Lance Henriksen has appeared in over 250 films and faced his most challenging role to date in the upcoming family drama “Falling” directed by Viggo Mortensen.
There’s no business, like show business—and there’s no other actor like Lance Henriksen. From Dog Day Afternoon and Network, to The Terminator and Aliens to name a few highlights from his 250-plus movie and television appearances, Henriksen has captured what eludes many in the entertainment industry: longevity.
After jumping at the chance to speak to Henriksen, discussing one of his latest roles as a bounty hunter in the western Eminence Hill, to what sounds like a career-defining role in the upcoming Viggo Mortensen family drama Falling, I quickly learned that a passion for his craft and brutal honesty about choosing projects are key reasons why he remains incredibly busy to this day.
It also doesn’t hurt that his raw, emotional and unforgettable performances have prevented him from having to read for a role in over 20 years. Here are excerpts from our conversation.
Talk to me about the early years. When did you start acting?
Henriksen: I’ve been very lucky because I started acting when I was 30. It was odd taking acting classes with kids who were crying about a dead parakeet in the bottom of the birdcage and I thought, What the hell am I doing here? I had already sailed around the world on ships, I was a man. I didn’t know if this acting thing was going to work or not. I am from New York and thankfully surrounded myself with really great actors. I thought I was going to be doing theater. I never thought I would get into movies.
What projects shaped you into the actor and person you are today?
Sidney Lumet had me on three of his movies because he loved New York actors. Network, Prince and The City and then Dog Day Afternoon which was the first real movie I ever did. Those movies started a chain reaction. I ended up doing a short scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I was working my way upstream. Suddenly, it all felt possible. I haven’t had to audition for anything in over 20 years which is crazy. I am grateful.
How do you decide which film projects you want to get involved with?
There are basically three kinds of movies I make: alimony films, jet lag films–that’s when they take you from the airport in Romania and bring you to the set to start working on a film you know nothing about. And then there’s a third type of film I don’t really mention because they speak for themselves. Regardless, acting in films isn’t a bad place to be. You get to work and travel the world. That’s the grand element of being an actor. You never know the who, what, where, when, or how you’re getting a job. It’s a matter of economics, sometimes.
Let’s talk about some of those great genre movies you starred in like Pumpkinhead, Near Dark, Aliens…
Pumpkinhead worked so well because it’s a morality play. I have so many fond memories of that film. The director, Stan Winston, was such an incredible artist in his life. At first, I didn’t know if I wanted to do the film. My agent called me and said I have this script called Pumpkinhead. I immediately thought I’d have to ride around with a pumpkin on my head like Ichabod Crane. But my agent wouldn’t tell me what it was about, only that I had to read the script. So I did. When I got to the part where my son sits up and says, “Daddy, what did you do?” – the hair on the back of my neck stood up. So then I immediately said yes, I’d be happy to do it.
We had a lot of fun on Near Dark because a bunch of us, including Bill Paxton and Jeanette Goldstein, had just done Aliens together. It was a great gift and a great choice to put us all together again because we knew each other so well. The script from Eric Red wasn’t structured like a normal script and read like poetry. It was unbelievable.
As for Aliens, Jim Cameron and I worked together on Terminator and I’ve known Jim for a long time and can remember when we didn’t have enough money to buy sushi and a pitcher of beer. We were broke! And then of course his rise to fame was so swift. But with Aliens, I had to really figure out how to play that character because in my childhood, I had a lot of stepfathers and felt like I had no power over anything. So I approached this role in a rational way and thought, I’m an android and if people treat me badly, I know I am going to outlive them so I can forgive them. It gave me a tremendous amount of freedom to bring that level of detail to the role. I knew who he was and who I wanted him to be.
What attracted you to play a smaller role in the recently released western, Eminence Hill ?
I love westerns, I’ve done a ton of them from the Quick and the Dead to Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man. You can do a lot with getting into character on Westerns because they are all morality plays. I like that because at the very least, the humanity is not lost, even if I am playing a bad guy. On Eminence Hill they initially wanted me to play a priest which I don’t do but there was another character I did want to play, a bounty hunter type that was after a real parasite of a person. So I got to play this short role, only took a day to shoot and the director did a really great job pulling these reenactment folks into the mix to help recreate that reality back then.
Anything you are working on now that you’re excited about?
I’m in a new movie with Viggo Mortensen that he wrote, directed and starred in called Falling. It was shot in Canada for a few months. We get to see the final screening on November 9th and I’m terrified to see it.
Yes! It’s a very complicated role and story. It almost took me three weeks to try and figure out how to play this character. I kept asking myself, How am I going to do this? I play Viggo’s father in the movie and it’s one of the strangest gifts I’ve ever received because it’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I think I figured it out… but not sure I’ll have a career after this (laughs). It’s the kind of role and challenge that I’ve always wanted to have. And here it is. But I feel like a goldfish in cold water, swimming back and forth, not knowing what this is going to be like. I’ve probably done close to 250 films over the years and nothing has affected me like this. It took me months to get away from the movie and out of my system so I could get back to living.
This content was originally published here.