An Interview With Terence Michos, Vermin From “The Warriors”

Terence Michos walks from the parking lot wearing an aqua blue V-neck shirt, khaki pants and sunglasses.

From a distance, it’s hard to reconcile that the man headed toward you is, in fact, the actor who played Vermin in the hit 1979 movie “The Warriors.”

Gone is the baby fat in the face. The curly locks are missing. The shoulders are not quite as broad.

But when he gets closer, and he smiles, the disarming and mischievous face of the lothario that Michos once played is unmistakable.

At 61, Michos would be the envy of men half his age.

He’s fit and trim. His midriff is even more flat now than when he bared it while wearing the leather vest of the Warriors. And even with crow’s feet at play around his eyes, his face exudes a youthful vitality.

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Michos is going to need some of that energy on Sunday when he and other cast members Full Report.

Expect to see a huge turnout of fans, many replicating the costumes of some of the colorful gangs featured in the movie.

Think of it as cosplay for hardcore junkies of “The Warriors.”

But what’s not to like about this gritty, of-its-era depiction of New York City at its nadir in the 1970s?

The movie, with its haunting nighttime footage set against a foot-tapping syntho soundtrack, was a safe way for non-New Yorkers to view the stew of the city’s graffiti-covered subways, runaway crime and the specter of street violence.

And for those who grew up in the city in that decade, it was a chance to glimpse real-life neighborhoods and subway stations on film while rooting for underdogs.

(The Warriors are falsely accused of fatally shooting a charismatic leader who, at a summit in the Bronx, seeks to unite all the city’s gangs. The Warriors then have to make their way from the Bronx to their home turf in Coney Island, all the while crossing through rival gang territory and being pursued by the cops.)

For Michos, the all-day appearance at “The Warriors: Back to Coney,” signing autographs and interacting with fans will be a throwback to the intense experience of what it was like to make the movie.

“It was a wild, wild grueling time,” he recalled of the filming, which took place at numerous New York City locales.

The crew filmed in the middle of the night and the physical demands on the actors were not for the faint of heart.

Those scenes of Michos and other members of the Warriors being chased by other gang members and running at a full-out sprint?

Scenes like those were shot over and over again, 20 or 30 times a night, to get it just right.

And the scene at the Lizzies’ hangout where a night of amorous adventure turns to gunfire and mayhem?

Michos was hurling himself over that couch 15 or 20 times – without the benefit of padding.

In fact, he said he did all of his own stunts, with the exception of when his character got thrown into the mirror in the subway station men’s room.

He recalled going with some of his co-stars, hat brims pulled low, to theaters where the movie was playing and watching as movie-goers erupted in cheers and excitement at the fisticuffs.

Laughing, Michos remembers seeing real-life gang members sitting in the theater and saying to their girlfriends: “I can fight, but I can’t fight like those guys do!”

Michos was relieved not to be recognized, lest real life imitate fiction and he and his co-stars be challenged to a brawl.

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Michos was 25 when the movie was shot. His co-stars were also young.

It was a time of heavy partying, Studio 54 and cocaine, he said.

But not for him.

“I was probably more boring than all the other guys on the set,” he said.

He would tell his movie mates: “‘I’m going home. You guys hold it together.’ I would be telling them about my relationship with God. They loved me. They wouldn’t bring me to their parties, but they loved me.”

But lest you think he was all a goody two-shoes, Michos was quick to note that he shared with his character a weakness for the ladies.

“That was always there,” he said with a grin.

For Michos, the role of Vermin was almost not to be. He’s got the hit TV show “Taxi” to thank with propelling him to “Warriors” fame.

Here’s what happened: The movie auditioned thousands and originally did not pick Michos.

The actor Tony Danza also tried out, and those doing the casting liked him, so he got the part.

Michos went home, had dinner with his girlfriend and cried.

While coming to terms with the rejection, he said he prayed. “I said, ‘Lord, I’m yours.’”

Danza got a starring role in “Taxi,” which pulled him out of “Warriors” and Michos was called back for a second audition.

The movie-makers settled on him for Vermin, who, while a lover, was also a fighter.

“I think it was a good role for me because I think the film was enhanced by that little comedic twist, those little jokes that lightened things up a little.”

He said it’s not unusual six times a day to hear fans recite their favorite pieces of his dialogue back to him:

“Those cats were some desperate dudes.”

“I got the big one.”

“I’m sick of waiting for trains.”

His sense of comedic timing was nowhere better on display than in the tense moments leading up to the brawl in the men’s room.

Mercy, played by Deborah Van Valkenburgh, objects to being led into the restroom by the Warriors’ warlord, Swan.

“Wait a minute,” she says. “I can’t go in there. It’s a men’s room.”

Vermin’s retort is “Are you kidding?” but Michos said the line lacked punch.

So he delivered the line but also improvised.

“I just reached out and grabbed her and she went flying and the house came down.”

He grew up in what was then a much more rural Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

He was interviewed at a playground and recreational field in the Town of Poughkeepsie in his old neighborhood.

He pointed to the field and recalled how he and his friends would play ball and use a beer can as first base, an empty beer case as second base “and, if we found one, a dead skunk for third base.”

It was a community of IBM and Central Hudson workers, professors and doctors. Growing up, he had no ambition to be a member of a gang much less exposure to one.

Still, Michos described himself as a punk.

“I had a chip on my shoulder. If people talked to me wrong, I hit them in the nose, hit them in the face. I hit teachers.”

He was raised Catholic but was less than observant. (He recalled being an altar boy and pilfering the sacramental wine to try to get a buzz.)

He said he had a spiritual awakening in the year that “The Exorcist” was released. Michos said he was fearful — “don’t ask me why or how” — of becoming demonically possessed.

“One night the presence of God came into my room and totally transformed me in a way I could never, ever imagine.”

He said he became a whole new person.

“I committed my life to Christ,” said Michos, who is a pastor at an evangelical church. “I tripped and fell a number of times but I picked myself up and I press on towards the mark.”

Michos, who enjoyed a career on stage and in TV, turned his attention from acting to being a husband and father. He and his wife have four children, including one who is developmentally disabled.

For 16 years, he served as a news director and anchor for a cable TV station that covered the Hudson Valley and then was communications director for former U.S. Rep. Nan Hayworth in her Washington, D.C., and district offices.

Now, among other things, he does political consulting.

But for better or for worse, Michos will long be remembered as Vermin.

He said he remains close to his castmates and has appeared at numerous reunion events but none that have caught on like the one taking place on Sunday.

He described the first time they got together in more than 20 years: “The minute we saw each other, it was like nothing had passed, not a beat had passed. We get together and we just care about each other.”

And as for the movie’s appealing legacy?

“We were likeable bad guys,” he said, citing a comparison of “The Warriors” to “The Wizard of Oz”: It’s all about trying to get home.

Yeah, we can dig it.

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