Lance Henriksen is a man who needs little introduction. A Hollywood icon with well over 150+ films to his name. He’s best known as the empathetic android Bishop in Aliens and the intuitive criminal profiler Frank Black in the TV series “Millennium.” Over the course of many decades and through his many roles, Henriksen has taken on threats both foreign, domestic, technological, supernatural and extra-terrestrial. He has made a name for himself working alongside some of Hollywood’s biggest names, both in front of and behind the camera. His performances are truly transformative and have earned him a legion of dedicated fans around he globe as his work continues grow as an actor. At 74 years young, he continues to take on ambitious new projects and stretch himself as an actor. Best of all, he shows no signs of slowing down!
Henriksen recently wrapped work on the highly anticipated suspense thriller ‘Monday at 11:01 A.M.,” which stars Charles Agron (Dark House), Briana Evigan (Step Up 2 the Streets), Lance Henriksen (Aliens) and Lauren Shaw (Zero Dark Thirty). Directed by Harvey Lowry (Sinbad: The Fifth Voyage) from a script by Agron, the film focuses on Michael, who brings his girlfriend Jenny to a beautiful yet strange mountain town where everyone seems familiar. But he begins to see and hear things that no one else can. After many hallucinations and then losing sight of Jenny, Michael is brought to the brink of insanity. He finds himself frantically questioning what is real and what it isn’t. Shot in Guthrie, Oklahoma, the film is currently slated for release in 2015.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Lance Henriksen to discuss his earlier years as an actor, the secret to his longevity, his excitement about his recent work on “Monday at 11:01 A.M.” and much more!
You have become a familiar face on screen. Going back to the beginning, what intrigued you about acting early on and made you follow the path?
You know what happened? I have to tell you, I have given this a lot of thought because I have always wondered myself, “How did this all go down?” I never went to school. I hated school and I wasn’t interested in reading but I wasn’t stupid. I had an intelligence. I think I was around 7 or 8 years old and I was raised in New York where I was shining shoes. What I would do is give half to my mother and the other half I would take and go to the movies. I remember sitting in the theater watching “Enrico Caruso.” It starts out that Crusoe is a young guy who sings great and the town loves him. Then he meets a girl and they fall in love and get married. Then he suddenly becomes very famous as Crusoe. He is on stage when he blows his neck out singing this aria and dies. The whole movie took place in an hour-and-a-half or something like that. It suddenly terrified me! I was wondering through the years what was scary about it. What was really terrifying to me was that you could tell a man’s entire life story in an hour-and-a-half. I thought to myself, even as a kid, “I want to live 1,000 lifetimes. I don’t want my story to be told in an hour-and-a-half.” I think that is the core moment when that happened to me, where I knew as an actor I could live those 1,000 lifetimes. I loved the movies and I used to go all the time. I was almost a method audience. I brought camping equipment to see a movie with Kirk Douglas going up the river in a keelboat with flintlock rifles! I would be sitting in the theater watching it four or five times because they didn’t empty the theater in those days. They would just start the movie over again. I remember sitting there and feeling like I was there, like I could do that! I wanted to go up river! [laughs] I had a vivid mind about putting together where I am at really at the moment, where I would like to be and also wondering how can it happen. Suddenly, in my 30s, I started acting.
Was there anyone in particular who made a big impact on you in your early years?
What I had seen around me, always, was that longevity was everything. If you stay with it long enough, something will happen. If you are ready for it, then it’s going to work! I had some incredible teachers along the way. There was a woman named Sandra Seacat and she was very much a mentor in connecting up your spirit or soul with the part of acting you are going to have strength in, so that you have the strength to believe in yourself. I have also had some wonderful friends who were actors when I was just starting out. I don’t want to name drop but they took me on as a friend. When you hang out with people who are 15 years ahead of you in terms of acting, you learn a lot by just being part of their lives. New York is different than California. In New York, you run into people on the street and then go have coffee. It is a walking city so it is a community. The only nature is the people, so it was a river to get thrown into! It was always great and I loved it. I respect actors. I always have and I probably always will.
Did you ever experience that “Ah-ha!” moment when you really felt you had made it as an actor?
You know, the ah-ha happens when you are working. It happens when the camera is rolling or you are on the stage. Those are the moments that you live for and you have created that person. The moment where you are not acting anymore but it is flowing and it is real. Those are the ah-ha moments, not moments about the business. I never think about the business to be honest with you! I don’t go to parties and schmooze and shit. [laughs]
You mentioned longevity. Is there any secret to your success when it comes to that?
It really comes from appreciation. Those ah-ha moments we were just talking about get closer and closer, so that you are in a steady flow when you are doing a role you really like. It is as if the role is feeding you and you are channeling this character. You don’t even know where it is coming from but you are channeling it. That is what keeps you going and keeps you excited about it. I think every time I walk on a set, I go right back to zero like I have never acted before and I want to see what draws me into it. Usually, it is the other people you are working with. You have a feeling about them and you have your own energy and thoughts going on. Those are where those ah-ha moments originate.
You have become such an icon over the years …
I put my pants on one leg at a time just like you do! [laughs] We are in the same boat, man! We are in the same generation. I may be a little older but we are still here! We are sharing the history of the world at this moment. We are all responding!
What is the biggest lesson we can take away from the story of Lance Henriksen?
I am watching this colorful pageantry go by. You know, just the other day, I was watching the Superbowl and they had a Viagra ad on there. You can see a woman on television these days talking about how a husband or boyfriend can now get it up when it’s time! God, when I was a teenager, nobody ever talked about anything like that! Now, it is on television! Everyone is talking about it. It has gotten so loose and free flowing. We are in an age now that is very interesting. What you can say now is pretty elaborate and pretty gritty. I have really watched an evolution take place because I have lived long enough but it is all new to me. Every day is a new day and there are new issues going on from ISIS to politics to everything else and it goes on and on and on. That is why I call it a pageant! That is what it is! It sometimes seems like we aren’t learning from shit but I think we are! [laughs]
One of your most recent projects is a film called “Monday at 11:01 AM.” What can you tell us about the project?
