Interview with Lance Henriksen

Lance Henriksen is a Hollywood icon, with well over 150 films to his name, which exemplify the diversity of his talent. He is best known as the empathetic android ‘Bishop’ in Twentieth Century Fox’s 1986 release ALIENS, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. He has also played gunfighters and gangsters, an astronaut, a vampire, a sadistic monk, Charles Bronson and Abraham Lincoln. He’s mentored Tarzan, Evel Knievel and the Antichrist, and fought Terminators, Aliens, Predators, Pumpkinhead, Pinhead, Bigfoot, Superman, the Autobots, Mr. T., Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal. He has worked with some of the most prominent directors in the motion picture industry, such as James Cameron, Steven Spielberg, Kathryn Bigelow, Sidney Lumet, Francois Truffaut, John Huston, Walter Hill, David Fincher, John Woo, Jim Jarmusch and Sam Raimi.

Most recently, Henriksen and Joseph Maddrey have penned the actor’s forthcoming biography, “Not Bad For A Human.” The book not only celebrates Henriksen’s screen persona, film by film, but also recounts the chaotic upbringing and early life experiences that shaped him — revealing the man behind the image. As Henriksen so candidly states, “This isn’t a book about me becoming an actor. It’s about all the people I’ve crossed paths with over the years who have helped me flourish in spite of the chaos of my early life. It’s about a lifelong process of becoming a human being. Movie Mikes was given a chance to chat with Lance about his work and also his biography

Mike Gencarelli: Tell us about what inspired you to write your biography “Not Bad For a Human” now?
Lance Henriksen: It is a case of saying “right now always happens eventually or sometime”.  It is not like a choice that I work up one morning and said I want to right a book.  It really had to do with Joe Maddrey.  I had narrated a project he wrote called “Nightmares in Red, White and Blue”, which was an anthology of horror films.  So him and I hit it off.  We stayed friends and started talking about other ideas.  I make pottery when I am not acting, so it was an idea of maybe doing a reality show traveling the world and meeting potters from all over the world and their crazy lives.  We just spoke about that and it never happened and doesn’t mean it won’t ever but the point is though we started really communicating.  He got the idea of doing a book.  My idea with him was if I can’t be honest and it isn’t coming alive on it own and we get half way through, I still wanted to reserve the right to throw it in the trash and forget about it.  Obviously though it didn’t happen that way and it turned out to be something that I think is really worthwhile.

MG: What was the most challenging part of the writing process?
LH: Being honest, really…and knowing what parts I didn’t want to talk about that came up.  I don’t have any access to grind about anybody.  Any bad situation is also a learning situation, so it doesn’t affect it in that way.  I don’t think that anything in my life wasn’t a learning experience and that is what I am in this for.

MG: Tell us about the original artwork that is featured in the book?
LH: That was again Joe’s idea.  We were going to use photographs from movies, which I hate.  They are all promotional stuff that everyone has seen already and its the same shit.  So I was going to go with none but Joe worked with Steve Niles on a television show.  He told me “Lance, I got an idea and I am not sure if you are going to like it or not”.  Then Bill Sienkiewicz sent a drawing over and it was just amazing.  I said to Joe that it was a stroke of genius because I really wanted the book to be accessible.  It is not an ego trip, it is another kind of book.  So having that would make it accessible especially for the different kinds of fan bases from sci-fi to horror to westerns.  It really took a life of its own.  Niles then went to all of these incredible artists and they all said “yes”.  I was really honored and humbled.  They did such beautiful work.  Those are in the limited edition of the book and the only other pictures that are going to be in the mass release book are pictures that happened on set with friends and are not publicity shots.  Again it is just more accessible stuff.

MG: Tell us how this differs from other biographies?
LH: It is like a dam breaking.  Dylan Thomas has a great phrase he used it was “tell me about your life but be quick or I will be telling you about mine” [laughs].  I am always a believer of the campfire stories.  As tribal people we used to all sit around the campfire and tell stories.  Most of the stories were morality plays and they are about some aspect of our life that we are afraid of or we wanted to obtain.  So its more like when are start talking about it and bringing up these things about your life, it starts escalating into a long story.  It took us over a year to write it, its not like we sat around a campfire for a year [laughs] but it has the same feeling.

MG: Tell us about the project “Bring Me the Head of Lance Henriksen”?
LH: I am not sure if this is going to work because we are really out the on the edge.  The idea is about ageism in the industry.  Somebody told me that you walk into an audition nowadays and they have a box on the sign in sheet that says are you below 40 or above 40.  If you are below 40, whatever that means and if you are above 40, whatever that means.  It is ageism man and people have a long career through to their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s and then suddenly it seems the odds are stacked against them of getting work.  There is such a “Twilight” kind of frenzy going on, just looking for the next best looking young guy and see if he sticks to the wall.  The same things happen to women, they have a really narrow window when they are “super valuable”. Then they start getting a little older and you are either too young or too old. This film is about that world, that underbelly and its experience in the industry.  The reason it is called “Bring Me the Head of Lance Henriksen” is because Tim Thomerson, who is really starring in it, goes for a role they say “Tim, they already made an offer to Lance”.  It is like “WTF”, my whole life is in the shadow of this guy.  It is a funny premise but there is an awful lot more going on in it.  Michael Worth is directing it. Tim and I actually both worked with him on a movie called “Sasquatch Mountain”.  We became friends and he thought of it then when we where shooting that movie.  It was just an idea then and it really has evolved since then.  It is a comedy based on that and we are improvising all of this.  We setup a premise for a scene, we need to go from A to D but how you get there is up to you.  It really has been fun.

