AICN Legends: First up, Capone interviews the awesome Lance Henriksen!!!
Published at: Oct. 23, 2009, 9:21 a.m. CST by Capone
Hey, folks. Capone in Chicago here.
I'm going to try something new on Ain't It Cool News, see what the reaction is, see how easy it is to maintain some sort of regular schedule with this new feature, and either continue it or declare it a categorical failure and move on. There's no denying that one of the biggest perks of my job is getting to spend time talking to actors, directors, and other creative types who have brought the movies we love to life. And while it's always a pleasure to talk to a new director or actor as their career is just getting off the ground, some of my absolute favorite experiences working for AICN have been interviewing established talent, many of whom I consider my heroes. These are people whose films literally shaped my life and left me no choice but to pursue my dream to write about films and talk to the people who make them.
For whatever reason in the last month or so, I've gotten to talked to a few Hollywood legends, none of whom were in town plugging a new film. Quite the opposite, they were all in town to be honored by one group or another for their body of work. I believe in all cases, some of their most famous works were being screening at a Chicago-area theater and their did Q&As to packed houses. With most interviews, I try to time when I post them on the site to sometime during the week of release. But with these icons (to me, at least), when to post is a tougher call to make. So what I've decided to do is create a semi-regular column (we'll try weekly to start with, since I've got four ready to post with more coming) devoted to these incredible actors or directors or writers or special effects master or whoever. If they aren't promoting a specific new work and are interested in a stroll down memory lane through their career, I'll drop them into this column, which I'm calling "AICN Legends." If the other AICN writers feel like joining in, they absolutely should, but I've got the four or five weeks covered. If I don't have anyone on deck, I'll skip some weeks, but I'm curious as hell to see how this goes.
What I'd also like to encourage agents, publicists, etc., with clients who might fit this bill to contact me about possibly getting some of them to give more career-oriented interviews that last 30, 40, maybe 75 minutes. I'll attempt to maintain some kind of quality control, and I can at least promise you that the first four will be really terrific people. They might not all be internationally known glamour kings and queens, but they'll be people that I grew up loving and recognizing for their contributions to filmdom. This week's subject fits this bill to a T.
Lance Henriksen has been a hard-working actor in movies, TV, and theater for more than 30 years. His first memorable appearance in film was as the FBI agent who finally ends the stand-off between Al Pacino and most of New York's law enforcement in DOG DAY AFTERNOON. The line "Point the gun down, Sal," still haunts me. He worked with director Sidney Lumet two more times, in NETWORK and PRINCE IN THE CITY, but the DOG DAY role got him recognized by Steven Spielberg, who cast Henriksen in what turned into a small part (that started out much bigger, as you'll read) in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND. Soon after, he played another kind of space man, as one of the many astronauts in THE RIGHT STUFF.
Henriksen was there at Ground Zero for the beginning of James Cameron's rise to fame with roles in PIRANHA PART TWO: THE SPAWNING, THE TERMINATOR, and, in what might be the defining role of his career, as the android Bishop in ALIENS and its sequels, including a role as the human version of Bishop in ALIEN VS. PREDATOR.
Henriksen is in Chicago this weekend as part of the Flashback Weekend Horror Convention, where he and some of his fellow cast members will be on hand for a NEAR DARK reunion and screening. The early Kathryn (THE HURT LOCKER) Bigelow work is still considered one of the greatest vampire films ever made, one that redefined the genre and made works such as LET THE RIGHT ONE IN even possible. The following year, he starred in the late Stan Winston's wonderful PUMPKINHEAD.
Henriksen starred in John Woo's first U.S. production, HARD TARGET; in Sam Raimi's THE QUICK AND THE DEAD; in Walter Hill's underrated JOHNNY HANDSOME; Jim Jarmusch's DEAD MAN; Wes Craven's SCREAM 3; and most recently made a great appearance last year in Ed Harris's fantastic Western APPALOOSA (if you don't count his uncredited cameo tucked away in the final scene of JENNIFER'S BODY). And somewhere in there, he also managed to anchor three seasons of Chris Cater's "Millennium" series, in which he played a freaky FBI profiler named Frank Black.
On the brink of age 70, Henriksen has half a dozen films in the can or in post-production, with many more on the way. He's the consummate working actor, and he elevates any thing he gets involved with. His voice is deep, gravelly, and sours with authority and passion when he spins some of the greatest behind-the-scenes stories I've ever heard. This interview is a little longer than many of the others we do for this site; I hope you read this one all the way through and enjoy Lance Henriksen, our first AICN Legend.
