A Chat with Lance Henriksen

In the midst of our discussion with Lance Henriksen, I unabashedly called him out for having carved himself a career as a “that guy” in Hollywood. You know what I mean. He was part of the supporting cast of the original “Terminator” flick, he played Bishop in two “Alien” movies (and even turned up in one of the “Aliens vs. Predator” films), and he played Frank Black…not the one who fronts the Pixies but, rather, the lead character in “Millennium.” And, yet, when I told people I was talking to Lance Henriksen, only a handful knew who I was talking about before I started numbering off the items on his resume…and as soon as I did, they immediately said, “Oh, right: that guy!” On a related note, if you’re a fan of “Screamers,” then you might already be aware that there’s a sequel to the flick – “Screamers: The Hunting” – that’s on video store shelves at this very moment, so when you see Mr. Henriksen’s name on the cover, try to remember this discussion, so you don’t have to wait until he appears on screen to say…well, you know.

Bullz-Eye was fortunate enough to score the opportunity to talk to Henriksen on the occasion of “Screamers: The Hunting” hitting video, and in addition to asking about his experiences on the film, we also did the requisite quizzing about his latest projects (did you catch him on “NCIS”?), his work on “Millennium” and the chances of seeing any new adventures of Frank Black, what it’s like to be under the direction of James Cameron, and how he came to appear in – of all things – a Brazilian soap opera.

Sit back and stay tuned for…

Bullz-Eye: How are you doing, Lance?

Lance Henriksen: Good, man. How are you doing?

BE: I’m doing great. It’s a real pleasure to talk to you.

LH: Yeah, same here, buddy. I enjoy talking about this stuff.

BE: Well, I watched “Screamers: The Hunting” this morning, just to get prepped, but I kept watching…and watching…and, well, I think it’s fair to say that you don’t actually turn up until pretty late in the game.

LH: (Laughs) Yeah, it’s true. You know, what got me into that movie was that the guy that had done the designs for the characters…it was almost like a beautiful comic book. It was fantastic drawings, and I thought, “Wow, I really want to be a part of that; it would be great.” Then we went up to Newfoundland and, when I got there, it suddenly dawned on me what this character was about. And the thing is, you just do it. You do what you’re given, you know what I mean? And I wanted to be part of it because of the art direction; I thought, “Some of this is really good.” I mean, that outfit that I was wearing was, like, “Oh, my god, man.” It’s beautiful; it’s like a sculpture.

BE: And you’ve certainly got a distinctive enough voice that, even though I couldn’t see your face when you first popped up, I still recognized that it was you immediately.

LH: You know, the thing that occurred to me while we were shooting…you know, it’s funny about acting, because you start channeling. You don’t know where it’s coming from, but you make these decisions, and one of the things I realized was that the guy was so isolated that, when these young people, all these youth come squirting in the door with a guy that’s been isolated and had been around nothing but artificial intelligence, he felt their agendas were, like, pounding on him. So all he wanted to do was get them out of there, man; it’s, like, “Go away…and then go south, because of the conflicts involved.” But, man, it’s always fun to try and create a world out of…kind of out of nothing. This doesn’t exist. It’s what attracts me to science fiction, because it’s 50% or more imagination and the rest is all…stuff. You know?

BE: Well, I watched the behind-the-scenes featurette, and you spoke particularly highly of the decision to film in real mines. How often does that happen in your experience, where you actually get to utilize the location where a scene is supposed to be taking place?

LH: Yeah, it’s pretty good man; it’s really good. I mean, it all adds to it. I go through a period when I’m working where I call it “gathering,” where you walk onto the set and you look at everything and you go, “This is my world; I accept it, I don’t want to change a thing; now, how do I connect with it?” Little things start giving you strength and giving you belief in what you are doing. I love doing it. And Newfoundland was unbelievable. Man, the people up there, they’re great. They are just genuine and, oh, man…

BE: How long were you up there?

