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Aliens: The Colonial Marines
We trace the fate of Aliens' commandos
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Dwayne Hicks Dwayne Hicks
Actor: Michael Biehn
Rank: Corporal
Lasts: Until sometime before the start of Alien3
"I always look at Alien as being a horror movie, kind of like walking through a funhouse, and every so often something pops out and scares you. Jim changed it into an action movie, a rollercoaster ride," says Michael Biehn, looking back down the years to the Nostromo, planet LV-426 and shooting at Pinewood Studios. The memories conjure up a broad grin: "They were some great times."

Aliens was probably the best experience I've ever had.

Aliens, arguably the film for which he is best known, first came into Biehn's life when he visited James Cameron during the tough-as-hell edit on The Terminator. The director had been up for 24 hours at least when Biehn found him at his desk scribbling furiously, blindly feeding himself out of a bag of Cheetos. "Fancy some lunch?" chanced the future Corporal Hicks. "No!" snapped back Cameron. "Turns out he was writing the treatment for Aliens in any available gap in the editing of The Terminator - he didn't stop," marvels Biehn of his great friend. "The energy of the guy is unbelievable."

While the experience of working on Aliens remains Biehn's fondest professional memory, he wasn't first choice for the part. He received the fateful call when James Remar vacated the role only a week into filming. The reason given are those elusive "artistic differences" with Cameron, although two from-behind shots of Remar do remain in the movie. When Biehn answered the phone, it was producer Gale Anne Hurd on the line with just a curt, "Is your passport in order?" He didn't hesitate for a moment: "I was there, man. There wasn't a question in the world. Plus, I didn't have to put up with three weeks of bullshit Marine training (by former members of the SAS). I just stepped on set. Aliens was probably the best experience I've ever had."

Despite James Cameron's reputation as the toughest of taskmasters - "He's just a brilliant filmmaker and has lived quite a life" - Biehn can only wax lyrical about the shoot. Of Al Pacino dropping in on the set, since he was working next-door on the ill-fated Revolution. Of the peculiar props being carted into the Little Shop Of Horrors production also taking up stages at Pinewood. And of taking R&R with his fellow Marines at the local Holiday Inn, especially Bill Paxton. "It was just fun to be part of an ensemble," he laughs, "but Paxton and I did much of the hanging out."

In fact, it's testament to Cameron's gifts as a writer that the Colonial Marines are so well defined - led by the immortal pair Hicks and Hudson, each has a distinct personality. "Again, you have to give Jim the credit," Biehn says. "Bill and I had more to do than the others, but everyone stood out. Although I love Bill. He was so great in that movie, that excitable guy. I still hear video-games and stuff... I'll be walking by my son's room and hear quotes from Bill's dialogue: 'Game over, man! Game over!'"

James Remar
A rare glimpse of Hicks' first incarnation, James Remar
After enjoying a run as Cameron's go-to guy during the '80s, Biehn went on to star in a variety of projects, ranging from Tombstone and The Rock to William Friedkin's Jade. Once earmarked for superstardom, his profile has since lessened, but he continues to put out a healthy body of work, making a recent appearance in Robert Rodriguez's half of the Grindhouse double-bill, Planet Terror. The now 53 year-old Biehn also came within an inch of joining Cameron for his return to big budget sci-fi in Avatar, a role that ultimately went to Stephen Lang - who ironically had originally auditioned for Hicks. "We spent quite a bit of time talking about Avatar, but once he went with Sigourney he felt it was too much to have me in there as well."

If there is one downside to his time as Hicks, it is the knowledge he was killed off pre-credits in Alien3. One of his greatest disappointments, he went as far as denying the use of his likeness for a proposed mannequin shot of Hicks, post-Chestburster. "Once I found out I was like, 'Well, fuck them!'"

Biehn claims Fox discovered a plastic cast of his face left over from The Terminator, and built the mannequin, before a tip-off from Raffaella De Laurentiis (producing daughter of Dino, who was working with Biehn at the time), who had caught a glimpse. Biehn's agent was straight on the phone...

"I demanded there were no shots of Hick's dead body laying there with his chest burst open. After all the time and effort I put into it... I just thought that was not the way for Hicks to go out. I've never even seen it. But I don't think there's any doubt that the first two Alien movies are the great ones. They haven't dated. Hell, Aliens looks better than the Alien films that came after it."

Dietrich, Aliens
Actor: Cynthia Scott
Rank: Corporal / Medic (with flamethrower)
Lasts: Until the Alien sneak attack at 01:11:02
Dietrich is the first of the Marines to check out... or is she? "I am not!" protests Scott. "I get grabbed, and later they realise I'm in a cocoon!" When she was cast, she was forging a career as a singer, so a sci-fi action movie was a culture shock: "Every piece of me hurt. I trained like mad, and they had us taking supplements like extract of spleen. Jenette (Goldstein, Vasquez) was a competitive bodybuilder, she was what I aspired to."

Scott left acting some years ago, and is now a sculptor, currently with installations in two different cities. "Every art has its own measure of tedium, like downtime on set," she explains. "But repetitions in sculpture are meditative. To make what's in your head is as close as you can get to Jim Cameron!"

Carter Burke Carter Burke
Actor: Paul Rieser
Rank: Weyland-Yutani suit and total bastard
Lasts: Until the Alien attack at 01:53:24
They all got their weapons and gear, and I got a stupid suit.

The affable Paul Reiser had more experience as a comedian than as an actor when he was cast as the odious Carter Burke. "I'd done both Beverly Hills Cops, big films, but I was only a tiny part," he recalls. "Aliens was a whole new level that made me understand what it's like to be in a hit."

As a non-Marine, Reiser wasn't required to participate in the long hours of fitness training, but laments missing out on decking out his character. "They all got their weapons and gear, and I got a stupid suit - 200 years in the future and all we've come up with is the collar goes up. And I got a Filofax to carry into battle. I had to have something!"

He chuckles at the idea that everything in Aliens is his fault. "I was just following the corporate manifest, but at the premiere my sister punched me in the stomach. I thought, 'This doesn't bode well for the public.'"

Reiser fronted the sitcom Mad About You for years, but since the birth of his youngest, has been kind of retired. He's had a new idea, though: "A show about a guy who should be doing something, but is happy not doing anything."

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