a departure from the comics, in which Spidey is usually around high school age, whereas Biehn was already in his mid-30s at the time.
As the project was developed further, Biehn was instead linked to one of the key villains of the piece, Sandman (later played by Thomas Haden Church in 2007’s Spider-Man 3). Alas, Cameron’s Spider-Man never got off the ground, although the filmmaker’s strange, dark take on the material has become the stuff on fan legend, and the eventual 2002 Sam Raimi movie drew on some aspects of Cameron’s treatment.
16. He believes AI could mean “the beginning of the end of the human race”
In The Terminator, artificial intelligence triggers a nuclear war, laying waste to humanity. Biehn later found a stark warning in this film’s message – that AI must not be allowed to govern our lives. He has since called for better regulations to prevent people from abusing the power of AI, while making a speech at the 35-year anniversary screening of The Terminator in LA.
During a Q&A session, Biehn gestured at the many smartphones in the audience. The actor declared, “It starts with that phone you’re all carrying. That’s the beginning of the end of the human race. I think it’s coming a lot faster than people realise.” Biehn concluded, “And I think if I live to be as old as my mother, I’ll be able to look back at this little talk that we had and say, ‘See!'” (We’ll let you be the judge as to how serious he was being.)
15. He nearly played Colonel Quaritch in Avatar
Biehn hadn’t worked with James Cameron since 1989’s The Abyss when the writer-director offered him a role in a new movie. Cameron offered his old collaborator the role of Colonel Quaritch, the bad guy in Avatar. For a full nine months, Biehn was under the impression that the role was his, and he was getting ready to play it.
In the interim, however, Cameron decided he wanted Biehn’s Aliens co-star Sigourney Weaver in Avatar. The writer-director feared that reuniting the Aliens stars in Avatar would prove distracting to the audience. Biehn subsequently got the boot, and the role of Quaritch went to Stephen Lang – but Biehn is reported to have a role in the upcoming Avatar sequels.
14. He “fell in love” with Linda Hamilton whilst shooting The Terminator
1984’s The Terminator may have been Michael Biehn’s fifth movie role, but for a global audience it marked the true beginning of his career. The Alabama-born actor, aged 28 at the time, was perfectly cast as Kyle Reese, the soldier sent back from the future to protect Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Conner from Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s dreaded cyborg assassin. A vital aspect of the story was Reese’s love for Sarah – and, if you think Biehn does a good job conveying this, you might want to know that it might not be 100% acting.
Biehn admitted recently, “I fell in love with [Linda Hamilton] when I made the movie.” The actor clarifies, “I was married. She was married. It wasn’t like we hooked up or anything. But she is just lovely and funny. She was beautiful and sexy.” Biehn clearly wasn’t the only person on-set to feel this way, as writer-director James Cameron would marry Hamilton more than a decade later (although their marriage only lasted two years, from 1997 to 1999).
13. He was a last-minute replacement for James Remar in Aliens
Michael Biehn had first heard about the role of Corporal Dwayne Hicks in Aliens whilst James Cameron was in post-production on The Terminator. Sadly for Biehn, James Cameron decided he wanted to take a chance on a new leading man, and cast James Remar (The Warriors, 48 Hrs.) as Hicks. However, a week into the shoot of the 1986 Alien sequel, Remar was fired after being arrested for possession of drugs.
Biehn recalls he then got a call from producer Gale Anne Hurd to offer him the part: “Before she finished the sentence, I said, ‘Hell yes!'” The turnaround was extremely fast: “I got that call on a Friday morning. [By] Monday morning, I was on the set in full makeup and wardrobe.” Biehn also had to work hard to catch up as the rest of the cast had undergone weeks of military training to prepare. Plus, as filming was already underway, the film still contains a few shots from behind of James Remar as Hicks.
12. He earned almost as much from his ‘corpse’ appearing in Alien 3 as he did from starring in Aliens
Not unlike many fans of Aliens, Michael Biehn was not happy on learning he’d been written out of 1992 sequel Alien 3. Biehn shared the sentiment of many fans that it felt like a betrayal for Aliens survivor Hicks (plus Carrie Henn’s Newt) to be unceremoniously killed off. The actor was all the more furious when he heard that the producers of Alien 3, without asking him about it, had made a replica of his deceased character, with a freshly hatched monster climbing out of his chest.
A new legal precedent had been set when actor Crispin Glover took action against the makers of 1989’s Back to the Future Part II for using his likeness without permission. As such, Biehn demanded payment from the makers of Alien 3 for using his likeness in the sequel, and they removed the chest-bursting scene. Biehn’s fee for this was nearly the same as the money he made for playing the role of Corporal Hicks in Aliens.
