Gavin Schmitt Interviews Lance Henriksen

I had the pleasure of interviewing Lance Henriksen.

Q: You’ve been in the business a long time…

LH: Oh geez, don’t say it that way. You know, I’ve been acting… I started in 1971. The films weren’t black and white. They were in color.

Q: Yeah, you were in “Network” (1976).

LH: I had what I call a “fart catcher” role in that. The leads would say something and then I would go, “Ha ha, that was great.” I’m so clever I can’t sit down. You know, when I was a young actor in New York, (director) Sidney Lumet loved New York actors. So whenever he met one he would give you a job, and maybe it should take only a couple of days. Back in those days, a week’s pay for an unknown actor would be about $900. Each day was like $150. And he knew we were all struggling, we were at the Actors Studio and other places studying. I lived by the grace of wonderful women who let me sleep on their couches a lot. Sidney would say, “You’ve got the run of the show.” This meant I could actually rent an apartment now. He was that way. And (writer) Paddy Chayefsky was a great guy. I would go to lunch, and Paddy would be sitting right across from me telling me his philosophy. I’m a nobody, and Paddy is this great writer. I got to rub elbows with a lot of people who kind of inspired me. That’s the benefit of kind people. The girls, Paddy, all that. I try to do the same thing. I joke a lot, but I’m basically kind.

Q: Speaking of Sidney Lumet, you were in “Dog Day Afternoon” (1975). And you even got to kill John Cazale.

LH: Yeah, he was a friend of mine. I kill my friends. We were all in the Actors Studio. Al (Pacino) was, of course, the core of that movie. John was, too, and a few other people. Penny Allen. All these wonderful actors. We were all just so grateful we got to do that story. And again, Sidnet Lumet just embraced people and really loved the actors. In fact, I did “Prince of the City” (1981) with him, too. He’d rent a ballroom and tape off all the locations in the room, with nothing else in there. And every actor, even if they only had one line, was invited to come and rehearse the movie in continuity. So, you really knew what the film was about. That’s a guy who loves acting and came from the theater. I’ve had some great experiences and I could talk for hours.

Q: Can you address the rumor that you were the original choice to play the Terminator?

LH: Yeah. Something happened, though, along the way. Jim (Cameron) and Gale (Hurd) knew that, I didn’t know that. But Jim asked me to go see Gale, to go show her what the Terminator is going to be like. So I did, and I had foil on my teeth so they looked like metal. I had on tall boots. And it scared the shit out of the set director (?). I left, and Jim pitched it, and the movie got made. But the word is that Hemdale Film Corporation told Jim, “You can have anybody, but not him.” So that evaporated. But it’s okay, because Jim is a buddy of mine, and at the time I just wanted to see him get his movie made. I didn’t even have to be in it. Though I was, doing some comedy with Paul Winfield, and all that stuff was improvised. There’s gotta be some joy in acting…

Q: Talk about “Near Dark” (1987) and Kathryn Bigelow…

LH: She wove a love story in there. That’s hard to do, but she did it. Bill Paxton would stay in costume all day. He would carry around a black umbrella and it would look like we were at a funeral. He had dark sunglasses, and we would go eat at a truck stop after shooting all night. Imagine us coming in. I had a scar down my face and I was dirty. We were all dirty. This is a truck stop in Coolidge, Arizona. All the truckers, as badass as they are, would see us and go, “Oh, this is not good.” And they’d sneak out while we had breakfast.

One day Bill and I were driving to Tombstone because he wanted to go to the cemetery and see some of the friends that we had outlived who were buried there. We were just going to sit there, drink a bottle of wine, and talk about them. Just to keep our reality going. On the way there, I was pulled over for speeding. I had rented a convertible car and we were just shooting all the way to Tombstone. By the way, I still never paid that ticket. He pulls us over and I tell Bill, “I’m gonna fix this guy.” Bill says, “Don’t mess around, man.” So the cop is standing there, writing the ticket, and I’m giving hi ma look like “I’m gonna tear your face off.” My eyes were glazed over like I was gonna kill him. He backed off, got in his car and left. And I’ve never paid that ticket. So Bill and I went on with our day, drank the wine and all that. Years later I’m getting my license renewed and that ticket was still there. I had to call that same town and say, “I don’t know if I paid that ticket or not.” I knew I hadn’t. And the guy said, “Oh, I’ll just take it off the books.” So after a certain period of time, if they haven’t caught you the ticket gets evaporated.

Q: Could you tell while making “Near Dark” that it was going to be as good as it is?

LH: We knew what we were doing. You never know how it’s going to come out. How do you know? It’s like a love affair. You start out with all that excitement and you do it, not knowing where it’s going to go. Four months down the road, you ask the guy, “How is she?” and he says, “I don’t care how she is.” So, acting is a love affair. You get involved with all these people, and you imitate life and end up feeling like it’s really happening. You don’t know. Did we know “Aliens” was going to be good? We saw everything that was going on, and Jim (Cameron) was right on the ball. We all had nothing but respect for each other and that really worked out. So I knew about that one.

