Interview With Lance Henriksen: Part 3

Here is part three of my interview with Lance Henriksen.

In case you missed it, part two of the interview discusses Lance’s roles in Near Dark, Pumpkinhead, Tales from the Crypt and Dead Man. He also talks about Western films.

Part one of the interview discusses Lance’s role as Bishop in Aliens and his career as a voice actor. He also talks about James Cameron’s latest film, Avatar.

Alison: My favorite role of yours has always been Frank Black in Chris Carter’s Millennium. The role was quite intense. Can you talk about how you prepared for it? Were there any rituals or special things you did to conjure Frank?

Lance: The pilot really set the tone for that character and when I went into it I thought it was a little bit like running a Broadway show for five years or something—which used to be the case. I thought it would be great to read this character day after day and see what’s there. When I started doing it…being from New York I wave my hands around a lot when I talk…I remember Chris Carter saying ‘Lance, whatever you do don’t wave your hands around. I don’t want to see any moving hands.’ And I said, ‘Are you crazy, what am I going to do?’ because it’s part of my blood, talking like an Italian. I had to restrain myself during the pilot. I kept chanting in my head, ‘Without restraint there’s no art, without restraint there’s no art…” What happened was I had to really personalize all this stuff as it came up because the scripts were very creative.

The ironic part was the character was so much more educated than me personally and I had to accept that. I read everything I could, but still there’s always that insecurity that you have this brilliant mind to contend with. I tried constantly to figure out what I could relate to. I thought that he was like a brilliant chess player that could take random ideas, issues and visuals, and string them together into a scenario that was very close to the reality of whatever happened. In that way I could actually wait for an issue to come up and respond to it. It was complicated but I finally got to a certain place, though I never felt comfortable in that role ever–except when I was with my child, Brittany Tiplady, who played my daughter. Every scene I did with her I felt absolute joy. She was a wonderful, wonderful kid and we were very connected. The trust level was there and I could completely relax. The rest of it was, oh man, very dark. One of the first things I said to Chris was ‘Where does the light come from? How are people going to survive the show?’ All he said to me was, ‘The yellow house.’ It was a long, incredible odyssey. We did almost 70 shows in three years, 23 shows a year and it was an incredible amount of work but I loved it. I really did. Even though I had to suffer through part of it. Nothing’s easy, you know…nothing’s easy.

Alison: Many people see Frank as a tortured personality. I see him being at peace—like he’s accepted who he is and where he’s at.

Lance: That’s true. That’s absolutely true. I don’t see him as a tortured soul so much as constantly in touch with a reality that other people are not seeing. In a way…I know this is just a metaphor, but it’s like a blind person having to live in society and go to all the scary places and the good places but be very dependent on the world to survive. In that way, one of the things that really occurs to you is that you really have to listen. I did a lot of listening as Frank Black—absolutely hearing the other actors and it was really something. A big adventure. Changed my life that’s for sure.

Alison: Do you favor a particular season of the show? A particular episode?

Lance: I think the pilot was probably the most amazing thing that Chris Carter did. There were a number of them that I loved, not to single any one of them out. They were all very clever and ahead of their time in a lot of ways. Chris doesn’t believe that–he doesn’t agree. We had an amazing mix of events that really worked on that show. There was a DP named Rob McLachlan, he was from Canada and a brilliant guy. We had Mark Snow who wrote the music for all of it and was an absolutely fabulous musician for movies and television. Then you had Chris and all these writers who were all cutting edge television writers. They did fabulous work, man. Everybody in it made the sum total of that thing.

Alison: I’ve been supporting the Millennium campaign spearheaded by the guys at Back to Frank Black, to see the show make a return. Are you ready to play Frank again?

Lance: Sure, I am. We’ve been trying to get things rolling. Again, it’s all an adventure so who knows what’s going to happen. We’re all just trying to contribute as much as we can to try and make it happen. If it happens we’ll all be in a theater somewhere or shaking hands saying ‘Look what we did.’ It will really be something.

Alison: I’d love to see it happen. I heard you were approached by investors looking to make an independent Millennium movie. Any updates on this?

Lance: Yeah, there have been. They’re ready to talk to Chris Carter. Chris is very busy on some things right now but this one would be really a pleasure and a terrific event. I hope he finds a way to open his heart about it.

Alison: I’ve heard you’re very enthusiastic about your role in the soon to be released, sci-fi indie The Penitent Man. Can you talk a little bit more about the film?

Lance: I’m going to see it for the first time this coming week. It’s all finished and they’re going to have a premiere of it in Seattle. They wanted me there but I can’t attend because I’ll be in Connecticut to do The Witches of Oz, which is a remake of The Wizard of Oz. I won’t be there so they’re flying down to show it to me before I go. I gotta tell you, I got a script…and this is how it always happens…I read it and if I can relate to it, that’s what makes it start to happen. I got this script from a 23-year-old guy, I read it and went ‘Oh my God this is way beyond this guy’s years.’ I don’t know how he wrote it, I really don’t. It’s so precise, intuitive and clever. It’s about a man who goes back in time to meet himself and try to talk him out of something. I shouldn’t tell you the whole story, but it is really intense and beautifully wrought. I was really proud to be part of it.

Alison: I saw somewhere that the production moved very fast?

Lance: Yeah. They were only going to rehearse for a couple of days and I said I can’t do that. I’ll just come up for a week for free and do it. It was the wisest thing we ever did. It was all incredibly fast. Again, I’m not afraid of anything.

[Both laugh]

Alison: I heard you got a matching tattoo with the director. What did you get?

Lance: Yeah, we did. I got a tattoo of Einstein’s theory of time travel. It’s actually the formula. I think tattoos are really about marking a moment in your life. It’s not on my cheeks like Tyson. He’s like a Māori warrior. [laughs]

Alison: I just saw the trailer for Wilderness before we spoke today and it looks creepy.