And a special thanks to Muldoon for the quick turnaround on this transcription. It is sincerely appreciated.
Capone: Hey Lance. How are you doing, sir?
Lance Henriksen: Hey, how ya doin', man?
Capone: I just saw you a couple weeks ago at the end of JENNIFER'S BODY. What the heck?
LH: I know, I know. I was playing a grizzled old geezer. It was great fun.
Capone: How did you get roped into that part?
LH: Well, they were talking about doing a sequel, and if they did, I would be in it. It was a little bit of a bump. That was fun.
Capone: I had just read somewhere that you were discussing doing a MILLENNIUM movie? Is that true?
LH: Yeah, there are some independent producers that really want to put the money up, and one of the things I said to them is the main thing is you have got to do it through Chris [Carter]. It’s not like you are going to walk away and just do it on your own; you can’t do that. They are very excited about doing it, so it’s in the works in the sense that they are looking at all of the avenues and want to put the money up.
Capone: So you seem interested as long as Chris is involved?
LH: I’m interested in it if it’s done in an amicable way, you know? I would love to see Chris be involved and do it. We had so many good writers on "Millennium" and the vision I had of the whole thing was if we did a film, we would suddenly have language… We would have so many things that we didn’t do, things that we couldn’t do on television, so I’m very excited. I’ve got a lot of ideas.…
Capone: They seem willing to listen to you as well as bringing their own ideas into it?
LH: Oh yeah, they were very interested.
Capone: That’s good to hear.
LH: You know this "Back to Frank Black" group, they have been working their tails off. And Chris did interviews and said he was certainly open to the idea in his interview, and they had ["Millennium" and "X-Files" producer Frank] Spotnitz on there, we had a lot of people on there, so who knows? It’s in the hands of God, really.
Capone: One of the focuses of you being here in Chicago is to celebrate NEAR DARK, which I just found out, is coming out on Blu-Ray on November 10th. It’s interesting, I remember last year when the Swedish film LET THE RIGHT ONE IN came out and people were praising it for approaching the vampire genre in a very different way. And inevitably the lists of the best vampire movies started getting made, and whenever that happens, NEAR DARK is right up there. Why do you think that is? It was only Kathryn Bigelow’s second film. What do you remember about her approach, and what about the script really intrigued you?
LH: Well, Kathryn is so talented. She was a painter and an artist before she began making movies, and she had a matriarchal way of including everybody in the whole process. We improvised… She had a very beautiful feeling about what this movie was. I remember talking to the producers, and they said, “What makes you think people are going to care about this movie? These were evil people." And I said, “It’s because they care about each other. That’s what’s different.” In that movie, it was an odd romantic film, you know? We always felt that we were nocturnal nomads that were thinning down a herd, like lions do with a herd of bison, you cut down the lame or feeble. You feed on them. It had a lot of qualities of that kind of thing. There have been some great ones made since then. 30 DAYS OF NIGHT is one of my favorite films, only because of the structure of it. That director kicked ass with that movie!
Capone: I loved that they stripped away all of the gothic elements that typically interrupt these kinds of movies.
LH: The gothic stuff was so suffocating. I even remember seeing Bela Lugosi when I was a kid, and if you remember those black-and-white vampire flicks, they were so gothic that you could hardly breath, let alone… Just the suffocation would have killed you, never mind the vampire. [laughs]
Capone: You almost choke on the atmosphere.
LH: Absolutely, choking to death on the atmosphere.
Capone: With these conventions, do you enjoy the opportunity to meet and answer questions from the fans?
LH: It’s all about the fans. My favorite thing is Q & A’s, you know I have done some of those that have been an absolute riot, because people ask the strangest questions, man, and you better go for it. It’s like a kid in basketball; you never know where the shot’s going to come from. You’ve just got to do it. It’s a lot of fun.
Capone: Are there certain films that you are surprised people want to know about? Are there some more obscure things that you are like “Wow, somebody actually connected with that movie.”
LH: I know, I know. Some of that happens, that’s for sure. I do a kind of a shuffle at times, where they will say to me “We love PUMPKINHEAD” and “What did you think of 2 and 3?” And I said, “They were alimony films. I had to do them money wise, and I didn’t think they were going to turn out the way they did.” I don’t go to make a bad movie, you know what I mean? But the truth of it is I’m not responsible for the whole movie, if I was, I would be directing, I think. Sometimes you get into situations where people don’t listen, and they have got it figured out what they want to do and you can’t save it, no matter what. Then you had the Gob of Editing in there, and they do a whole other thing.