11. He once threatened to beat up director William Friedkin
Biehn’s frequent collaborator James Cameron is known for having a fiery temperament, but that’s nothing compared to director William Friedkin. The director, best known for 1971’s Oscar-winning The French Connection and the 1974 horror classic The Exorcist, cast Biehn in his 1987 thriller Rampage. Biehn confirms that William Friedkin’s reputation for being aggressive is accurate: “I love [Friedkin] to death, but you get him on a set and he turns into the devil.”
However, it seems Friedkin met his match in Biehn, after the director called into his office to angrily berate the actor over a behind-the-scenes issue. Biehn recalls, “he puts his hand on my shoulder and I turned and I knocked his f***ing hand off my shoulder and I said ‘If you ever talk to me like that again, I’m going to kick your f***ing teeth down your throat.'” After that, Biehn says Friedkin “never gave me anymore f***ing problems.” It doesn’t seem to have soured their relationship, as Biehn went on to work with Friedkin again on 1995’s Jade.
10. He shot a scene for Terminator 2: Judgment Day which was deleted from the theatrical cut
To date, 1989’s The Abyss marks Michael Biehn’s last fully credited appearance in a film from writer-director James Cameron. However, Biehn did return to shoot a single scene reprising the role of Kyle Reese in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Naturally, his appearance was part of a dream sequence for Linda Hamilton’s Sarah, as Reese died in the climax of The Terminator. Unfortunately for Biehn, the sequence was deemed extraneous and did not appear on the cut of T2 that was released to cinemas.
Happily, Terminator 2: Judgment Day was such a huge success (box office takings of $520.8 million, making it the biggest hit of 1991) that James Cameron was allowed to release an extended special edition on VHS, LaserDisc and later DVD. In this longer version of the film, Biehn’s previously excised cameo is restored for fans to enjoy.
9. His first film role saw him get punched by John Travolta in Grease
Michael Biehn got his debut film role in one of the most beloved big-screen musicals of the last 50 years – Grease. However, you’d be forgiven for not realising the actor was in it at all, as his name isn’t listed in the credits, and it’s a bit of a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it part. Michael Biehn was cast in the 50s-set high school musical comedy as, appropriately enough, a character named Mike.
He’s one of the preppy good boys, and while he doesn’t get to say much he appears in a number of scenes. Most notably, Biehn’s Mike has a key role to play in the scene when Danny, played by John Travolta, decides to try out for Rydell High’s sports teams. Biehn is the basketball player who gets punched in the stomach by an unsportsmanlike Danny. Biehn had in fact been a keen basketball player in his youth. He also appears on the court in The Art of War and Coach.
8. His part in Tombstone is his favourite role of all time
Despite his close association with James Cameron, Biehn’s personal favourite of all the films he’s made was not one he made with Cameron. The actor has instead declared 1993’s fact-based western Tombstone, in which he played the villainous Johnny Ringo, to be his own top pick from his filmography. This despite the fact that Tombstone was a famously troubled production, with original director Kevin Jarre replaced by George P Cosmatos – although it’s widely claimed that leading man Kurt Russell was the film’s true director.
Biehn denies ever having been directed by Russell himself, but speaks highly of his co-stars: “you don’t get any prima donnas on Tombstone when you’ve got Sam Elliot and Bill Paxton and Kurt Russell and Kilmer and everybody. You name it and you’ve got all of those people on the set and nobody wants to be the a**hole, nobody doesn’t come out of their trailer.” Biehn also says that Kilmer was entirely in character the whole time they worked together: “People ask me what it’s like to work with Val Kilmer. I don’t know. Never met him. Never shook his hand. I know Doc Holliday, but I don’t know [Kilmer].”
7. He’s joining the Star Wars universe in The Mandalorian season 2
Not content with being a key player in The Terminator and Alien franchises, Biehn is poised to join the biggest Sci-Fi franchise of them all: Star Wars. It was announced recently that the actor will be joining the cast of Disney+ series The Mandalorian for its second season. Biehn is one among a number of big name stars joining the cast of the hit show, others including Rosario Dawson and Jamie Lee Curtis.
Little is known about the character Biehn will portray on The Mandalorian, but it’s understood he will be a bounty hunter. This is by no means Biehn’s first dalliance with the small screen, as his list of TV credits is roughly equal to his film credits. Some of Biehn’s notable TV work includes a stint on Hill Street Blues, a series adaptation of The Magnificent Seven (1998-2000), and guest appearances on Law & Order and Criminal Minds.