Lance: I shot that down in Austin, Texas for about a month and a half.

You know, a person has a vision…and how many do they have in their lifetime…but usually the first one is special. I’ve got a lot of experience now from acting and when you work with somebody with that kind of passion and originality it’s a challenge. That’s what I like. So I went and did all these independent films and I have a funny feeling about them. They’re very original. Whether they’re successful or not–I don’t think about that. I do the best work that I can. I just got back from the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania making a film called Good Day for It and it’s a gangster movie. Robert Patrick is in it, Hal Holbrook, Kathy Baker—a lot of wonderful actors in it. We all went in to do it but not for the money–the script was so good. We all just said, ‘I’m there.’

Now it’s up to all these directors and their delusions or illusions and we’ll see if it’s any good. [laughter]

Alison: Are you still working on Scream of the Banshee?

Lance: That’s done.

Alison: Is it true you’ll be starring in TBK: The Toolbox Murders, which picks up where Tobe Hooper’s 2003 film left off?

Lance: No. They sent me that script and I didn’t really like it. They posted that I was in it and they’ve been advertising that I’m in it, but I turned it down a long time ago.

Alison: Not cool.

Lance: It isn’t cool. Before I do a movie I always call the director or producer to talk to them and make my decision about whether I’ll do the movie or not. If I’m just talking to a guy who is a control freak or way out to lunch, I can tell. I’ve had a New York shit detector since I was a child. If there’s a certain element in there that I can really relate to about why they’re doing it and what their plans are then I’m open.

Alison: What’s your dream project?

Lance: There was a potter back in the late 1800’s in Biloxi, Mississippi–a Russian immigrant named George Ohr. They called him ‘The Mad Potter of Biloxi.’ He was a potter but he was so ahead of his time. He lived in rural Biloxi where the roads were covered in oyster shells. He had a big family and he just labored his heart out. He was also a very radical thinker—he was just something else. To try to pitch that movie to anybody they would say ‘A potter?’ [laughs] It’s like when I try to tell people I make pottery they go, ‘Oh my grandmother made pottery,’ but the truth of it is they don’t make pottery they make pots. That’s different, I’m an artist and I’ve been doing it since the 60’s. I do make dinnerware for friends because I love seeing food on my plates. Anyway the point is, it’s a dream project because there’s a philosophy in it that I love and that’s the respect of labor. The absolute necessity for people to understand the respect for labor has been lost. I remember being in England when I was 18 or 19, I went over on a Yugoslavian freighter and made my way up to London. Back in those days people had a deep respect for their place in life in terms of labor. There were apprentices and I was blown away by that. I come from the states where everybody was just wanting to make a lot of money and had no respect for the work that they did. Even as late as doing Aliens, when we were over there, all the people that made the sets and designed things were craftsmen. They were all on contract to Pinewood Studios. I’ve been back to Pinewood since and they’re all gone. Corporate took over and they were all let go.

Alison: That’s a shame.

Lance: Yeah, it is. The George Ohr story is a real character-driven piece but it’s a wonderful comedy and a kind of person that no one has seen in a long time. I’d love to play him and make that movie.

Alison: I live in an Italian neighborhood and I love meeting the old generations of tailors and bakers, etc. It’s just so beautiful, this craft that they’ve mastered.

Lance: It really is. It’s everything, like family–the person cooking in your house, sharing a meal…it’s everything. It’s the closest we get to peace. I worked with a guy the other day, he runs his own business where he puts addresses on printed stuff to send out to the Post Office. He had an order that was so big he was going to have a difficult time making that order. So I said, ‘Look I’m doing nothing so I’m going to come and help you.’ I worked with him all day long and we did something like 70,000 cards through this machine and that’s a lot of movement. There was a peace I felt in doing that and helping my friend, and we all enjoyed each other. I didn’t want a penny, I didn’t want anything, I just wanted to be there to do it. I know the value of labor and I think people have forgotten that connection to it.

Alison: Sadly, I think most people will never really know that feeling.

Lance: It’s the digital world. It’s a little like government–the government produces nothing.

Alison: Going back to your art…I’m an artist as well. My studio is always a mess but I need a certain kind of chaos to feel comfortable there. Do you feel similar in regard to your studio practice?

Lance: Absolutely. With my pottery shop, if there’s not chaos in it I wonder if I’m doing anything. You can’t spend your life cleaning brushes that you might need some day. I need all that influence around me. There’s two thoughts I have on this. During the Victorian era the world was full of tchotchkes. They had silver frames for every picture, beads hanging off everything–when you looked into a room in a house it was like a store. I kept wondering why it was all there and the answer finally came to me. It’s so that death won’t find them. They’re hidden in all the tchotchkes somewhere and death would come in and not know where the hell they were.

[Both laugh]

My other point is this…all these things we live around–I’m not holding on to any one of them. Not one of them if I lost it would change my life one bit. I’m surrounded by art that I bought but it isn’t a symbol of who I am. It’s just beautiful things that I enjoy and they influence me by looking at them from day to day. My room and my studio has to be like that. They’re significant images.

Alison: Do you get to work in your studio most days?

Lance: Not yet, because of permits I had to make changes to everything. I’m probably about three movies away from absolutely starting to work again. If I had to sell one pot I wouldn’t do it. I’m not doing it to sell them, I’m doing it because it’s a passion—an obsession. [laughs]

Alison: I know that feeling. Are you showing your work anywhere?

Lance: Yes, there’s the American Museum of Contemporary Ceramics. Some of my platters are there.

You can watch the trailer for the upcoming film Wilderness here. Check out The Penitent Man trailer below. Look for more info on Scream of the Banshees coming soon.

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