LH: Like a week and a half. Not very long, but it was very intense. It was very cold, and on a Friday night, the whole city that we were in pours into the street, and in one block there’s about 30-40 bars, and they walk from door to door and stand in the middle of the street, drinking and talking. And it doesn’t get rowdy; everybody’s just happy to cohabit in the snow. They’re really great people, they really are.

BE: Now there’s a certain similarity to “Aliens” with this movie…

LH: Well, only in the sense of the confined space.

BE: Right. But how many times over the years have you been pitched a film, and you’re reading the script, and you’re, like, “Oh, this is totally…and probably knowingly…reminiscent of something else I’ve done?”

LH: That’s happened. But in this case, again, I’ve got to tell you: the drawings. If you saw those drawings, it would blow your mind. I wish you could get hold of the copy and get the drawings because they are just…man.

BE: I’ll look into it and see if they’ve got any of it scanned that they can send me.

LH: Yeah, I’m sure they do. They’re fantastic. They are pieces of art, they really are.

BE: You do a lot of films that…well, I guess you’d say they tend to find their way straight to video rather than going theatrical.

LH: (Laughs) Well, that’s the nature of the business right now.

BE: That’s true, unfortunately. I’ll tell you, one of my personal favorites of your more recent stuff is “Abominable,” by Ryan Schifrin.

LH: (Laughs) I did three Sasquatch movies and I decided, “No more!” But I’ve got to tell you, man, again, that’s that, “Do you want to believe this? Do you want to get into this or not?” You can walk through it, or you can have fun. I guess I’m getting to the point in my career where I don’t have to prove anymore that I really…when I take a job, I want to give them the best that I can give them, and if that means convincing them that a little bit of humor and a little bit of wryness is going to pay off, then they go for it. I mean, I’m having a lot more fun than I did when I started in this business.

BE: Well, you’re very much in the great Hollywood tradition of being that guy.

LH: Yeah, we want somebody that’s sort of like that guy. (Laughs). That’s pretty funny, man.

BE: Well, I would have to suspect that a lot of times you’ve been pitched a part where they were actually looking for “a Lance Henriksen type.” I mean, I’ve heard that, with Jim Cameron on “Terminator,” he…well, at least, the report is that he envisioned you playing the part of the Terminator.

LH: Not really. Again, that story is a little overblown, and I don’t know how it happened. I can see how it happened, but…he actually came over and painted me as the Terminator in order to help sell the movie. And then when it was time to have the meeting, I think with Hemdale, he asked me to go in fifteen minutes ahead of him as the Terminator to give the guys a sense of what it is. So I walked in, kicked the door in, you know, I did a bunch of shit to try to give them the feeling. The secretary dropped the typewriter in her lap; you know, that kind of thing. (Laughs) But it really wasn’t ever that I was going to do it. Jim and I had done his first movie down in Jamaica together.

BE: Oh, yes, “Piranha II: The Spawning.” (Laughs)

LH: Yeah, yeah, and that was, like, a $300,000 budget. One of the phenomenon of that was…how could I not be supportive of a guy that stood on the set like that with no money and made a fairly decent movie out of it? You know what I mean? $300,000 is not a lot of money to make a movie.

BE: I know a lot of people have described him as being kind of intense to work with, but…I can’t tell if it’s just the people who don’t get along with him who say that, or if he really does tend to be intense.

LH: Well, look: this is a guy who is putting every dollar he can get on the screen. It’s not like we’re all hanging around asking for tennis courts. He’s always there before anybody arrives and there after they leave, and he knows what he wants. So I guess it’s a little bit like going to war; I’m sure there are some guys that you go to war with that you’re closer to than others, but I don’t think anybody gets close to the general.

BE: I understand that Chris Carter did have you specifically in mind when he created Frank Black for “Millennium.”

LH: Yeah, he did.

BE: Do you think that show would have lasted longer if it had come out a few years later? Because it was kind of dark for its time.

