Lance Henriksen: Interview with a genre legend

Lance Henriksen - Courtesy of Diana L. Ragland
Lance Henriksen - Courtesy of Diana L. Ragland /

With hundreds of acting credits, Lance Henriksen is a force to be reckoned with. And with those credits including such genre favorites as Pumpkinhead, Near Dark, Aliens, and the series Millennium, he is more or less a legend among horror fans.

In addition to his films, Henriksen lends his distinctive voice to animated features and video games, has appeared on Broadway, written an autobiography (Not Bad For a Human – The Life and Films of Lance Henriksen), and is very accomplished in pottery.

He plays a small, but very important role in the recent horror film The Unhealer, and he spoke to 1428 Elm about that role, as well as sharing some fascinating inside stories about several of his other films.

1428 Elm: Lance, I had the chance to briefly meet you at Spooky Empire in October. I got a selfie with you, and we chatted about my favorite vampire movie of all time, Near Dark. I definitely want to talk more about that one in a minute or two, but since you have over 150 films to your credit…

Lance Henriksen: There’s more than that, there’s over 300.

1428 Elm: Films? Oh, my gosh, I counted 154 on the list on Wikipedia, but that didn’t count television.

Lance Henriksen : I guess they’re not caught up yet [Laughs].

1428 Elm: I guess not! You just don’t take a rest, do you?

Lance Henriksen: Well, I do, I do. When I’m not acting, my real passion – and I’ve been doing it since 1960 – is I make pottery. I’m real good at it [Laughs]. I love it, I really do.

1428 Elm: It’s probably very therapeutic too.

Lance Henriksen: It is, you can shake loose the bad guys I play.

Lance Henriksen
The Unhealer – Courtesy of Scream Factory/Ian Fisher /

1428 Elm: I want to start by talking about one of your newer films that I just had the chance to watch this week, and that’s The Unhealer.

Lance Henriksen: That’s a crazy movie, isn’t it?

1428 Elm: It is, but I really liked it. It kind of gave me that 80s vibe, it isn’t set in the 80s, but it almost had the feel of Pumpkinhead-type movie.

Lance Henriksen: It is, exactly! You know, aside from my character, it’s a very clean movie, a very clear movie.

1428 Elm: But, your character…you did a great job! You were so dynamic, and energetic and smarmy. Tell our readers about your role in The Unhealer.

Lance Henriksen: Well, look, here’s a guy who lives in his van. He’s basically a homeless guy, but he’s also a scam artist. He’s a thief, a con man; he’s one of those kind of guys. That’s why I wanted to wear that dirty linen suit, that’s the best he could do to come out looking like a snake oil salesman.

What con men do, is they try one scam on you, and if you accept it, then they do 20 more. So, it gave me a great deal of pleasure to plan. He starts out with a bad leg, robbing an Indian burial ground, and he gets struck by lightning, and it threw him 30 feet into his van and dented the whole side of the van.

You have to pay your dues for the bad things you do in this life, there’s no escaping it. He just didn’t know when it was going to happen. And, I enjoyed playing him, because he was just so rotten!

1428 Elm: You can tell you enjoyed playing Pflueger.

Lance Henriksen: I did, I did.

1428 Elm: You’ve done everything from voicing Disney characters, to writing your autobiography, to voicing video games, and you just did a heavy drama with Viggo Mortensen called Falling, but it seems like most people know you from your work in horror and thrillers. Is this a genre you sought to be involved in, or did it just kind of happen for you?

Lance Henriksen: No, it happened, it just happened. You know, I don’t have a master plan for anything. The movie with Viggo, it was one of the great pleasures in my life, working with him. And it’s a strong movie, he did a great job. He did it all, he wrote it, he did the music, edited it, he was in it…he did all of these things, I can’t watch a guy do that without being in awe of the situation. I tried to do the best job I could. It was a gift, it really was.

1428 Elm: It was amazing. I think a lot of people who see you in that are going to be – not surprised, because you’re obviously a very good actor – but, they’re probably not used to seeing you in such a heavy dramatic role.

