A successful and widely cult-worshipped character actor for over forty years – most notably appearing in early James Cameron classics like Aliens, The Abyss, and The Terminator – Michael Biehn recently teamed up with wife, and equally prolific actress, Jennifer Blanc to write, produce, and direct gritty low-budget horror movie The Victim. Available this week on Blu-ray from Anchor Bay, The Victim is a harrowing and bloody homegrown murder mystery set in the depths of a secluded wilderness over the course of a single evening. In addition to their behind-the-scenes contributions, Blanc and Biehn co-star in the film, respectively portraying a wayward stripper pursued by violent thugs, and a shifty backwoods recluse attempting to conceal a dark past. Shot in twelve days on a miniscule budget, The Victim has been attracting overwhelmingly positive critical attention – as well it deserves, considering it’s a tightly paced, compelling, and satisfyingly raunchy slice of DIY cinema.
Blanc and Biehn talked with CraveOnline earlier this week about the project’s hyperdrive gestation period, its unexpectedly laudatory critical reaction, and the trials and tribulations of shooting nude scenes with your spouse.
CraveOnline: So the first question I had is just how the project got started – because I know you’ve both had really long, really successful careers just as performers, and I know Jennifer actually had some producer credits from earlier last year and a little before that. So what made you guys decide to branch out and do something else? Was it just the concept for this movie you really liked, or did you just want to spread your wings and explore some new territory creatively?
Michael Biehn: Well, this kind of just fell into place. I was doing The Divide [link] with Xavier Gens, and you know, I didn’t have anything afterwards, and somebody had approached me with – well actually, it was Ryan Honey, who plays the bad guy in the movie. He had approached me maybe six months before that, or a year before that, with some money, wanting to attach my name to a movie that he had some money on about Burt Lancaster. And I talked to him for awhile, and I said, you know, “I don’t think you’ve really got enough money to make a movie about Burt Lancaster.” He just didn’t have enough money, and it was supposed to be back during the years when he was a big circus guy, and anyway.
If you tear off his mustache, he really does look a lot like Burt Lancaster. But I told him like, if anything else came up, you know, I’d give him a call. Then when I was up in –
Jennifer Blanc: We were in Winnipeg doing the thing with The Divide with Xavier, and we saw somebody reading Rebel Without a Crew, right?
Michael Biehn: Yeah, yeah. I saw a kid reading Rebel Without a Crew, and that was a book that I’d read, and I’d worked with Robert [Rodriguez] and Quentin [Tarantino] on Grindhouse, and it kind of all came together for me as far as, kind of like, “Hey, I could maybe do something like that,” you know. Robert was always kind of very, you know, “Hey, just go ahead and go for it, Michael!” when I’d ask him about directing and stuff. So I vaguely remembered this script I had read about a year previously, and it was called The Victim, and it had a man who lived in the woods and it had a serial killer in it, but it was more like a Saw kind of a rip-off, kind of a – I don’t want to say rip-off, but sort of that type of story, where there’s like torture, torture, torture, torture.
Jennifer Blanc: It was more gore than what our – I mean, our movie has some gore, and some violence, and some torture, and some sex, but it was way more of a gory situation than what Michael wanted to do.
Michael Biehn: It was one of those movies that they were selling a couple years ago that were all doing so well, and they kind of quit making them. But anyway, it was a lot of work. It was a page-one rewrite, and I thought that I would take Rodriguez’s good advice and just go for it. So I called Ryan to ask about that money and see if he still had it, and he had some of it. He didn’t have all of it anymore, but he had some of it. And I asked him, I said, “Do you want to do this project? I’ll rewrite it, and you can play a bad guy.” And he read it, and I guess ended up confident in me that I could rewrite the script, and we started moving forward.
Jennifer Blanc: We did that in three weeks, so that was fast. [Laughs]
Michael Biehn: Yeah, so that went forward then. There are a lot of times you don’t really think that – people tell you that they have money, but they don’t have money. They ask if you want to be involved in a project or read a script, and they make you an offer, and you say yes, and then they run around and tell people they have Michael Biehn and a script, and can they get the money.
So a lot of these things fall apart, so I was expecting this thing to fall apart like most of them do, and then the checks started clearing, and I realized I needed to write something in a hurry! So I decided to do this little exploitation movie, and it was such a low budget, I didn’t have enough money for special effects make-up, I didn’t have enough money for digital effects, I couldn’t crash cars, I didn’t have enough money for bodies, people. I had Jennifer – who looks pretty good with her clothes off [Jennifer laughs] – and I asked her if she’d do it for me, and she said yeah. And I asked her if she had any friends who looked good with their clothes off who could do it, and –
Jennier Blanc: [Laughing] Danielle said she would, so –
Michael Biehn: Danielle Harris said she would do it. So I said, “Okay, well we’ve got the sex covered, that’s really the most important thing.” So a little bit of action, a little bit of torture, and then throw in a serial killer. Most of the action was the serial killer in the original script.