LH: Oh, I think it probably would have. It was so far ahead of its time. I mean, I really had grown men coming up to me in supermarkets, saying, “It’s a great show, but I can’t watch it; it scares the shit out of me.” And I’m saying, “What are you talking about, man? It’s a show.” But they meant it; it wasn’t like they were kidding. It freaked them out.

BE: Now, have you ever actually been in a film that really did scare the shit out of you?

LH: Well, at times, “Millennium” would, because we shot in some old insane asylums and stuff like that. And we’d be doing these really dark, dark metaphoric stories and occasionally it would come in on you, because you do long hours to begin with, and so you’re tired at the end of the day, working into the night. But, yeah, a couple of times, I went, “I’ve got to see the sun; I’ve got to go to Hawaii and lay on a beach, man, this is burning me!”

BE: I understand you’re going to be in an upcoming episode of “NCIS.”

LH: Yeah. Tuesday the 24th, at 8:00 PM. (Writer’s note: Oh, well, you can catch it re-runs…and you should, because it was great.)

BE: Were you a fan of the show, or was it a case of them approaching you?

LH: Well, they approached me, because the director, Tom Wright, did a lot of the “Millennium” episodes, and we stayed friends over the years. I was in traffic, and Tom called me and said, “What are you doing right now?” And I said, “I’m bumper to bumper on the 405.” And he said, “I’ve got this part you might really like; would you consider doing it?” And I said, “Yeah, just get me the script, so I can look at it. “And I did, and I said, “Yeah, sure, Tom, I’ll do it.” You know, because I don’t do episodic…not like this. I don’t usually go on somebody’s already-established show. When I was a young actor coming out of New York, you know, trying to get into the business, I did, like, an “A-Team,” with Mr. T, and it was…I was a guy with a gun in his hand, hiding in the bushes; that kind of shit. I never liked it because I always thought that you were just there to make the leads in the show look good, and you couldn’t really do any acting. And so I stayed away from it…forever. I only did a few of those, and I never went back. But Tom assured me that these guys were really cool, and when I got here and started working with these guys…I just looped it, by the way, fifteen minutes ago. They are really a nice bunch on this show, man, I mean, we had fun. We were laughing and doing good work, and it really was a fun show to do. It doesn’t mean I’ll be doing any more… (Laughs) …but there was nothing else going on. As you know, the economy is a little bit twisted at the moment.

BE: Definitely. So speaking of recent gigs, how did you end up on a Brazilian soap opera (“Caminhos do Coração”)?

LH: That was the coolest thing of all, man. They called me and said, “Would you be in this?” And I said, “Well, what’s it about?” They said, “You’ve got to come to Miami, and you’re playing this scientist,” and they were very, very seductive, man and they paid a lot of money for me to be on that. (Laughs) It was in Miami, and I thought, “Geez, I would like to go to Miami.” Then they invited me down to Sao Paulo, and I couldn’t go because I was working. But it was a lot of fun; I mean, it really was. Again, for some reason, I guess, I don’t know what’s happening, but people allow me to use my sense of wry humor…and I love, humor man. I don’t mean I goof up their show; I just mean that it’s really part of life, that’s for sure, man. If we don’t have that, we’re dead.

BE: Certainly, you’re remembered for a lot of iconic roles, but do you ever find yourself thinking, “Okay, I understand why they love ‘Terminator,’ I understand why they love ‘Aliens,’ but why all the love for ‘Pumpkinhead’?”

LH: You know what, poor Stan (Winston) passed away. and he was such a…

BE: Oh, he was a genius, certainly.

