Actor Michael Biehn had already hit pay dirt with James Cameron in 1984 when the actor impressed critics and audiences with his portrayal of the time traveling soldier Kyle Reese in The Terminator. Cameron and Biehn's teaming in Aliens was a natural, although it didn't happen until the film was already into production. James Remar, best known for his performance as the escaped killer Ganz in 48HRS, left the project after disagreements with Cameron just days into filming, so Biehn jumped into the role of Hicks. Biehn, who's more recent credits include The Rock and The Art Of War, explains "They called me very late in the game; Gale called me up and asked me if I would come in and play this role. I had read the script two or three months earlier, and I liked it a lot. So, when they called and asked me if I wanted to do Aliens, I just said, 'Absolutely, yes.' I got on the plane three days later and was shooting a couple of days afterward."
"I was floored by how good the script was," he continued. "I just couldn't believe that Jim could come up with something as good as it is. The people who liked Alien will like this picture because it just takes off from where Alien ended, and explains a lot about the Aliens -- and it's a different kind of movie. Alien was more of a suspenseful picture. They were always looking for the Alien. And it was scary because you knew it was out there someplace. In Aliens, we find 'em! It's dealing with them when we find 'em. So, theirs was a suspense picture and ours is an action picture, and even though they're two completely different kinds of films, if you liked Alien and it's characters, themes and ideas, I think you'll find the story here holds up very well. There aren't any missing pieces, so someone who saw Alien would say, 'Wait a second, how did that happen?' It falls into place very well."
As the alien onslaughter begins, Corporal Hicks is forced to take command of the remains of the Marine unit, while developing a close bond with the pumped-up Ripley. Biehn, prior to his teamings with Cameron, was primarily a screen bad guy, such as in the title of The Fan. Aliens was a good change of pace for the performer. "He's just a steady hand," Biehn said, describing Hicks. "He's the calming effect on the group. There are many different personalities, that are all sort of clashed, and this is a guy who has been through it a few times. He has been in a few firefights, seen a few aliens, and 'stomped a few bugs,' as they say -- thats what the Marines call the Aliens, 'bugs'. He has been around a while, and he takes things very slowly, and listens to people, and he's the one that you can always count on in a bad situation, he'll be the one who doesn't lose his head; really a quintessential hero."
Biehn has worked closely with Cameron on a number of occasions, including in The Abyss and a cameo in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and describes the filmmaker as "a brilliant man. Jim has an incredible drive as far as making movies goes. One good thing about Jim is that he loves working in film so much, and he loves other people knowing about film. He's very open as far as actors seeing dailies or coming into the editing room. He just loves to talk about film; he's like a teacher who loves telling you about it, explaining camera, lenses and shots. I knew it would be a very interesting thing, just to watch him make a movie." *
Paul Reiser is probably best known for his regularly Emmy-nominated comic role on Mad About You, but Aliens gave him one of his few dramatic roles as Carter Burke, the Company executive who is willing to kill Ripley and the Marines to make himself a nice profit. Burke seemed to be a decent guy for about half the film, but eventually his true colors came out. "I was surprised how early in the film the audience catches on to me," Reiser admitted. "One was that they didn't like me period, because I was the Company man. I said to Ripley, 'I know you don't like me, but I'm an okay guy, though I know you think we're all scum of the Earth.' "
While audiences may quickly have realised that Burke was a sleazy yuppie scum, Reiser believes few viewers would guess his murderous capacity. "I wanted to delay, for as long as possible, any revlations about Burke. I tried to soften up a couple of phrases that he used that really smacked of agent-ism. When I first met James Cameron, he said, 'Think of Burke as a guy who was raised in the forest by a pack of William Morris agents.' It was funny, but it was true -- you see these 23-year- old agents and you wonder where they learned that stuff."
Reiser, who made his debut in Barry Levinson's wonderful comic-drama Diner, knew early on that Aliens had a certain spark that was going to get the public's attention. "When you read the script, it just jumped off the page. It was like no other script I had ever read. We knew that this movie was going to be seen by millions and millions of people, that every take was for eternity. That makes you work harder and the hardships easier to take. I've gone back and re-read the script, and you know what was meant when the script would say, 'Smart Gun.' I couldn't visualize the technology, but it was all there."
Unfortunately for fans, the final appearance of Burke was removed from the theatrical cut. Ripley, on way to rescuing Newt, comes across the cocooned Burke who begs her for death. "That was one of two scenes in the film that I dreaded doing, the other one being when I run through the hall and encounter the alien. Getting cocooned was also horrible. They kept putting this goop in your hair, and nobody knew what that was. You would go to makeup and they would say, 'Oh, that's hair,' and you would go to hair and they would say, 'Oh, that's props.' You would go to props and they would say, 'We don't know anything about it, try putting hot water on it.' You do that, it would get bigger, and you put on cold water, it would get harder. I ended up walking around looking like Jerry Lewis for days."
Although Reiser missed the final moments of Burkes life in the picture, he understood why the deletion occurred. "The main reason it wasn't in the film was that it slowed down the chase," Reiser admitted. "At that point, Cameron has your adrenalin pumping and Ripley's on her way to find the kid. To stop, even for 20 seconds to have an encounter with me, would have slowed her down. Also, I don't think what I wanted to do with the character would have worked. I don't think I could've gotten any sympathy from the audience. They would have said, 'Ordinarily, we would like a mercy killing, but not for you. You should die slower.' " *