LATEST | FEATURES | INTERVIEWS | NEWS | FRIGHTFEST | REVIEWS Brand New - Exclusive Interview With Actor Lance Henriksen Part 1
By James Whittington, Tuesday 14th December 2010
Lance Henriksen is one of the most respected and best loved actors working today. He has appeared in many movies, most notably Aliens, The Terminator and Near Dark. This week cult series Millennium returned to the Horror Channel with Lance in the lead role of profiler Frank Black. This acclaimed series is quite simply stunning so we decided to catch up with this very busy man for a chat about his career so far. In this the first part of a two part feature, Lance talks about how his acting career began and what his initial thoughts were about the series Millennium.
HC: Lance, thanks for taking time out to speak with us as by looking at IMDb you seem to be the hardest working man in show business at the moment with eight titles in pre-production. Do you have a set criteria on how to decide which projects you choose?
LH: Yeah. Yeah. Money and availability (laughs). Some of them are certainly alimony films. I have to be honest about some of them. But I feel pretty invincible in the sense that if I take a job on I'm going try to do something very special with it no matter what the limitations and I’ve said it before and I really mean it, I don't do low budget acting. If I take a job on and the material offers any route that offers any kind of quality I'll go for that route. It's like water seeking its own level, you know what I mean? There’s no way I’m going to get on there to humiliate or embarrass myself. I’m not responsible for any movie that I do. I mean I’m really not. I’m responsible for my work but not for the thing as a whole and we all have to work. If you were a knife sharpener guy with one of those wheels you have to spin to sharpen knives for people, you don’t know what they’re going to do with it. They could cut the turkey or kill your neighbour (laughs). I’m not responsible (laughs).
HC: Let’s go back to the beginning of your profession; was there a certain movie or actor you saw that made you think that’s the career for you?
LH: Well, yeah. Remember I grew up in the age of Hollywood movies. Until Street Car [Named Desire] came along or some of Elia Kazan’s work like On The Waterfront and things like that, movies were more kind of shiny kind of naïve and full of sh*t really. And when I was seeing them as a kid I did detect the falseness of a lot of it, and I got an early image that if I told the truth I could do it better and when great actors came along and some of these movies started changing into real character studies and people telling the truth about their lives with their performances I really knew there was a place for me. But I was still young and one of the things that I’ve expressed is I remember stepping out (I must have been 9 or 10) and Mario Lanza had done The Great Caruso, it was the biography of Enrico Caruso. I remember in the movie he’s young in an Italian neighbourhood and he’s full of vitality, he’s a great singer and he meets a girl and they get married and he becomes the most famous singer on Earth and then he dies! I walked out of the theatre and I thought, “Holy sh*t. That is really depressing”. I’d just seen a whole man's lifetime in an hour and a half or less and I thought, “That’s terrifying” and I got that image that doing movies you get a thousand lifetimes. So those kind of concepts were rolling around in my head.
Then one of the escapes I had was Kirk Douglas going up river in The Big Sky. They were on a barge which you push with poles and I used to sit in a theatre and watch it ten times and get out at four in the morning and I had camping equipment under my seat and go sleep under a truck on the East Side of the river and I wanted to head West and go up to the big sky! So I was already method acting as a kid. So it was an accumulation of things rather than one thing. And it’s not anyone actor its an accumulation of events.
HC: How did you get your big break and what emotions did you go through the first time you acted on a film set?
LH: Oh boy! My big break really, there was a stupid-ass movie I did whilst I was at The Guthrie Theatre it was the story of an ex-Vietnam vet who had come back home to Minnesota and he starts racing snowmobiles, I mean, what the f**k!? I was just wanting to get in front of a camera and see what it was like. But the problem was that the guy behind the camera was an absolute basket case. He had gone through a divorce and he was having a nervous breakdown and I would do a scene where the girl dies and he would come on the set weeping and crying saying, “Why do I write things like this?”, and it was absolutely chaos. I walked away from that saying this was not movie making, this is some other sh*t I don’t know what this is. Then I got Dog Day Afternoon which was some years later back in New York, it was the first moment of realising what it was to work with really talented people. Pacino was in it and all the people in the bank were friends of mine and we all had done plays together. So it was like a family affair in a sense and then I got a real reality check about this is what its really like and this is how it could be, you know? Even though I didn’t have a giant role I had enough of a role to know. I’m one of these people who never leaves a set. I’m always on set and watching what’s going on. Ever since I started I don’t like to go to the trailer and cool my heels I really want to be on the set. Even on Millennium I was that way. In terms of movies one of the things that happens is that the more you’re there the more you pick up on things and I don’t like to walk away from that.
HC: I’d like to jump to the series Millennium if that’s OK. It’s such a dark and serious series; did it surprise you it was commissioned in the first place as it’s very brave and controversial in some of its subject matter?
LH: No, because when I met Chris Carter and we had a lunch together to talk about it because my damn agent at the time wouldn’t tell me it was a television series and when I read it and it was as dark as any movie that I’d read and I said to my agent, “What is this?” and he said that it was a television series and I said, “Ahh, sh*t Jeff why did you suck me into this?” because I didn’t want to do television again. So I went and had lunch with Chris Carter and the director who was going to direct the pilot and I said, “Just answer me one thing, Chris this is so dark where’s the relief going to come from?” and he looked at me and I said “Because this is unrelenting”, and he said, “The yellow house” and I said, “What?” and he said “Yeah, the yellow house. That’s going to be the relief”. Then he started to make me understand what the war between sort of good and evil is in his vision of this thing and it kind of matched my feelings that the courageous people are the ones that are having kids and are raising them and trying to have a normal good life, trying to be kind and respectful and doing the right thing. All around them is swirling, not only banking screw-ups that are threatening them, inflation is threatening them and bad people are threatening them. They’ve always been my heroes, the ones that are leading a normal life. So I understood what he was saying but I didn’t know how they were going to play it out and I honestly felt that after a while of playing Frank Black that that was the case he was like an island, he never brought it home or never tried not to and when he did walk through that door with his family they were suddenly the anchor, the reason, the reason that he was working.
There were certain books I had read about the FBI and working on serial cases and stuff like that and they had 100 cases going on at the same time and one of them had a stroke, they found him in a hotel he almost died overworked his brain was just blowing up. Anyway, I started to say to myself this is a Frank Black adventure I’m on it and like a surfer you’re on a wave and you don’t look back just keep going and see what you learn out of this. Because one thing that was true about Frank Black he’s more intelligent and more educated than I’ll ever be. I have a certain limit and I have always thought that somehow that was OK, that was all right to be an actor and have those limits and know them.
In the second part of this exclusive interview Lance goes into more detail about the production of Millennium and his plans for the future.
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