Interview – Lance Henriksen

Interview – Lance Henriksen

It is never too late to follow a dream, and if you devote all of yourself to that dream, it is never too late to find success either. Just look at Lance Henriksen, who against all odds, went on to a prolific career in cinema, and yet, keeps going! Henriksen, famously known for roles in such films as 1984’s The Terminator, 1986’s Aliens, 1987’s Near Dark, as well as 1988’s Pumpkinhead, among many others, left school while only a young kid, served in the United States Navy, and really did not hit his stride as a professional actor until his 30s.

Humble, dedicated, and championing the workclass filmmaker, Henriksen takes nothing for granted, devoting equal passion to each role he has the fortunate of playing. Recently, we caught up with the extremely busy actor to chat about his career in film, his latest works including The Unwilling and Gone Are the Days, his life perspective, plus much more. – Despite starting professionally relatively later in life, you have been involved in film and television for nearly 5 decades now. First, briefly tell us, what inspired you to pursue a career as an actor?

Lance Henriksen – Well, I have to tell you the truth, I think it all started right around the time when I was 12 or 13. I went to a movie on 42nd Street in New York, and I saw The Great Caruso (1951) starring Mario Lanza. In the story, Mario plays Enrico Caruso, who is a young guy – he can sing great, the whole town loves him – he meets a girl, gets married, becomes super famous, then his neck explodes and he dies. This all happens in an hour and fifty minutes, and I was stunned!

I left that theater and I went, “How can you tell someone’s whole life in an hour and half?” That was frightening to me! What it transitioned into later in life was, “I want to live a thousand lifetimes.” I don’t want to live one that can be told in an hour and a half. That was the beginning of it: just the concept – I want to live a thousand lifetimes. What better way than being an actor? Really committing to the work and you do live another lifetime – someone, their problems, and joys, etc. Does that make sense? – It makes perfect sense, and is a fascinating perspective. You are diving into a role and taking on the story of someone else, so you are living a different life each time.

Lance Henriksen – Exactly. All my life, that theme keeps coming into my life one way or another. I have nothing but gratitude about being an actor, because it offers me all of those challenges which I never got because I never went to school. I have had to do it by intuition and by willingness. I am not trying to sound like some kind of perfect man: it’s just personal to me, I am telling you something that is personal. That is the way I approach it and do it. – That passion bleeds through in your films, and your career has certainly been full of memorable roles. Among just a few of them, many adore your work in films such as 1984’s The Terminator, 1986’s Aliens, 1987’s Near Dark, and 1988’s Pumpkinhead. While taking a diverse mix of projects, you have done a good portion of Horror and Sci-Fi. Do you enjoy working in these genres?

Lance Henriksen – They’re available. I have 2 daughters and you have to pay the bills. Horror is a very simple formula, in a way. I ignore the fact that it’s a Horror movie – I am playing someone who has an agenda. For example, in The Unwilling, there is a frustration; we all have a frustration about death. The fact that sex and death came around at exactly the same moment: if you don’t live forever, you need sex. If you do live forever, then you’re not dying and there is no need for sex. There is a balanced system going on that is out of our hands.

When you do a morality play about a guy’s situation – if he’s dying and resents it, or he is getting revenge because he has nothing left to feel powerful about. It’s all very complicated. How are you going to play this guy? I just don’t want to make faces, you know what I mean? I try and wrap my head around, “What is going on and why are we doing it?” I do that privately, not questioning anyone else, but I am looking for indicators so I can try and do a good job with it. It doesn’t matter if it’s Sci-Fi or Horror. It doesn’t matter, because again, I’m not the bride at every wedding or Pope at every funeral; I can actually worry about my role and not the rest.

20th Century Fox

HBO Video – Right, and as you said, you do not go through the motions for any role. You certainly do put your best foot forward with each film you work on. One of the most recently released, The Unwilling, was released broadly late in 2017, and hits Blu-ray/DVD on May 1st of this year. How did this project come about for you?