Capone: You mentioned PUMPKINHEAD, and of course that film kind of came back to light recently when Stan Winston passed away.
LH: I loved Stan.
Capone: What's your favorite Stan Winston memory?
LH: My best one was… I got so deep into the role that I… When you do certain roles and you are surrounded by guys like Stan that are supportive, and they let you find the character. One of the things that happened was I was channeling this dialogue like it was coming out of nowhere and I said, “Stan, I want to say to the guy ‘Don’t pityicize me, man.” Stan says, “What? What does piticize mean?” I was like “I don’t know, it’s like a combination of ‘Don’t pity me’ and 'Don't criticize me.'” He said, “If we do that, the audience is going to be sitting there going “What is he saying?" They are going to miss a couple of scenes in a row, because you said ‘piticize’” and I said, “All right, Stan, I surrender. I wont do it.”
But he would put up with my eccentricities. I was trying to kind this character… I remember I gave him a description of what it was like when my grandmother washed my hands when I was just a little boy, around the age of the kid in the movie. She was like 75 or 80 and her skin was as thin as tissue paper, and I could feel the bones under her skin while she was washing my hands. That little scene, where I’m washing the kid’s hands and telling him about his past, because we had no mother, no relatives around, so I was trying to give him a momentary history that you get the sense that this father was always trying to give the kid a family, even if it’s only in memory and Stan loved that and so he put it in the movie, but it was a working relationship like that. To me, actors are always looking for the director that loves the character that he’s filming, because I’ve done some characters that the directors hated the character, so they kind of hated me too.
Like I was doing it really well and they’d be like “I hate that guy!” I would go “Oh thanks.” Stan was one of those real… He had been around so long and before he went into special effects, he wanted to be an actor too. I did a movie years and years ago when I was in my 30s with him, called THE EYES OF DR. CHENEY [a.k.a. MANSION OF THE DOOMED]. It was with Richard Basehart, Gloria Grahame, and I was the young leading man that was dating his daughter. It was one of those movies, but I remember Stan from the very beginning loving the whole thing, acting and what he was doing, making eyes that were gauged out. I’ve had a lot of experiences with Stan over the years, we did not only did that, but we did ALIENS and TERMINATOR and a lot of stuff. He was a great man. Personally, he was a great man and a great talent, of course. All of the best have worked for him. Great memories of Stan.
Capone: You came out of the Actor’s Studio, correct?
LH: Only because… I’m from New York and The Actor’s Studio was like the prima acting place in the city and so I made it my first attempt when I was 16 to get in there and they ran me off, because you couldn’t even hear my voice, I was just a shoeshine boy in New York, but I went back later and finally got in as an observer and then all of my friends were there, everybody. We would go there and do exercises mostly. We tried to just keep the instrument working so that you could have it available to you, that’s it.
Capone: Just listening to you right now, I find it hard to believe there was ever a time when someone could not hear your voice.
LH: [laughs] I know, but I was very shy when I was a kid. I spoke in a monotone, because I was so afraid to be heard. I had the desire to be heard, but I was afraid to be heard.
Capone: What films do you remember loving when you were growing up?
LH: When I was a kid, I used to make enough money to see a Kirk Douglas movie, like THE BIG SKY, and he would be going up river on a boat and I remember back when I was a kid all of the war surplus was still coming back and they had surplus stores everywhere and I remember buying camping equipment and going into the theater with it and putting it under the seat that I was sitting in and watching THE BIG SKY eight times in a row. Then, when the movie was out, it was like four in the morning or something, and I would go over by the East River and sleep under a truck with my camping equipment, like I was on the journey with them. I was such a total romantic as a kid, and I think that’s partly what motivated the acting, because I believed I could maybe live a thousand lifetimes doing that. Another early film was THE THING, when I saw the black-and-white version of THE THING, I was sick to the bone. That scared the hell out of me and I always liked those, well not the crap. [laughs]
Capone: Were there any particular actors that you remember just being in awe of at the time?
LH: Boris Karloff, when I saw FRANKENSTEIN for the first time. I absolutely realized it could be an art form. I really did. I thought that that was… That was gothic, but it was so… It was the first time that I ever realized that the bad guy was more intriguing than anybody else. You wanted to know him more, but were afraid to.