LH: He was really a genius, and when Stan approached me with that script, I connected with it in some way. I think it had to do with my son; everything hinged off of my love of that boy. You know, Stan even let me improvise stuff about that, because I was so zeroed in on it. Like, I remember washing the kid’s hand, and out of nowhere, I just said, “You didn’t know your grandmother, but, man, when she washed my hands, her skin was as thin as tissue paper.” I’ll never forget it; it was one of those moments where I was trying to give lineage to my son, and it hooked me into the role. So the role was easy to play because I was so grounded; I understood what it was about. It’s a morality play, that’s what it’s about. But Stan was so supportive, and he’s a great man.

BE: I should clarify I wasn’t really bashing the film as much as…well, I mean, it’s hard to explain to people why you like it if they’ve never seen it.

LH: That’s right, especially with that name. (Laughs) When I got the script, I looked at the cover, and it said “Pumpkinhead” on it, and I said, “What is this? ‘Sleepy Hollow’? Am I going to ride on a horse with a pumpkin on my head?” And then I read it, and one scene leaped out at me, where my son is on the seat next to me in my truck. And he sits up some and says, “What are you doing? Why are you doing this?” And it actually made the hair on my neck stand up. I thought, “That’s a good scene.” That made me want to do the movie.

BE: I talked to Sean Patrick Flanery about working on “Powder,” and he said it was one of his favorite roles he’s ever worked on.

LH: Oh, yeah, he was wonderful in that.

BE: How did you enjoy the film? It was kind of controversial at the time, but…

LH: It was for external reasons; it had nothing to do with what we were doing. But, man, I loved doing that movie. I mean, it really was…it was almost…man, look at the people that were in it. I mean, Jeff Goldblum and Mary Steenburgen and Sean, and these wonderful actors, young actors who were in it. We really felt it. Victor (Salva) knows how to shoot a movie, I’ll tell you that. That was his best film ever, I think.

BE: Is it true that you inspired him for “Jeepers Creepers,” too?

LH: No.

BE: No? Okay, I had heard that.

LH: Isn’t it funny how things start?

BE: It’s Wikipedia, man.

LH: (Laughs) Yeah, I know. You say the wrong phrase and they go, “Okay, I got the gist.” But if I say blue, what color blue are we talking about, y’know?

BE: Do you have a favorite project that you worked on that didn’t get the love that you thought it deserved?

LH: Let’s see…yeah, there are a few. There was a movie called “Gunfighter’s Moon” that I did that didn’t have a hell of a lot of budget, but…the same guy that wrote “Hunt for Red October” wrote it, and he directed it. And we loved doing that movie, but they wanted it to go right to television and become a series, and we were only shooting it to be a movie. So yeah, some little…I call them orphans. I’ve done some movies where I’ve loved working on them, and I believed in it, and…it’s an orphan, you know.

BE: It’s funny that you actually mentioned that particular film, because I was going to ask you about your having worked in Westerns. You were in “Appaloosa,” with Ed Harris, you were in “The Quick and the Dead,” with Sam Raimi…

LH: Sure, and “Dead Man” with Johnny Depp.

BE: Oh, true, I forgot about that one. So did you grow up a big fan of westerns?

LH: Sure, sure. You know, actually, in my early childhood, like, when I was around five, six, seven years old, I…you know Roy Rogers and Gene Autry? Roy Rogers was on the radio every night, and Gene Autry had a radio show, and it was, like, “Oh, man!” In fact, my biggest disappointment in life was when Roy Rogers said…and I was in an orphanage at the time…he a contest where he said, “If you name this pony, you can come and live on my ranch for awhile.” And, man, I sent in so many of those things; I named every name you could think of, because I wanted to get the hell out of where I was! But I thought even back in those days…you know, you think the upright cowboy with the piping on his shirt and that cowboy hat, spurs, boots, gun…I thought, “These are real heroes, man,” and you could see it. I’m talking a five year old mentality, but you could see they were heroes. And they sang, too! I forgave them the singing and the kissing of the girls, but the riding of the horses and all that stuff, I went, “Wow, isn’t that beautiful?” Then *I* grow up to do movies, and I’m playing gunfighters and fucking back-shooting gunfire and all kinds of stuff. It’s, like, the day you tell kids Santa Claus doesn’t really exist, that’s the day the real roles start coming in.

