There are several elements of Aliens that were designed to parallel the previous movie – motion trackers, vent sequences, and Aliens being propelled from airlocks were all amplifications of scenes and devices from Alien. Another parallel (completely serendipitous but no less interesting) was the behind-the-scenes loss of a pivotal cast member only days into shooting: Jon Finch as Kane in Alien, and James Remar as Hicks in the sequel.
The cast and crew have remained tight-lipped about Remar’s involvement and departure. The issue isn’t given much weight or coverage, if any, in the making of documentaries on the Quadrilogy and Anthology sets, and lips are generally sealed in interviews. The matter, if referred to, is usually brushed off as typical “creative differences” – but if so, then why the secrecy?
The truth is, the silence of the cast and crew owes more to respect for Remar’s privacy than for any unwillingness or inability to recall the events that led to his replacing by Cameron stalwart Michael Biehn. Remar commented to Starlog magazine in March 1986: “‘It [Aliens] was a four month commitment in a foreign country, which I was willing to make. Unfortunately, urgent matters at home required that I return to the States and attend to them. They got someone else, and I came home and took care of the problems, and moved on to Band of the Hand.”
It wasn’t until recently, when Remar himself commented more explicitly on the issue, that the reason for his firing became clear: “I had a terrible drug problem, but I got through it … I had a great career and personal life, and messed it up with a terrible drug habit.” In a podcast interview, Remar said of his Aliens experience: “I was initially cast as Corporal Hicks, and I was fired after a couple weeks of filming because I got busted for possession of drugs, and Michael Biehn replaced me.”
Remar didn’t just lose his job, but also his credibility with Alien series producer Walter Hill, who had directed Remar in The Warriors, and who likely landed him the audition for the Alien sequel. “Getting fired from Aliens alienated me from [Walter Hill] for twelve years,” Remar explained, “he didn’t hire me again for twelve years. And I know why – because I made him look bad. Y’know, it was fucked up.”
On the topic of his relationship with Cameron, Remar elucidated, “Y’know, I got to talk with Cameron over the years and I really love the guy. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to work with him again but, y’know, he said I would. And he expressed that, and knows that I’ve been sober all this time and I like what the guy does, I like him … It was an honour to get started, I just wasn’t focused and I fucked it up.”
“Jim asked me to train them, and the main thing I had to teach those guys was never point a weapon at somebody, and never walk around with your finger on the trigger. We use blanks, but they can do some damage. James Remar [before being replaced by Michael Biehn] blew a hole in Frank [Oz’s Little Shop of Horrors] set! With a shotgun!”
~ Al Matthews, Alien Experience interview.
Not much is known about Remar’s performance as Hicks, as no direct footage of him in the role has been released, and apparently, with Biehn’s arrival, Cameron and Biehn reworked the character slightly as Biehn was worried that Hicks may be compared to his Kyle Reese character from The Terminator. But where Reese is feral, alert, nightmare-scarred and even elegiac, Hicks is cool and collected, the platoon’s “rock of Gibraltar, who everyone looks up to,” though he can be prone to acting upon insult (such as when Burke refers to him as a grunt, or his quick decision to “ice” Burke after hearing about his machinations).
Likely, no footage of Remar and Weaver was ever filmed, as the Marines in the Hive were some of the first scenes to go before the camera, as Sigourney was finishing Half Moon Street at the beginning of Aliens’ production, and so non-Ripley scenes were bumped to the beginning of shooting. Footage of Remar in the Hive is in the final film, but his face is never seen. Having already filmed a complex effects shot with him, the production were unable to re-film with Biehn in the role, and instead used editing to cut away once Remar turned his head.