Jennifer Blanc: It was a little more blatant than it plays out in ours.
Michael Biehn: And so I wrote it in three weeks, and during that three week period of time we went into preproduction without a script, and basically cleaned up and thrashed together – going down to the Screen Actors’ Guild, their locations, doing everything you need to do when you’re in preproduction, which you usually put down spit when you’re in preproduction.
Jennifer Blanc: Yeah, he was driving us all crazy by the time –
Michael Biehn: Yeah, yeah. So we rolled into a twelve-day shoot, and that is really, in my mind, probably the most remarkable thing about the movie is that it looked as good as it does, and it only took twelve days to shoot. I’ve never shot anything before in my life that was less than twenty-four days. So we’re running around doing like thirty-five, forty-five set-ups a day, doing rehearsal, doing –
Yeah, I had no idea it was such a short shoot. That’s really amazing, because it does look really professionally done.
Jennifer Blanc: Oh, thank you! We just got a few reviews today that I sent over to Ed – he’s been sleeping all day, so I read some nice reviews today. But yeah, we’re super stoked because we’re in the circular for Best Buy, so we’ve been getting calls from people all day.
Michael Biehn: I’m so surprised by the attention that this little movie is getting. Like I said, we shot it in twelve days, it was made for absolutely nothing. When I was making it, I don’t know what I was thinking. I was thinking, “Okay, well sure, it’ll go on Netflix, and you know, that will kind of be it.” It never dawned on me that like, you know, this movie would end up getting reviewed by The New York Times, you know? I used to tell people, “Don’t worry about that, don’t worry about this,” you know, “No one will ever see it on the big screen,” you know? And it turned out people did see it on the big screen! A lot – a lot. We showed it about thirty times maybe on the big screen, all across the country, and wherever else we were trying to sell it, Europe and stuff.
So the attention that the movie has gotten is just absolutely overwhelming for me. I mean, it’s been building, so it hasn’t all hit me at once, but I tell you, if I had had any, any idea at all that this movie was going to garner the attention that it’s gotten is, you know. I don’t know what to say. We’re just amazed by it. Really amazed by it. But we’re most of all proud of the fact that we did it in twelve days and it looks like a movie.
Yeah, it definitely does, and it definitely has been getting a lot of really positive attention from mainstream press. Something else I wanted to ask about was – it mentions in a lot of the press material that it was inspired by grindhouse movies. I know you worked with Robert Rodriguez on Planet Terror. Was that kind of where the interest in that came from, or is that something you’ve been interested in for awhile? Like are there any specific –
Michael Biehn: It’s not so much that I was interested in it, when I talk about being inspired by Robert – Robert’s an inspiring guy, he’s a great guy, a great friend, and so on and so forth. He introduced me to, quote, “grindhouse movies,” and I mean, I don’t know what a grindhouse movie is, other than the fact that it’s low budget and it’s exploitation.
When I was a kid I used to go to the movies, double features in outdoor theaters, and my parents used to take us to see like, Cat On a Hot Tin Roof or something like that, with Elizabeth Taylor. And that started at eight o’clock. But at six o’clock, while we were still playing in the ditches down by the screen and stuff, and it wasn’t even dark yet, another movie would come on, and that would always be like, Connie Stevens and Vic Morrow or something like that. And that’s kind of the movie that we made – just low budget.
But the reason I made what’s described as a grindhouse movie is just out of necessity, of not having any money. I mean, when I tell you that I shot it in twelve days and you say, “Oh boy, that’s amazing, I didn’t know that!” you would have the same reaction if I told you how much money that was spent on it, which my wife won’t allow me to do, because the distributors don’t know how much it cost, and blah blah blah. It just really took off, and it’s really been a surprise. Never in a million years, when I started this project, did I think that it would do what it did.
I kind of gathered from looking at all the stuff that was online about it that a lot of the people you worked with on the film were people that you knew. Was it ever awkward at all? Because obviously the sexuality in the movie is pretty out there. Was it weird shooting any of those scenes, or was that comfortable for you?
Michael Biehn: Well, when you shoot a scene like that it’s never comfortable, where you’re taking you’re clothes off. I don’t think Jennifer’s mother or stepfather were on the set. My niece was on the set, there were a lot of people that we know. I mean, listen, I’m fifty-six years old, I mean nudity to me is not exactly like, “Oh my God, oh no, look, that person’s naked!” It’s just not that kind of a deal.
The interesting thing about that was that was the very first thing we shot. I actually hadn’t finished writing the script yet or started the next day’s work really, and so I said, “Well, let’s start with that.” So they did a set-up in the bedroom, and I came out, and Jennifer came out, and I just sort of dropped my towel and said, “Okay, well, let’s go,” you know. So the love scene, or sex scene, or whatever you want to call it, between Jennifer and I, was the very first thing that we shot. And then we did, like, the computer stuff, and then Jennifer in bed alone, and then we kind of crept up the hallway with me and Jennifer, and Ryan grabbing her, and then me kind of creeping up the hallway hearing her banging on the door, and then I think we got the door opening. And that was our first day of work.