6. He’s been married three times
Michael Biehn got married for the first time 1980 to actress Carlene Olsen, when he was 24 years old. The couple had twin sons named Devon and Taylor in 1984 (a big year for Biehn, as that was also when The Terminator came out). However, the couple divorced in 1987, and the following year Biehn married Gina Marsh.
Biehn and Marsh also had two sons, Caelan (born 11th April 1992) and Alexander (born 19th March 2003). After splitting with Marsh, Biehn began seeing actress and filmmaker Jennifer Blanc; the couple are also filmmaking partners. Biehn and Blanc-Biehn wed in 2015, and have one child, another son named Dashiell, born the same year.
5. He was best buds with Bill Paxton
Another actor who got his big break in movies thanks to director James Cameron is the sadly missed Bill Paxton.Like Biehn, Paxton appeared in both The Terminator and Aliens, and the two actors formed a lifelong friendship while working together. (Pre-Terminator, they co-starred in 1983’s The Lords of Discipline.) After production wrapped on Aliens in 1986, the press team were highly cautious and did not invite any of the actors to the early screenings.
But Biehn and Paxton were determined to see their work on the big screen, so they snuck into a New York press screening, hiding in the projectionist’s booth. Biehn later recalled they were ecstatic with how the film turned out: “Bill was jumping up and down, and I was jumping up and down and [we were] high-fiving each other.” The two actors would share the screen again in 1990’s Navy SEALs and 1993’s Tombstone, before Paxton sadly passed away in 2017.
4. Starring in Navy SEALs permanently damaged his career
Michael Biehn’s work with James Cameron ensured he was a familiar face to cinema audiences – but sadly he didn’t enjoy similar success with other directors. Biehn’s career took a hit when he took leading roles in two films which flopped badly in the early 90s. The first of these was 1990’s Navy SEALs, an action-adventure in which Biehn took top billing alongside Charlie Sheen.
Widely derided by critics, Navy SEALs (which Biehn has since declared to be “the worst experience of my life”) barely made a dent at the box office, grossing a mere $25 million worldwide. Next, Biehn took the lead in Timebomb, a 1991 Sci-Fi thriller that went straight to video in most territories, and K2, a survivalist drama which made a mere $3 million at the box office. From that point on, Biehn tended to be cast largely in smaller supporting roles in such 90s movies as Tombstone, Jade, Crash and The Rock.
3. He nearly starred in Lethal Weapon and a host of other action films
Michael Biehn had the good fortune to star in a few of the best-loved films of the 80s and 90s. However, it’s hard not to feel bad for the actor when you go over the list of roles he was considered for, but didn’t get. Biehn was a contender for leading roles in such beloved 80s action hits as Lethal Weapon, Tango & Cash and They Live.
Then in the 90s, Biehn was passed over for the roles that went to Patrick Swayze in Point Break and Keanu Reeves in Speed. This losing streak has continued in recent years, as Biehn auditioned but was passed over for the title roles in Mad Max: Fury Road and Dredd. In addition, Kevin Costner beat him to the role of Jonathan Kent in Man of Steel, and Kurt Russell beat him to the role of Ego in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
2. He’s also a writer, director and producer
As well as clocking up over 100 acting credits across his career, Michael Biehn has also done his share of work behind the camera. 2010 saw Biehn try his hand at writing and directing for the first time with low-budget action thriller The Blood Bond, in which he also starred. This proved to be an unhappy experience for Biehn, who fell out with the producers and was not given final cut; he has since distanced himself from the film.
Following this, Biehn wrote, directed and starred in grindhouse-style thriller The Victim, co-starring and produced by his then-girlfriend Jennifer Blanc. In the years since, Biehn has served as producer and executive producer on several low-budget independent horror movies. Biehn has also appeared as an actor in some of these films, including 2013’s The Night Visitor, 2014’s Psychopath and Hidden in the Woods, and the upcoming Killer Weekend.
1. He values time with his children more than superstardom
Biehn seems largely at peace with the fact that he never quite hit the same heights of big-screen success as his contemporaries. The actor reflects, “People always talk about me being an ’80s star. I was not an ’80s star. Bruce Willis was an ’80s star. Tom Cruise was an ’80s star. Schwarzenegger and Stallone. Mel Gibson. Those guys were making $20 million [a picture]. I never even got $1 million. I kind of liked it that way.”
Biehn says, “I have five boys and [it] was always important to me that I was going to be closer to them than I was to the movie business. The amount of movies Bruce Willis makes, I don’t see how you can live a normal life where you see your kids all the time, you’re taking them to school and baseball practice and you’re coaching their teams.”