Lance Henriksen: You know what happened? I’ve got to tell you something, in the Macao International Film Festival, it showed there. And, of all things, they called me and said I won Best Actor in the show. And I went, “Really, are you kidding me?” Because what hit me was, we’re talking about a different culture, and they got it. They understood it, and I don’t know how, because of the language and everything else, but that was a moment, it really was. I don’t get that excited about awards, but I was honored.  Everything about what we do as actors, or writers, or movie makers, it’s hard to make sense of the world, because it’s a crazy place. You know what I mean.

I’m not bragging by telling you that, I hope. I hate to sound like that. I was just stunned.

1428 Elm: Oh no, you deserved it! You gave an incredible performance.

Lance Henriksen: Thank you. So, I’ve been blessed that way. You know, the 80s was all about horror and science fiction, all of that stuff, I’ve been in a lot of those. And I loved every minute of it.

Lance Henriksen
Lance Henriksen – Courtesy of Diana L. Ragland /

Stan Winston directed Pumpkinhead. I remember getting the script, I said, “Wait a minute”, it was an orange-colored script, and it said Pumpkinhead on it.  And I said, “I don’t want to do a movie where I’m riding around on a horse with a pumpkin on my head.” And finally, my agent made me read it, and I did, and I was told nothing about it. And there was a scene in the script where my son is dead, and he sits up and says, “Daddy, what did you do?” And it made the hair on my neck stand up, and then I decided to do it.

1428 Elm: Just talking to you, it seems like you carefully choose your films.

Lance Henriksen: It has to have something in it, you know what I mean? There are certain movies I wouldn’t be very good for, I just take them as they come, and see if there’s anything that relates to me as a 16-year-old [Laughs].

Lance Henriksen dishes on Near Dark

1428 Elm: I am a big fan of horror films. I mean, I like all kinds of films, but horror has always been my “thing.” I am in a lot of groups on social media, and I know the films people in the horror community mostly love you for are Pumpkinhead and Aliens. And then there’s Near Dark, which was probably the least financially successful of those three films, but over the years, people have just gone crazy trying to find it on DVD or streaming. The last time I checked just a few days ago, the DVD was running at around $100.

Lance Henriksen: I know, it gets crazy, doesn’t it? The company that made it went bankrupt the same moment we opened. So, our first ad was the size of a business card, and then The Lost Boys was coming out around the same time, and they had a big budget, so that’s what happened. But, I don’t regret any of it.

1428 Elm: You shouldn’t regret it! People love that movie, I’m telling you. Shudder had it available to stream I think in October, and it wasn’t on for very long, maybe a month, but the fans were so happy about that.

Lance Henriksen: Oh, good!

1428 Elm: I’m serious, people love that movie, there is nothing out there but good word of mouth about that film. Many, many years ago, when Blockbuster was going out of business, I bought a copy of it for probably $5.

Lance Henriksen: Well, good for you, on video tape?

1428 Elm: Well, no, it’s on DVD, and that’s good, because I wouldn’t be able to play it now if it was on video!

Lance Henriksen: Well, you would have to go buy one of those old antique machines.

1428 Elm: I did, I bought one for my husband at Goodwill for 12 dollars! And it works!

Lance Henriksen : [Laughs] That’s funny!

Lance Henriksen
Carla Davis and Lance Henriksen at Spooky Empire. Photo courtesy Carla Davis /

1428 Elm: So, judging by our brief conversation at Spooky Empire, from what you said, it seems like filming Near Dark was a really great experience for you. Tell us a little bit about that.

Lance Henriksen: Well, Kathryn Bigelow, she’s a painter, she’s a really creative person; a dancer, a gymnast, you name it. And she wrote that with Eric Red, and the script read like poetry in a crazy way. It was beautifully written, and all of us – Bill Paxton, Jenette (Goldstein), and everybody, we all got into it in a really visceral way. One of the things that happened was we would train. We had, like, a week’s rehearsal, and she would go, “Alright, this is a room where there’s windows everywhere. What are you gonna do?” And we would have to grab blankets and tin foil, and spray the windows black, we all improvised everything about the attack on the building. And I wanted more than one gun, I wanted a Colt, and a Desert Eagle and another small gun that I kept in my boot.