MG: With “Prometheus” coming out which starts out as an “Alien” prequel and now is a stand alone movie with ‘strands of Alien’s DNA’, can you reflect what it was like working on the “Alien” franchise?
LH: I had a real stroke of luck with that, I was doing “Close Encounters” when “Alien” was being cast.  They said they wanted to meet with me about it and I was in Bombay, India and there was no way I could make it.  As fate had it, I am grateful I wasn’t in it because since I have been in like four of them.  I wouldn’t have done Bishop and I would had been dead and buried.  The ironic twist of this is that it is really the making of my whole career.  Jim (Cameron) and I have done a couple of movies before that and one of the critical masses was that if I did “Aliens” and worked a certain way I would keep acting, otherwise I would have quit. Actually I am happy it worked out and I haven’t stopped since and I attribute all that to Jim’s work.  You can’t hit home run without a bat and he sure gave me one.

MG: Like you just mentioned, you worked with James Cameron on not only “Aliens” but also “The Terminator” & “Piranha II”, how did that relationship begin?
LH: He had been hired as the director down in Jamaica for “Piranha II: The Spawning”, which was his first flick.  I got hired out of New York.  I went down and we met and worked our way through that movie.  It was a very low budget film.  I really like him, he had a work ethic that I could relate to.  He is really a no bullshit guy and was just trying to make a good movie.  The title for my book “Not Bad for a Human” is a line Jim wrote actually.  I called him up and asked him if I could use it and he said “Of course”.

MG: How was it working with Stan Winston on the “Pumpkinhead” series?
LH: I even did a movie with him way before that, it was called “Mansion of the Doomed” with Richard Basehart and Gloria Grahame.  I spent a lot of days, weeks and months on a set with Stan and we did “Pumpkinhead”, “The Terminator” and “Aliens”.  We did a lot of work together over the years.  He was a really cool guy.

MG: How do you feel that the movie “Near Dark” has become such a cult classic, how was it working on film with then little known director Kathryn Bigelow?
LH: She was a matriarchal equal and she treated us like we were all a bunch of artists working together.  She was painter and had that painters eyes, they way she formed shots and what she wanted to see.  We had a great DP on that project.  The only reason why that movie didn’t get as big of splash as “The Lost Boys” did was because it had a much bigger budget for their ad campaign.  Our first ad, and I hate saying it but its the truth, was the size of a business card.  But we loved working on that film.  She was cool and has always been cool.

MG: You are know, like you said earlier, for sci-fi and horror genre, but you were hysterical in the film “The Slammin’ Salmon”, do you like doing comedy?
LH: See, though you are picking up on the New York thing man [laughs].  You are picking up on my sense of humor which is really New York.  You know that kind of no bullshit…you can’t con me…my shit detector is working just great…fuck off.  You know that kind of thing.  That is where comedy comes from as far, as I am concerned, you paint a different picture of the same event.

MG: Tell us about your voice work for the TV series in “TRON: Uprising” for the character General Tesler?
LH: I have done some already, yep. But can’t tell you anything [laughs].  They are spending a lot of money and they want to do their thing.  I will tell you think though, I have really enjoyed it.  The director is cool as shit and demands things and I really like that.  I like the conflict and the demand, since I sure do not have all the answers.

MG: What other upcoming projects do you have coming up?
LH: The most important one is called “Ambush” from a script that Joe Bauer. We shot the first 20 minutes of the movie. It is a fight scene that lasts twenty pages. Joe is taking that and is using it to raise the money to finish the film.  It is a little more than the way it sounds.  He is putting up his own money and it is a beautiful piece of work.  I saw the finished product…he even put titles on it.  He really did it up well. I am playing a guy like Ted Turner in it and I am sure that is the one I am going to enjoy doing a lot.

6 Replies to “Interview with Lance Henriksen”

  1. Thanks, Lance is such a cool dude and the book looks fantastic!

  2. A really succinct and outstanding interview Mike.

    There were loads of insightful pieces in there and lots of good information about the man as a man and actor. I enjoyed it.

    I didn’t realize Bill S. did a piece of art for Joe’s book but that makes sense. It looks like Trademark Bill S.

    The film BRING ME THE HEAD sounds like a great idea. I certainly hope that comes to fruition one day.

    I love the input you received from Lance on just how crucial his relationship was with Cameron. It is certainly the reason I know who Lance Henriksen is. He deserves a bit of credit to be sure, but Lance happily gives it.

    I think he also captures why Bigelow is one of those rare, successful female directors. She’s quite a strong, gifted director.

    Anyway, a fine job here and more evidence the book will be a corker!
    My only complaint Mike… I wanted more.


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