Lance Henriksen breaks down Bishop’s knife trick from James Cameron’s classic sequel

Sure, viral fads like the Sea Shanty Challenge are fun at the moment. But will anyone remember them in 35 years the way we remember the Bishop Knife Game? Whether you saw James Cameron’s beloved sci-fi sequel, Aliens, when it premiered in theaters on July 18, 1986, or during its long, long afterlife on VHS, DVD, cable and streaming, you’ve almost certainly tried to replicate the breakout scene where Lance Henriksen’s android officer shows off his skill and dexterity with a blade, using poor Private Hudson (Bill Paxton) as a guinea pig. 

If you’re having trouble mastering those moves, allow Bishop himself to take you to church. “Everywhere I go, a waiter will come up and hand me a knife,” Henriksen tells Yahoo Entertainment with a wry chuckle about the legacy of his alter ego’s signature trick. “Or some total stranger from across the room pulls a switchblade and says, ‘Try it with this one!’ That’s part of the allure of being an actor — you’re going to make contact with the rest of the world.” 

Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Riley and Lance Henriksen as Bishop in James Cameron’s 1986 action classic, Aliens (Photo: ©20thCentFox/Courtesy Everett Collection)

Whereas Bishop’s imitators have hours, days and weeks to sharpen their knife skills, Henriksen says that he and Paxton — who died in 2017 — were only given two takes. Cameron had been shooting the sequel in England, where Ridley Scott and returning star Sigourney Weaver made the original Alien eight years earlier, and both actors were nearing the end of their tour of duty. “We were ready to fly back from London to L.A., and we had to go to the studio the morning of the flight,” Henriksen recalls, adding that they perhaps weren’t in fighting shape that day. “We had partied that night saying goodbye to England!” 

That may account for what happened next. While the duo’s first take of the knife trick went near-flawlessly, Cameron asked for another round — and that’s when it was game over, man for Paxton. “I gave Bill a blood blister; he moved his pinkie into the line of fire, and I pinched it,” Henriksen admits now. “I didn’t even cut a hole in [his finger], and he was acting like I stabbed him with an ice pick! It was pretty funny actually…I felt about it… but not really.” 

Henriksen shows off his knife skills in a classic scene from Aliens (Photo: 20th Century Fox/YouTube)

Henriksen shows off his knife skills in a classic scene from Aliens (Photo: 20th Century Fox/YouTube)

Henriksen had his own painful moments on the Aliens set. During the big climax that pits Weaver’s Ellen Ripley against a Xenomorph queen, Bishop is severed at the waist and his innards are exposed for the remainder of the movie. “I don’t know how you act getting ripped apart,” Henriksen jokes, likening Bishop’s traumatic injury to a bad case of indigestion. “You kind of run out of gas is what happens!” 

Bishop following his encounter with the Xenomorph queen in Aliens (Photo: 20thCentFox/Courtesy Everett Collection)

Bishop following his encounter with the Xenomorph queen in Aliens (Photo: 20thCentFox/Courtesy Everett Collection)

Six years after Aliens, Henriksen reprised the role of Bishop for David Fincher’s ill-fated debut feature, Alien 3 — a movie that debuted to mixed reviews but has gained esteem over the ensuing decades. (It’s also responsible for one of the franchise’s most popular memes.) In a bold move, Fincher opened the third installment by killing off all of the survivors of the previous movie, save for Ripley. It’s a decision that Cameron himself questioned in a 2019 conversation with Yahoo Entertainment. 

“You fight so hard for these people to survive, and then you go to the next movie and … they’re all dead,” the director said at the time. “You can only hit the audience in the face with a 2×4 so many times before they kind of detach emotionally. I consider that to be a brilliant failure.” 

Aliens, on the other hand, remains a major success story 35 years after its theatrical debut. Along with The Empire Strikes Back and Cameron’s own Terminator 2: Judgement Day, it’s frequently held up as an example for how a sequel can equal, and maybe even surpass, the original. Not that Cameron thinks he outdid what Scott achieved with Alien. “I loved the Sigourney character, Ripley, I loved the setting, the tone [and] I loved the alien,” the director said in 2019. “I was just a fanboy trying to make a movie kind of like that one.” 

Video produced by Jen Kucsak and edited by John Santo

Aliens is currently streaming on Hulu and Prime Video

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