One of the things that blew me away was that Charles Argon, who starred in the film, also wrote it. One of the things that is kind of amazing in a situation like that is that, as a writer, a lot of guys defend their writing, the words and all of that, to the point of their detriment. He didn’t do that at all. He was very open to personalizing it. For me as an actor, personalizing it so that I can play it and it can be a real person is very important. He was just another actor struggling to do the same thing I was doing, so it was a great feeling. We were really rolling! I didn’t change a lot of his dialog or anything, it is just the matter of having the freedom to do it if you needed to, if you know what I mean.
What was it about the script or the character that intrigued you early on and made you pursue the role? Was there something that spoke to you?
Oh, yeah! In every way, this character is a facilitator between life and death or whether you go up or down. What he is doing is facilitating. He had no judgement ability about what was going to take place. Only the soul of the human being that was passing through my world or this place was determining their own fate by the kind of person they were. I was watching almost from a point of view of just enjoying humanity in all of its strengths and weaknesses. That was what appealed to me. All the turns in the story of “Monday at 11:01 AM” are very surprising and beautifully wrought in the material. I was happy about it and was wondering how I was going to do it when I read it. It was a question of, “What am I going to draw on for this?” It was an exciting project to be a part of, it really was!
What did you take away from working with the cast and crew on this picture?
There is a phrase that I think really covers a lot. It is: “Bullshit rolls downhill.” One of the things about this set was that it was one of the calmest, attentive and quiet I have been on in a long time. It was very respectful of what we all need to do in order to make something work. The crew was great and the director, Harvey Lowry, was wonderful. In that setting, creation was possible! It was almost the perfect situation. We were in a little town in Guthrie, Oklahoma. You wouldn’t expect this sophisticated crew to come rolling in to do this movie! The whole situation was good and I enjoyed it very much!
You played so many great roles throughout your career. Do you have a specific process for bringing these characters to life?
Every project is new and every project is an adventure! For example, when you talk about Charles and how accepting he was to new ideas, it allowed things to flow and allowed us all to become these characters. That is something you lust after and it is a miracle when it happens, that it flows like that. In those moments, every idea is accepted and if you have good taste, the ideas meld. That is what it is about! It’s not just reciting written material. The words you learn but you forget them or ignore them and the situation will bring those words out. The chemistry between the people comes out. That is why I call it channeling. I don’t know where it comes from or how it happens but it does happen. We were really sailing. You know, this is a big movie to do and I am certain that Charles pulled it off. Charles kicked ass! He really did! It’s a rocker!
Looking back on your career, how have you evolved as an actor along the way?
You know what? I have always been my own friend. You do a lot of struggling to try to figure this thing out. It is an enormous thing, acting, because there are crossroads we all meet each other on. People have come from every type of place and environment and we all meet suddenly. I always call acting “a kiss in the dark” because you don’t know who, what, why, where or how! [laughs] What you experience is life. It is a wonderful thing, it really is. Then you connect up with all of the creative art that has gone on from William Shakespeare all the way to today. When we did “Network,” I was sitting across from Paddy Chayefsky at lunch and we were talking about life in general. You realize what a great writer that man was and I rubbed elbows with him. I was a young actor at the time who hadn’t done shit but I had a small role thanks to Sidney Lumet. It has always been this incredible journey of meeting all these amazing people in an intimate way. When you are acting, it is a very intimate thing. It’s not about posing! [laughs]
Where do you see yourself headed in the future?
I just came back from New York last night where I was shooting a guest appearance on “The Blacklist.” I had a really great time! They are introducing the character that I just did and then I will go back out around the 15th and do a fleshed out adventure about who this guy is. Honest to God, I don’t have any schemes! I’m not a schemer. I am looking for the adventure! Like I said, “Who, what, when or how” is out of my hands! My job, when I get a script, is to call the writer and ask what they have in mind. Then I say, “Well, this is what I have been thinking. Am I on the right track?” Then we start our relationship from that moment on. That is what I look forward to and what I enjoy about it. It sounds like I’m juggling a lot but I’m not. It has become a natural thing for me over the years.
You certainly had some great roles but is there anything you may have passed on along the way you wish you hadn’t?
No. No, I don’t. It’s a little bit like a cat leaving a cat box. If you didn’t get the role, then you don’t look back. You do your thing and you may glance back and go, “Oh, a big one!” [laughs] But you don’t dwell on it! You just move! [laughs] I have no regrets about what I didn’t get. None!
What is your best advice for those looking to take the journey as an actor?
You know, there is no platitude that would work. I really think that you deal with people when it is happening. This is a question where I don’t have a broad stroke answer about what a young actor should do. I think when you meet them and they talk about their work, then you share. There is no one answer because we are all different. We are all different and we are in different conditions at any given time.
Are you involved with any charity work we can help shine a much deserved light on?
Yeah. My charity of choice always has to do with children. There is a charity called Children of the Night. They can use all the help they can get. What they do is try to reunite street kids, that have come to California for whatever reason, with their families. They work very hard to keep these kids out of trouble and I love that charity. The guy who turned me on to the charity was Anthony Edwards, who is very involved with them.
Thanks for you time today, Lance! it has been a pleasure!
The please is all mine, Jason! Take care, my friend!
To learn more about the incredible life story of Lance Henriksen, pick up a copy of his amazing autobiography, “Not Bad For A Human.” Visit www.notbadforahuman.com for all the details!