So it was really kind of like, “Well, here you go, guys.” [Laughs] It’s always a little bit awkward, but you know, once you get your pants off for about two or three minutes, you kind of forget about it.
Obviously the main sex scene is with you guys, but as it weird at all shooting Jennifer in nude scenes with other people? Or you guys are just totally professional about it and it doesn’t matter.
Michael Biehn: No, no, it’s not at all. I was trying to get her to be more sexual in those situations – if you watch the behind-the-scenes, making-of video, and they show me directing some of the sex scenes and you can hear me kind of, you know, calling out to her – “Put your hand down there, Jennifer! Stick your hand down there! Get in there! That’s good, that’s good! Grab her tit!” [Laughs] So you know, that’s kind of how it is. I think Danny and Jennifer were a little bit more shy about the whole situation than I am, but you know. I’ve done so many of those in my life, where I was the naked one being told what to do. So I just don’t have a thing about nudity, it’s like, “Okay, well, everybody’s naked, and everybody has the same parts,” so it’s not really that embarrassing for me.
I actually really love that making-of video and the dynamic you guys seem to have. Because there’s other parts of that where you’re sort of arguing with each other a little bit, and she’s irritated, and then you’re like, “Well yeah, there you go, now you’ll be upset in the scene, ‘cause that’s how you’re supposed to play it.”
Michael Biehn: [Laughs] Yeah, that happened a lot. That happened a lot. She was really kind of one of the only ones who really gave it back to me, you know? I’m very passionate, and sometimes that turns into and sounds like anger, and it’s not per se. But Jennifer was the only one who really kind of yelled back at me, and then we’d get into it, really fighting, and it would create this certain mood where, by the time I had her in tears, it would work for the scene.
Do you feel like in general, having worked so much as a performer, you had a better vibe with the performers and were able to communicate better?
Michael Biehn: Yes, I did, but – well, yes, of course I did, and I think I work really well with actors, and I’m really good at writing and re-writing dialogue.
Jennifer Blanc: You’ve always been really good with giving me direction.
Michael Biehn: Yeah, I’ve always been somebody’s, like – I’ve always got some protégé on the set who I’m trying to help out and so on and so forth, and it’s always kind of fun, and I’m always kind of rewriting and changing stuff. So it’s just something I’ve been doing really all my life, but mostly just parts, you know, like a scene doesn’t work and I’ll rework a scene and rewrite a scene for a director. I had a lot of experience when I did – with Xavier Gens, he let us write a lot, so I ended up kind of writing that character myself.
I think that’s one of the things that I do as a director, because you have a lot of jobs to do as a director. Knowing where the camera is, how things are lit, you know. Performances, blocking, and everything in post. I think that’s more the area I’m strongest in is dialogue, and working with the actors. Sometimes they act and sometimes they overact. [Laughs]
Yeah, well definitely I think the performances in this are really solid, because for a production this size you kind of really need that to be believable or else the whole thing just doesn’t really fly.
Michael Biehn: Well I appreciate that you enjoyed the movie, and I appreciate that you enjoyed the performances because we all worked very hard on it, it was a lot of fun, and it is nice to have a group – I don’t know if you noticed, but if you go back and look at the credits, you’ll see that each person had like two or three different jobs that they were doing, you know? So very small crew, family and friends, and –
Jennifer Blanc: Yeah, so be careful if you come work on our next movie, because we will have you doing a lot of things. [Laughs]
Were either of you guys working on any other projects right now that you wanted to let our readers know about before we go?
Jennifer Blanc: Yeah, a couple things. One, in the next year we have something we’re working on with Xavier Gens called The Farm, and then early next year, before that, we’re hoping to do a remake of Hidden In the Woods with Patricio Valladares, so we are working on putting those together. What we do have in the can right now, that’s in post-production, is something called Treachery that Travis Romero of White Collar wrote and directed, and Michael starred in it, and we’ve got Sarah Butler in it, and Caitlin Keats – she’s in Kiss of the Damned, which just got picked up by Magnolia, and Chris Meyer, who’s also in Kiss of the Damned, and a young up-and-coming named Matthew Karause. And I play a supporting role in it, along with somebody that I used to be on Dark Angel with named Richard Gunn. We’ve got an actor named Christian Meoli in it, Tanya Newbould – what was the movie she was in that was so big last year, with Eric Balfour?
Michael Biehn: About the aliens.
Jennifer Blanc: Yeah, I can’t remember. [Editor’s Note: The film is Skyline.] But anyway, we have a really nice cast, and it’s more of a psychological drama, but we do have a lot of genre people in it. And Michael is screaming that it’s about a father who is f—-ing his son’s girlfriend and gets her pregnant, and they all get caught in a house over a weekend during a storm and are left there to deal with it.