Q: You appeared in one of the better “Tales From the Crypt” episodes, “Cutting Cards” (1990).

LH: I love Walter Hill. I had already done a film with him. By the way, I did another “Tales” with Robert Zemeckis called “Yellow”. But anyway, I remember walking on the set, Zemeckis tells me, “Lance, we’re all making the same money, top to bottom, just have fun with it.” And we did, we really did. I’m very affectionate towards Walter because we had spent so much time on a movie set before. He had me smoking so much during the shoot. In the middle of the night, I couldn’t breathe. He gave me a gallon of milk to drink… I loved doing that show. These guys hated each other so much that I would poke my eye out if it made him unhappy.

Q: One of your better characters was Chains Cooper in “Stone Cold” (1991).

LH: You know, “Stone Cold”, I took my mother to the theater to see that. She had the popcorn and everything. And at the end, as everyone is leaving, she’s waving her arms and spilling popcorn everywhere, and she’s saying “That’s my son! He’s in the movie! Did you see him?” I was so embarrassed, and I said, “Mom, what is going on with you?” She says, “That’s my favorite character you’ve ever done.” I say, “Huh? He’s a psychopath! What’s the matter with you?” She then says, and I’ll never forget it, “I haven’t always been a good girl.” I forgave her everything at that point.

Q: “Millennium” was hard for you do, but you really brought that character home.

LH: When we got it, when it got picked up after the pilot, I realized the character was so much more educated I am or ever was. Or ever will be. So for me, it was like trying to climb up a hill or a mountain with my fingertips. I was so in awe. I remember sitting around one night thinking, almost tearing up, thinking there were people out there actually doing that job and we don’t even know about it. There are some really bad people out there, and there are other people out there trying to put them in check for our society. I was kind of blown away, because I had no education, at least not on that level. I had to read books that the FBI puts out. I did a lot of work to try to catch up. At the end of three years when they said they weren’t picking it up, I said, “Thank you, God.” I was so tired because I was in every scene of every show. Working fourteen hour days… do I sound like I’m whining? I’m sorry. My memory of it is that my wife at the time (Jane Pollack) used to say to me constantly, “Frank, can Lance come out and play?” I was driving around and I’d see someone and think there was something really suspicious about him. Or sitting in a restaurant thinking, “I wonder what that guy’s game is?” I was constantly trying to unravel something.

Q: What’s the status on a “Millennium” movie?

LH: That is such a disappointment. Chris Carter has said that he wants to do it. And thousands of fans have been involved on the website and they’ve written books like “Back to Frank Black”. Hopefully they get to it before I need a walker. I think the film should start with me in a retirement home mixed with an insane asylum and they pull me out to solve a case that only I can solve. Or maybe I was in space all this time, and they have to bring the capsule down and thaw me out. They’ll tell me I have to go to Bulgaria, even though I don’t speak Bulgarian. You can’t read Cyrillic, but you’re going there to solve a case. You can tell I’m not a writer. I write my own jokes, but they suck.

Q: What was up with your role on “Hannibal”? You were just sitting in a chair.

LH: Sometimes psychopaths just sit and look at you. I play a serial killer in that. I was only on set one day and they asked me there to see what our chemistry would be. And I said every rancid thing to those guys. They wanted me to come back and do more, but I didn’t want to be constantly flying between L.A. and Toronto. It was a role with an arc, but not a full, regular role. With “Hannibal”, they already have a psychopathic, cannibal killer as a regular.

Q: Talk a bit about a more recent film, “Garm Wars: The Last Druid” (2014).

LH: I’m in it, and it’s a Japanese director, Mamoru Oshii, who has done a lot of anime like “Ghost in the Shell” (1995). But this is live acting, and he waited 15 years to make this movie. We shot it up in Montreal, back in 2011, and it was finished in 2012. Now I’m having an anxiety attack… I can’t say any more.

Q: You did a voice for a character in the pilot of “The Strain” (2014).

LH: Yeah, the Master. Guillermo Del Toro called me up. You know what they had me do? They had me give my lines in Romanian. Of course, I don’t speak Romanian. So they had an interpreter there and he would feed me the line and I would say it. It was a big mess, it really was. How many people want to hear those lines in Romanian and then read the subtitles? It kind of defeats the whole thing. I thought I was going to get fired, because it was a mix of Bulgarian, Italian, all this stuff. And all the grapes just fell off the vine. Del Toro called me back and he said, “Lance, let’s forget the voiceover thing and just do a movie together later.” FX didn’t like the combination of voices. I actually recorded a whole season, but they paid me, so who cares?

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