Lance Henriksen – They called and asked if I would be interested. I read the script and I realized it was not a very long job, so whatever statement I was going to make for them, with that character, I had to really make a decision on it and really go for it. They were supportive. I seem to get along very well with people, especially under high-pressure situations. We are talking money and time equals, “Are we going to get the movie done?” I know all about that: I am sympathetic to the movie maker, and being sympathetic, they allow me to really focus on what I am doing. It’s a good balance. – Absolutely. In a previous interview with Marvin Young, he stated you gave him wonderful direction with his debut film, Justice Served.

Lance Henriksen – You know, to be honest, we need each other, we all need each other. I am not hoarding any part of my career, you have to share it. Certainly a filmmaker is sharing their time with you on a set. I know all the tensions and fears that go into it, I have been around it; I think I have done more than 250 movies. I am not bored at all yet. I hope it never happens but I am intrinsically excited to go to work, I enjoy it. I even did a Comedy recently and I don’t think I am funny, I think situations are. It’s a very exciting life! – You certainly have kept busy, which is great! The Unwilling is a fun Horror film that is well-paced; sometimes a pace can kill a film, but that is not the case with this one. That said, the cast is a very balanced mix of younger and veteran actors. What was your experience like working with everyone?

Lance Henriksen – It was good, it was really good. Again, we are all there to make something happen and not just be talking heads. We try to make relationships happen: you can be very frightening by being very honest and without fear of expressing what you are trying to accomplish.

Levy Tran & Lance Henriksen in The Unwilling. – It has been a long road for The Unwilling, like many independently made films.

Lance Henriksen – I have to tell you, the ones I am rooting for are all the independent filmmakers. I really am. That is the hardest thing to do. We all start with, “If I can only get a shot of making a movie,” right? Then all the elements that are the ‘road’ you have to go down to do these movies is very difficult; it’s emotionally-draining and difficult, full of highs and lows. I have nothing but sympathy for that. Then, when they have success, it is like a celebration. It isn’t just that they got the movie out there and it’s making a little money, it’s that celebration that’s necessary because they have put in so much of their time and focus.

That is why, unless it’s a subject matter I won’t do – there are only a few I won’t do. I don’t like things where children are under threat, so I don’t like putting children in jeopardy. I don’t want to go down my list of what I won’t do, but what I will do is get on-board, and I say, “Yeah,” and I come to the set, you know I am going to be ready. – Again, that certainly shows in each film you have done. Speaking of keeping busy, you have several film projects in various stages. What can you tell us about them?

Lance Henriksen – Gone Are the Days is probably the latest one. We did it last year and we had to work our hearts on that one. I got the script from a really good writer, Gregory M. Tucker, and what’s good about him is he has a lot of originality. He has written some stuff that is very difficult to do, but we managed to pull it off. That is getting a release and Lionsgate is involved. It’s Mark Landre Gould’s (the director) first film and it is a celebration.

I got in my car and drove all the way to New Mexico and did a Q&A after the first screening of it. Then I went up to Colorado and they did another screening. This was all in one week, and when I got back they did one in Beverly Hills at The Musical Box Theater and it was a full house. Everything I am hearing, independent of the distributor, is even the matinees are selling out. I have to step away from it now because it’s like letting a baby’s hand go: you have to let it risk walking. With a film, it has to have a life of its own. There is a certain point where you can’t do anything more, it’s going to be what it is. Talk about an adventure, living a thousand lifetimes; it all gets very personal. – That is fantastic to hear! As we have been speaking about, you have done a great deal of acting through the years. Have you thought about producing or directing?