BE: So when is James Lipton going to invite you to appear on “Inside the Actor’s Studio”? Because you were a graduate from the Actor’s Studio, weren’t you?

LH: Yeah, but I won’t go on that.

BE: Oh, really?

LH: No, no, not for me. No, I couldn’t sit around talking about myself like that, and Lipton saying… (Affects a very solid James Lipton impression) “It’s freezing cold, you’re standing on the set. What are you thinking?” That guy. Come on, get out of here already! “What’s the last thing you want people to remember you by?” I would say, “I told you I was sick.” (Laughs) I love that phrase. Yeah, thanks, Mr. Lipton, you made my day.

BE: I’ve got just a couple more here, and then I’ll let you go. You were in “The Right Stuff,” where you played Wally Schirra, and you were also in “Dog Day Afternoon.”A lot of people don’t even think in terms of you having been in these classic films. Does that bother you?

LH: Not a bit. No, no, because look, you’ve got to start somewhere. Imagine being on a set Pacino and all these people; we all worked together in theater already in New York for five years. When “Dog Day Afternoon” came out, I actually wanted to play the gay guy, you know, the one that they’re trying to get the sex change for, and Sidney Lumet said, “No, Lance, that’s not going to work. I’ll make you the guy that kills him at the fucking airport.” And I thought, “Okay, alright.” But to be in that company and to be doing any kind of work…Sidney Lumet was the kind of guy, is the kind of guy that loves New York actors, because that’s where he works and that’s what he knows. I’ve done three of his movies, and he would give you the job that was maybe only meant for four days, and he’d give you the run of the show because he wanted to help support young actors in New York. I’ve seen him do it over and over again. I mean, he’s one of those guys; that’s what New York was like back then, where we were all New York actors and that was it. We were all kind of…everybody knew everybody. It’s not like L.A., where you have to drive six hundred miles and stay over night just to visit somebody.

BE: Last one: I know a lot of people don’t tend to dwell on roles they didn’t get, but has there ever been one that you were up for that you didn’t get that still sticks in your craw?

LH: You know what? The truth of it is I really…this sentiment has evolved over the years, but I can’t do every movie or very part. So whatever shakes out of the old colander is fine with me. I’ve turned down some things that turned out to be exactly why I turned them down. And other things I take a chance on and I’ve been working with some first time director/producers and had a great time doing it, you know, because they’ve allowed me…it’s like they’re seeing what they are doing and I’m seeing what we’re doing as, “Look, we don’t have money to throw at issues, so let’s use our intelligence and our humor or our ideas. And it would be like working off, off Broadway in New York; we’re trying out a new play. Why not look at it that way? Because every movie I do doesn’t have to be a blockbuster where everybody’s so nervous about the budget. You know, a giant budget will make you feel very small. “Let’s stay with the script, this is the one we bought, this is it.” And you go, “Alright, so you don’t want any life or blood in this thing.” I don’t say that, but I think that. So, anyway, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. (Laughs)

BE: And just one more I meant to ask earlier: has there ever been any talk of continuing “Millennium”?

LH: There has been talk about doing a film.

BE: Would you be up for that?

LH: Chris Carter said it’s a long shot, but he would like to do it, and I said I would like to do it. It looks like there’s a giant wave of fans out there that are going on the internet and everywhere else to see that happen.

BE: Fox seems to be the place to be when it comes to that sort of thing. “Futurama” was brought back on DVD, “Dead Like Me” was brought back on DVD.

LH: Right. I’ve done more movies for Fox than any other studio.

BE: So if they come calling, you’re ready?

LH: Oh yeah. Shit, yeah, I’ve been ready for a long time. Hey, buddy, thank you, and thanks for your interest. It’s been fun talking to you.

BE: Same here. It’s been a pleasure.

  

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