Capone: They were certainly the ones that the audience wanted to see the most of.
LH: Oh they did. They really did. When the first ALIEN came out, that was the biggest confirmation in my whole life of watching movies that there was an A science fiction flick or an A scary movie. I mean top of the line. It was so beautifully done. Ridley Scott is one of my favorite directors, him and his brother Tony.
Capone: With that connection to ALIEN, when you got the part in the sequel, you must have been pretty excited.
LH: Oh, I was. Years had gone by, but the biggest fear I had when I got cast as Bishop was that I got the part and then I went “Wait a minute.” There had been two incredible android performances, one from Ian Holm in ALIEN, and one by Rutger Hauer in BLADE RUNNER. And I thought “How the hell am I going to compete with that?” Then I realized “You can’t. Don’t, just figure yours out and don’t even bother going there.” It would make you a bit nervous. So anyway, I worked on it and did a whole other thing that was my own.
Capone: In just looking over some of the films you’ve been in, you've worked with an interesting mix of both seasoned directors and up and comers, when you worked with them , who have gone on to very big things, like James Cameron. I’m wondering how do you know whom you can trust when it comes to a new director? Do you talk to them first and figuring them out?
LH: I do. That’s really important to me. I’ll tell you something, after having worked with Jim and having gone through that experience of seeing his flourish like he did, I remember the signs when we were down there, what the signs were that he was really going to be something and it got proved out. It wasn’t like I had a crystal ball and I was looking into the future, but when I look back I remember that his work ethic was so tangible. In his mind, as far as I’m concerned, he sees a film as once a train leaves it’s station, it will not stop until it gets there, so you really have to give it all you have got. It’s like going to war, it’s not a place to fool around or be goofy. Well, you could be goofy, but don’t take it lightly, because you don’t get chances like that. People in life don’t get many chances to do a movie and so from the very beginning, I remember on PIRANHA 2, we had no money, and Jim and I were sitting at and out door restaurant and there was no wardrobe and I’m playing a harbor cop and then a waiter walked by and he had stripes on his pants and epaulets on his shoulders, wearing kind of chinos, and I paid him $75 for his clothes. I bought them off of him. That’s what I used in the movie, the whole time.
LH: And Jim was up in his room making rubber fishes and the crew was down in the parking lot making miniatures of the boats that we had to blow up. It was just a “Go for it” atmosphere, and I remember clearly that that’s a major aspect of making films. You have to give it its dignity, because you really don’t get that many shots and that’s a big deal. Right now, I just got back from up in Seattle, there’s a movie called THE PENITENT MAN, and I got the script and I went “Oh my God. There’s this 40-page monologue in here I’ll have to do” and the script is beautifully written, it really is.
I called the director and I said, “What’s your plans? How are you going to go about this movie?” This is his second movie and it’s not a very big budget, but it’s enough to do the movie, so he said, “You will come up a couple of days ahead and we will rehearse.” I said, “Wait a minute, I tell you what I will do. We need a week’s rehearsal. I’ll come up. You don’t have to pay me, just get me up there and pay for my hotel and we will rehearse for a week.” He did and so I just got back and I go up on the 28th to shoot the film and so those are the kinds of tests and those are the kind of realities… If he had not picked up on that, I would have passed on it. I wouldn’t have done it. It would’ve been impossible to do and it’s not that I was testing him selfishly, it was just reality. I have worked with a lot of first time directors and the ones that I know are going to be good are the ones that are always reaching, not trying to throw money at something and not falling down, because they don’t have the money to do it, but because they make do and try to be creative. That’s a big deal and I’ve seen it work and I have seen it fail for both of those reasons.
Capone: It sounds to me like you insist that the director be open to some collaboration or dialogue with you, that you really want to have some degree of input with whoever you're working with.
LH: Sure. Look, you ask any writer that’s worth his salt; you say to him, “You wrote the script. Now once I have learned it and once I am living it, a week into the movie, I know more about this character than you do, because I am playing him and you have committed to me and so I’m using all of my personal stuff to convert it into this material, so I know more about this character than you do now. On that note, let’s conspire.” Why would he not use me? Why would a director not use me?