Lance Henriksen – Producing is another thing, that’s a business and really hard to do. What I would do if I was going to get a movie done is link up with people who know how to do that. Yes, I have movies I would love to make but I want to be in them; they are stories that I can’t shed, they are in my life and really interest me. I don’t think I want to direct, I think directing is a very masochistic situation. I am not saying all directors are masochists, but every moment of every day people are coming at you to ask you something. You are getting beat up all day long by everything about it – you are the core, you are the captain. I think producers think they are, but really the truth is it succeed and fails based on two things to me – the editor, and also the director really knowing their story before they start shooting. I don’t want to do that; I have too much to do as an actor, I really do. I love my profession and I care about other actors.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Lionsgate – Understood. You say you have so much left to do as an actor, and that is wonderful that you have such inspiration still. Through the years you have played many characters, some very stern, sometimes ones that are opposing in ways. Do you approach each role differently?

Lance Henriksen – Absolutely. When you think about actors, in general, they all come to this path and our paths cross each other. Here is the key: you don’t know who, what, when, where, or how that role is going to come or happen. We live with that, that’s a fact of life. One day you are doing a very small role in something, and the next time you are doing one of the leads.

You can’t plan for that, unless you are Leonardo DiCaprio, then everyone knows you are going to do the lead. (Laughs) Most actors, we are all looking at it, “I don’t know who, what, when, where or how.” That’s okay with me, and I don’t spend any time by the phone waiting to hear what is going to happen. When I did Dog Day Afternoon (1975), I played the FBI guy who shot him at the airport. The next role comes as a result of that role. It starts building up over the years to where people are intrigued by the idea of you being in their movie and what would you do with it. That’s a great position to be in! – Yes, one role leads into another, like a snowball effect.

Lance Henriksen – Yes, and as long as you stay healthy, physically and mentally, you are capable of doing it. There is a weird thing, in a Horror film, they always take a grey-haired guy, whose life is expiring and he has a certain calling, which is revenge; everyone thinks they know about him but they don’t, so there is mystery in him. With grey-haired people, and there are a lot of them in the business, you end up getting cornered in a way that you don’t want to. I refuse to play a grey-haired guy who doesn’t have the ability to fight for life. That is what a lot of people, when they are young, take for granted. You better realize that this whole journey is not that long, we live the life expectancy of a housefly in the terms of the universe, better enjoy it and celebrate it. If you are playing a role that can be decrepit – it can be a kind, a lover, all these things – I don’t know why anyone would want to play something as a cliche. By that, I mean is you are just going to serve the script and not bring anything of yourself to it. – Yes, and you are right that life is short. You may as well enjoy it!

Lance Henriksen – You have to enjoy it, you better enjoy it. It’s a calling, you better do it. You don’t want to wake up and go, “Is this the last day?” Would of, could of, should of – that is the last thing you want on your plate.

United Artists

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment – Completely agreed. Last question. What are some of your personal favorite Horror and Sci-Fi films you have enjoyed working on?

Lance Henriksen – Near Dark, Aliens, and I loved Pumpkinhead. All of these were experiences with people that I really like. When we did Near Dark, there was Jenette Goldstein and Bill Paxton, all of these people I have worked with over the years, they are special to me. We did Aliens together in England and we fought the good fight together, all of us. I am blessed in that way. – It sounds like wonderful memories, and you have taken something away from everything you have worked on. What about working in television?

Lance Henriksen – I have, I really have enjoyed them. Television is a lot different. I very much enjoyed doing Millennium, it was a feat of strength. I am telling you, three years of Millennium and 60 shows, it was a real teaching event and hard work. Television to me, I must say, I don’t appreciate the dilemma that they are in; they are a little bit like a factory and they have to produce the same formula in a way. I don’t know. It would take a lot for me to ever do television again, it really would. Films, I love, but television is difficult, really difficult.

Lance Henriksen in Gone Are the Days.

For more on Lance Henriksen: badmuttclay.comFacebook | Twitter 



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  • Massimo
    Posted at 01:34h, 08 May Reply

    Amazing interview. Mr. Henriksen is such a huge inspiration!!! A very dedicated actor who puts the craft first and foremost – and you can definitely feel it in everything he does. MILLENNIUM needs its own movie…

    • CrypticRock
      Posted at 01:44h, 08 May Reply

      Thank you for reading the article!

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