We all created our characters, and one of the things she said was, “I want you to all write a bio about how you go turned, how this happened,” and we all did. And mine was, I was in the Southern Navy, and I was in an iron clad, and one of the things that happened was we were in a battle with the North, and we got decimated, we got torn apart. But, our ship just drifted into the Chesapeake into the weeds, and harpies started feeding on the dying men, and one of them took pity on me and turned me, instead of just eating me.

And, when you do that, you believe even deeper in your character. I mean, I had a rebel flag sewn into the inside of my coat, and dipped my hair in tar in the back, that’s the way they did it back in those day. And I never got refused any idea, so I felt supported.  We were all pretty damned happy.

1428 Elm: Well, as I said, it’s one of my favorites.

Lance Henriksen: Yay, I’m glad to hear that, thank you, we tried.

1428 Elm: I can remember the first time I saw a trailer for Near Dark, I was working in a clothing store, and we used to play MTV on the monitors. They were interviewing someone from the film, I don’t even remember who, but they showed a scene from it, and I just remember really wanting to see it. It was a while before I got a chance to, but it was worth the wait.

Lance Henriksen: Well, that just made me feel really good, because those movies are not gonna go away.

1428 Elm: I mean, how many vampire westerns are there? And, that’s basically what it is.

Lance Henriksen: Yeah, absolutely. When we finished that movie, we were standing on the side of the road in the early, early morning in Arizona. The sun was just coming up, the car had been on fire and all this stuff had been going on, and Bill Paxton turned to me and said, “Hey, Lance, you know we ought to be starting the prequel right now.” We both felt that, we knew so much, and we could do it so well, we had to work on it really hard.

Everything was a night shoot, so we would head for the motels out in Coolidge and that area. First we’d stop at a truck stop and get some dinner. [Laughs] I don’t mean killing truck drivers. And we came in without taking our makeup off, we looked like “uh-oh,” and you could see the truck drivers leaving.

1428 Elm: For a long time, there’s been some speculation regarding a possible film continuation of Millennium, another fan favorite.

Lance Henriksen: I wish that would happen, I really wish that would happen.

1428 Elm: Is that still a possibility?

Lance Henriksen: I don’t know, I really don’t. We had that experience of doing 60 shows, it would be so easy to get back into it. And also, times have changed, stories are changing, they really are. So, it’s an exciting prospect for sure, and people really do care about that show. It would be like a gift to a lot of people.

1428 Elm: Well, I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

Lance Henriksen: Yes, please. Tell that to everybody you know. I would love to do that, I’ve had a lot of time to think about Frank Black.

1428 Elm: Do you have anything coming up soon that you’re allowed to talk about at this point?

Lance Henriksen: Yeah, there’s a movie I did, it’s called The Artifice Girl, and The Artifice Girl is an AI character, and the actors in it were some of the most truthful, poignant actors I’ve ever worked with. It’s directed by a guy named Franklin Rich, he wrote it, he directed it, he’s in it, now he’s editing it and finishing it, and I’m telling you, try to remember that one, The Artifice Girl.

1428 Elm: Do you have any idea when it’s going to be released?

Lance Henriksen : I think they’re going to try to get it into Cannes. They missed Sundance because it was so near, and they weren’t finished editing it yet and turning it into a jewel rather than something that wasn’t quite ready yet. Anyway, I did that one, and I really was very moved by it. Viggo Mortense saw it, and I’m gonna quote him, because I respect him greatly. He said, “It’s such an original movie”, and that meant a lot to me, and to everybody.

There’s a 12-year-old girl in it, and I called her Mohammed Ali, she is so powerful for her age, so talented; I was blown away.

But, yeah…I’m not stopping! It’s such a long journey, and I’m loving every minute of it.

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Which Lance Henriksen films are your favorites? Share your thoughts in the comments section.