I’ll give you an example, Sam Raimi, when we did QUICK AND THE DEAD, I knew the character was going to be a cameo, but he’s flamboyant and they had a scene in there were I would pull a gun and shoot a card out of a little girl’s hand, and when it was about a month before my role came up and so I was in LA and I got a buddy of mine, who taught me how to ride years ago and we worked on that horse trick, so that I would flip off the horse and shoot under the belly of the horse and that wasn’t even in the script. When I got to set up in Tucsan where we were shooting, I said to Sam Raimi, “Sam, let me show you something.” I pulled the horse out with the stunt guys and I did it. I got up on the horse and then spun around and flipped off backwards and I had shot under the belly, and Sam got so excited, like “That’s in the movie!”
That’s my contribution. If I didn’t offer that, it wouldn’t be there. There would be nothing there, and so I have always dealt with my acting that way. I have worked with actors who didn’t want a thing from me and I went “Oh man.” It goes back to Josh Logan’s book where he said Marlon [Brando], when he did TEA HOUSE OF THE HARVEST MOON [he may actually be referring to SAYONARA], on the first day of shooting Marlon did a take where he gave it everything and then he did a take where he did nothing and the problem was that Josh Logan always regretted that he picked the second take, which is were Marlon did nothing and he felt that Marlon had proceeded to do the whole movie doing nothing. I think all of the handwriting on the wall for me was I had to work that way, because I’m so primitive in my approach that I have to work that way. I have to commit and commit more of myself. I have always said to a director “Look, if I give you ten ideas and you pick one, then I’m ahead of the game, but if I don’t offer them then what? You are going to get me serving the movie? But how much dimension is there going to be?”
Capone: You certainly have the best interest of the final product, so it’s not like you are going to suggest things for your own glorification.
LH: No, that would be more of an ego trip and I’m not into that. I don’t need to do that.
Capone: Let me go back a bit, because one of my favorite performances of yours and it’s one of the lines of yours that I remember from DOG DAY AFTERNOON, “Hey, Sal, keep the gun up.” I don’t know why, but that line, delivered the way you deliver it, makes me tense like when I hear it.
LH: Wow, you pick up on subtle shit.
Capone: The line is too normal. Everything that has just happened is so insane, for you to be concerned about that one little thing seems so arbitrary, and it just made me nervous. You worked with Sydney Lumet on arguably two of his best films--and I’m not knocking PRINCE OF THE CITY--but NETWORK and DOG DAY AFTERNOON are obviously considered among his finest. Can you tell me a little bit about the relationship you had with him?
LH: There are two memorable things that happened to me on that movie and one was that it was really my first movie where I’m working with professionals. I remember when Al [Pacino] pulled me out of the car and said “No, I want him!” he pulls me out and starts searching me and I remember looking down at him thinking “I could crush his head right now,” and I had to sit on it and I remember after I did that take, Sydney came over to me and he had seen it. He saw it and said, “Whatever you are doing, just keep doing it.” It was a moment where I went “Oh my God, this really is about real thoughts and all of those great things that we want to feel when we are acting.” What I mean by that is all of the perceptions are correct and he could see it. It wasn’t just another piece of the sausage machine, you know?
I was very excited by that. I thought, “This is really what I want to do.” That was the moment when I felt that, and I had a couple of experiences like that early on, but what Sydney would do… He was the most giving guy I have ever met up until then, because I was a young New York actor and he hired a lot of young New York actors and what he would do is say, because we were earning scale, “You're on for the run of the film,” which meant that I could get an apartment. I could stop sleeping on people’s couches… he did that through three movies. Every time I worked with him, he gave me the run of the movie. He’s just a generous New Yorker. He loved to shoot all of his movies in New York, and that’s the kind of guy he is, just a terrific guy.
Capone: Is it true that Steven Spielberg saw you in DOG DAY AFTERNOON, and that’s what made him want to cast you in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS?
LH: That is what happened.
Capone: Did he say what it was about the way that you played that that made him think you'd be right?
LH: He never did, but when we got on the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS… When I had the meeting with him, he brought me into his office and he said, “I just wanted to meet you, to see that you weren’t that different than the character you played.” I didn’t know if that was an insult or a compliment, I had no idea. I was like “I was acting then, Steven.” But anyway, he hired me and I was grateful. I worked for six months on that flick.
LH: Yeah, and I’m screen for about a minute and a half.
Capone: I was about to say… Was there more to the character?
