In 1979 he was Vermin. In 2006 he’s a news anchor in the Hudson Valley of New York State, living happily with his family. Terry Michos is going to be coming back to Coney Island tonight to relive some of the excitement of The Warriors at the special Original Alamo Rolling Roadshow presentation of that classic fantastic gang movie.
One of the interesting things about the making of The Warriors is how on the fly director Walter Hill did things. The character of The Fox was supposed to be the big love interest for Mercy, but the chemistry wasn’t there so his character was killed off. Michael Becks’ character of Swan was written into the love story instead (check out my interview with Deborah Van Valkenburgh in part 3 of this series for more behind the scenes stuff on that). Michos understood how fluid things were, so he took the one note role of Vermin and pumped him up with humor, and ended up with a bigger role.
For more about tonight’s screening of The Warriors (and by the way, if you’re in New York City consider this notice that you must go. It’ll be cooler at Coney), click here.
Q: It’s been a couple of decades since The Warriors came out and yet it’s still so popular. Why is that?
Michos: I can’t figure it out. I don’t mean that because the film isn’t good – it’s intriguing to me because I guess at some level there’s an innate side to people that just like the camaraderie and the battle against the odds. And of course it’s a very visual film, and today kids are very visual in terms of what they like. When The Warriors came out it was compared to A Clockwork Orange, but it was a little ahead of its time in terms of its style, in terms of its slow motion. Walter Hill was the director and he was a protégé of Sam Peckinpah, and Peckinpah did The Wild Bunch with that slow motion.
I work in a news room and I’m 52 years old. [My coworkers], when The Warriors video game came out – they’re all 25, 30, 35, and they’re quoting lines from it. They have pictures of The Warriors and when I walk by they’ll often hit something on their computer with one of Vermin’s lines. It’s funny.
Q: You mentioned Walter Hill. He’s one of the great directors, but he’s also one of the most intense guys to work with. What was your experience like?
Michos: We were so young – I guess most of us hadn’t done a film. I think Michael Beck had done a film. Most of us had done some Broadway; I had done Grease on Broadway. I know Deborah Van Valkenburg had done Hair on Broadway and others had done different types of things. We didn’t have a lot of directors to compare to. His intensity was basically inward and smoldering. He would never yell at us. He would use the ADs to yell at us – or not yell at us but get things moving. Frank Marshall at the time, the big producer, he was one of the associate producers on that. They were all really pro; we never saw them be negative or yell at us at any time. It was always the AD. Walter would come in and laugh with us. He didn’t talk a lot; he was a man of few words. But if you wanted to talk about changes you wanted to make he’d always be open, and he’d always have this smile. He’d walk around with a toothpick in his mouth. He didn’t talk a lot to us, but always friendly and would laugh. Never intense in that way where you felt that there was tension on the set and we couldn’t do our work.
Q: Looking back at that period, when you were shooting a lot on the streets of New York at night, what was the most challenging scene? What was the most difficult logistically and emotionally?
Michos: In terms of emotions, there wasn’t really deep emotional stuff! [laughs] We had to give lines on cue, which is a challenge for an actor. The challenge for the actor was to deliver these one liners out of nowhere in the context of what they’re trying to do and give it some meaning and intensity. Often Walter would say, ‘Fix this line, change it,’ and you’d have to think for fifteen seconds and do it.
In terms of logistics I think the Park scene, shot in Riverside Park but which was supposed to be in the Bronx, that was a logistical challenge for the assistant director. I remember one of the ADs, I don’t need to mention his name, was on the set with us for a long time and doing a terrific job, but once they got to the big crowd scenes I know they brought in some other ADs who were more used to that. And they actually offered raffles to these guys – some of them were gang members.
Q: Yeah, I heard that those guys were gang members.
Michos: Not all of them, but a lot of them. I remember when we were first walking through the crowd in our make-up and our coiffed hair, and these guys would just look at us. We would say to them, ‘No, we’re just actors, man, tell us what it’s really like out there.’ We weren’t trying to pretend, we knew better than to play that role. Then they really loosened up and the scowls sort of went away.
There was another time when we were down in Brooklyn shooting a scene that didn’t make the cut, and we were walking down the street – it wasn’t that scene you see with the Warriors walking in Coney at night, it was another street. When we started, it was quiet. And by the end of that hour and a half of shooting there were literally thousands of people lining the street and hanging from the windows, shouting and yelling. They just took us off of there, we just packed up and left. It was just amazing.
One of the big challenges we had – and I know a lot of the actors will laugh about this – was to just not get fat! We were shooting all night and in the middle of the night they would roll in these huge spreads. It was Heineken beer and six different choices of buffets. You’re not on set all the time, so you’re sitting in the trailer and eating like a horse then you sleep in the day.
Q: I’m assuming you’ve seen the new cut of the movie that Walter Hill put out on DVD – did you like the changes that he made?
Michos: I don’t know. If I say one thing… I just think Walter’s a great director. He had a real feel for what The Warriors was about. I don’t think the new film coming out will be able to match what he did.
Q: Why would anybody want to remake this film?
Michos: Because a lot of people are not creative today. If you look at many of the Broadway shows of today they’re revivals, and they’re popular. They can get a new generation of kids who love The Warriors – and the old generation – to come and watch it. My feeling is that the social times when that came out and the style in which it was done hit at the right time. If that film was done five years later I don’t think it would have had the effect it did.
And I have the sneaking suspicion that everything done today is over the top and that there isn’t much subtlety. I don’t think he director now – and I don’t know him – will have the restraint to let the film slowly unfold and to have the trust to have periods without action so that when the action happens it’s exciting.