LH: Yeah… We went to India and… We did all kinds of stuff. Julia Phillips told me, “Lance they took you out a lot” and I said “Why?” She says, “You are in the background eating a sandwich, and you are more interesting that what’s going on in the fucking foreground!” She told me that [Laughs]. They had to do what they had to do. Editing is a very survival-oriented thing.
Capone: IThat’s fascinating that that character had so much more going on.
LH:I think I was a very raw talent, so I might have been in the background juggling for all I know.
Capone: I'm not sure I knew who you were at the time--I was fairly young--but you played Charles Bronson in a film about his wife Jill Ireland's battle with cancer. Was kind of strange to play a guy that was not only still alive, but was still at that time an icon.
LH: He was a movie star. What I did, was I made a real attempt not to imitate him. I was scared to death to play that role, because I remember Charlie Bronson would send his notes back to the director, because Jill Ireland had already passed away, but she had already made the deal to do that.
Capone: It was based on her book, right?
LH: Right, the deal was already done, so in a way I think that Charles Bronson couldn’t stop it from being made, but they did ask him for his input and his input, if I remember what the director told me correctly, his input was cutting all of his lines. [laughs]
Capone: Wow. That wouldn’t have been good for you.
LH: I had to do it and show great love for my wife, that was my intention.
Capone: You mentioned Sam Raimi earlier, but I'd that he had been the producer of HARD TARGET, which was John Woo’s first American film. He was one of the people responsible for bringing John Woo to America.
LH: That’s right, he brought John Woo over.
Capone: He was obviously very established in Hong Kong at the time…
LH: I had seen all of his movies before I ever met him.
Capone: I actually just met him a week ago for the first time. He was here in Chicago.
LH: Ah,he is so cool man. What a humble talented man.
Capone: What do you remember about making that movie, though?
LH: Oh my God, that was a real challenge. One of the reasons I took it is because Jean-Claude Van Damme and I were like two separate stories that would converge in the end. And when I walked in for that meeting, I said “John, I’ve got to tell you the truth, there are a few problems with the script” and the writer was right there and he whistled when I said it, “One was that you are asking people to be on a hunt, and you don’t give them the money up front. You have to have the money bag with all of the money in it, hand it to them and say ‘If you make it, that’s yours.” That wasn’t in the script and I said, “We have got to have that, John.” The other thing was “What I want to do, if you give me the role, is to play it like an ex-French Foreign Legionnaire, an American that went into the legion to see all of that action,” because my whole reason for wanting to do the role was like an ex-Vietnam vet that had seen a lot of action to have to raise their speed limit in order to feel normal, because the hardest part of their life was when they were in action and so that’s how I wanted to play it and in a great way he accepted it.
Arnold Vosloo, who is South African, was my right-hand man, and Arnold and I almost resembled a partnership that would come out of that kind of world and so it really worked. Any way, he accepted those ideas so wonderfully and I got the role. The writer and I made amends. He was mad at me at the moment, but later on he was friendly. One of the other things that John would do… He was full of practical jokes, but you didn’t really know if he was being serious or not, and he walked up to me and said “This scene is about the rich feeding on the poor, figure something out,” and he’d walk away and I went “Oh fuck, what am I going to do now?” He let me improvise a lot of lines, like “You’re all a bunch of fucking buffalo” and things like that. There was a scene where they wanted me to play the piano in it, so they got me a piano teacher and I was in my hotel room in New Orleans and taught me a sonata that was really nice and then when we got to the set, they changed the music. They didn’t want that anymore, and I don’t even play the piano, I just learned that one song. I said, “Okay, John I’ll fake it.” He wanted to have it so that while I was playing the piano, I was watching animals fall that had been shot for real, stock footage.
LH: And of course the studio was terrified of that one, God knows why. We are killing people, but to kill animals is a no-no. Another thing, I wanted to look like a Doberman, so I glued my ears back. [laughs] John was very open to those ideas and at one point he asked me if I would mind being set on fire and I said, “For you John, I don’t mind.” So they set my coat on fire and the flames were all above me and around my head. We did it and my adrenaline was up so high, I was like “This is a high, wow.” They put me out and he said “We have to do it again” and I said, “Okay! Only for you John!” I would have jumped off of a bridge for him. He is something.
We have had many many good meals together. He is a good man. The last thing he had said to me when the movie was over was “Lance, I really want you to go play a good person now. You got so deep into this part that it scared me, you’ve got to go play somebody good!”
Capone: And did you? Did you follow his advice?
LH: I tried, but then suddenly I kept getting offered bad guys.
Capone: Speaking of which, you played one of your nastiest bad guy roles in Jim Jarmusch's DEAD MAN. Did that movie make sense to you when you were making it?
LH: Oh absolutely. I loved playing that guy. I zeroed in on something. This is going to sound like egotism and I want to be real careful of that, that you don’t think I'm like that. As part of my process, when I met Jim Jarmusch for that film, I said, “Jim, what I want to play in this is an ecological disaster. I will kill anything. I will do anything to do the job done. That’s what I want to play as this character, but I’ve got another one for you that might knock me out of getting this role and that is I don’t want to say a line that you wrote for this character.” He said “What?” I said,” I know why you wrote it. It’s the narrative for the reader, but in terms of what I want to play is I’m a killer man, I just want to trash everything that comes into view” and I said, “Let’s improvise it as we go.” I knew it was going to be a long movie. It was going to be four months. We went to six states doing that movie, Arizona, New Mexico, California, Washington, Oregon, Nevada. It was huge and I had the same horse the whole time, so I was really happy, but anyway I remember walking into a store and they were selling some Native American items, like buckles and all of that stuff, and then there was this thing that looked like a brick, but it was painted like a car and I said “What is that?” to the proprietor, and he said “It’s a Navaho mud toy” and I said, “Oh wow, okay.” So later in the film when I kill this kid--his expertise was with knives. When I killed him, [Michael] Wincott walks up to me and says, “God Cole, he’s just a kid.” I say “Well, he’s a Navaho mud toy now.”
LH: That’s how it happened. I just kept channeling it. I didn’t know where it was going to come from. I didn’t know how it was going to come, and if it didn’t come that way, I didn’t say anything. There were moments… Wincott was playing a guy with a big mouth. He couldn’t shut up. He just never stopped talking and I remember sitting by the fire with him one night and he’s yakking away and I pulled my gun really fast into his ribs and said “Did you hear that?” and everything went quiet. What I was doing was telling him “You either shut up or I’m going to shoot you.” I said it without saying it and it scared the shit out of him and so from then on, you really knew that Cole would kill you for using his private curse word against you. Again, I’m talking about these things, because remember they are really long periods of time, days, weeks, and months and it’s an adventure. As an actor, if I don’t feel it’s an adventure, then why am I doing it? That’s my approach.
Capone: Sticking with the Western theme. One of my absolute favorite films from last year was APPALOOSA. I got a chance about a year ago to talk to Viggo Mortensen and even though he was in town promoting a different movie; I thought “Hey, I can finally ask all of my APPALOOSA questions now!” [Henricksen laughs] It had to be really satisfying on so many levels for you to be a part of that.
LH: Oh, it was.
Capone: Tell me about Ed Harris as a director and making that movie.
LH: Let me just say this, Ed being the kind of actor he is--he’s a wonderful actor, he really is. When we were shooting, Ed was doing a combination of directing in character. He didn’t want to drop his character, because he had so much work to do as an actor that you can’t go in and out of it. So, he stayed in character while he was directing, which at times would shock people, because I remember he wanted to get more out of Jeremy Irons, but I remember Ed pointing a rifle at Jeremy and saying “I have a full load in this thing, and if you don’t fucking answer me, I’m going to put it right through your head!” That was really Cole. That wasn’t Ed the director, that was Cole. I remember him and I right before we did a scene, we went and sat on some wooden steps in the town and he said “So tell me what’s going on with you” and I’m hearing Cole, not Ed, and I said “Well, the guy owes me money and I’m going to get my money no matter what.” He says,” You are telling me you are going to shoot it out with me right here and now?” I say, “If necessary, because I tell you, I’m not afraid to die.” We were just improvising, sitting there talking about it and then when I made it clear, I said “Look, I’ll give you half of it, but half of it’s mine,” so then we went and shot a scene.
It was that way. We were living in that world, and Ed would even get pissed off if you put a cigarette butt on the ground, if you smoked a cigarette and through the filter on the ground… He would suddenly rage, “Get these fucking things up!” I knew it was Cole, it wasn’t Ed, but Ed is also ecologically sound. He cares about that shit, and he doesn’t want it to appear on camera, like the old days. The old days, when an Indian falls down and his face lands in a tire track. I saw that in a movie once… It was an old Western and the Indian falls off a horse and his face lands in a tire print on the ground. The way I felt about it, we all really enjoyed each other and all of those scenes. Everything I did with Ed, I really enjoyed doing. I’ve known him for a long time. We did write stuff together and we hung out during that whole shoot and that was a long shoot, and so when the movie came up, he called me out of the blue and said “Lance, I’ve got a movie I’m going to do and I want you to play ‘Ring’ in it and I’ll send you the book and the script and if you like it, it’s yours. I read the book and I read the script and I called him back and said, “You bet man, I’m there.”
Capone: You worked with Harris on THE RIGHT STUFF, which is another example where you have spent a long time on the set, but that’s not necessarily reflected in the final cut. Good grief.
LH: That happens, but I’m never disappointed by that. What are you going to do? There’s a big thing going on here, it’s got nothing to do with me. I’m just one spoke in the wheel.
Capone: When ALIEN VS. PREDATOR came to you, was it kind of interesting in your head to play Bishop as a man?
LH: Yeah, it really was. I understood it. [W.S.] Anderson met me over at the Beverly Hills Hotel, and we sat in the garden area, and it was the first time this had ever happened to me, but Paul told me every scene in the whole script. He said, “What do you think? How do you think we should approach this?” I said, “What I like about it the most is that this billionaire who has made his money in robotics and other things, in the future when Bishop is invented or made or whatever, it’s a tribute to him. The look of him is a tribute, and so I thought that that was really a great idea. When we shot, I remember doing the interview with Sanaa Lathan to become the outward-bound leader on this quest. I remember I had a gold pen, and the reason I had a gold pen was I had tried to figure out what Bill Gates carries in his pockets and I realized it’s probably only a pen, that’s all he needs. He never has to have a credit card or anything and so I got a gold pen and when I was sitting there interviewing her, I almost absentmindedly did the knife trick with the gold pen, and when they saw they dailies, they fucking flipped over that one. I also loved the idea of playing a guy who is doing his last hurrah and will spend everything he’s got to do it, including his life. That had dignity. As I get older, I’m really looking for parts now that have a certain dignity in them. Right now my hair is absolutely grey. We pulled all of the color out of it and it’s cut so short now and I’m looking weird, but I’m playing a guy with a lot of dignity in this PENITENT MAN, so I’m really excited about it.
Capone: Do you have anything coming up that you have already done?
LH: Yeah, I do. There’s a movie, I think the name is going to end up being IT’S IN THE BLOOD, but right now they're calling it WILDERNESS and I kept telling the producers that it sounds like a basket-weaving movie from Disney, so I freaked them out like that. It’s a two character film basically, a father and a son up on a mountain. If I were to get into what the story is, it’d blow your mind, but I’d rather you see it. It will be done pretty soon, but it was a first time director and it took him and this kid two years to write. I called them and asked them the right questions and I really believed they could pull the movie off. When we got there, we worked our hearts out for it in Texas. It’s called WILDERNESS right now, but man I am really proud of it. That’s in the can, and I’ve been working pretty steadily.
Capone: It sounds like you still very much enjoy being a busy working actor.
LH: Yeah and there’s another element, too. When you are working with a first-time director, there is a feeling of wanting to support them. I like actors, so I’m always on the side of an actor and whatever the guy brings to the table I will embrace it, because it’s a tough job and by that I mean it’s a risky job and you really have got to help each other and when you are working with a first-time director, you are there. You are there, like back with Jim Cameron, you are there for that moment, the epiphany, Here it comes. What are you going to do? Are you going to rise to it, or are you going to knuckle under? Are you just going to give up? It’s a great moment. It’s a little bit like a romance. When you first meet a girl, you don’t know anything about her, so you are going to create it.
Capone: It’s all about the discovery, that’s right.
LH: Absolutely man. It’s all about discovery. My grandfather said to me once, “Lance, you will never know what it was like to dig through hundreds of yards of petticoats. You will never know what that’s like.” [laughs]
Capone: And you keep making westerns in the hopes of finding out.
LH: [laughs] Absolutely! “Put some more petticoats on that babe.” [laughs]
Capone: Lance, those are all of the questions I have. Thank you so much for spending the time with me. It's been a genuine pleasure.
LH: Oh, thank you. Thanks for being a supporter.
Capone: Hopefully, I'll have a chance to say Hi when you come to town.
LH: Please do. We’ll have a beer together or something.
Capone: Awesome. We'll do that.
LH: Have a great day!
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