This weekend is the 200th Syfy original Saturday-night movie, Scream of the Banshee, and while the monster in it looks to live up to the standards set by Megashark, the star of the movie has a pedigree all his own. He's Lance Henriksen, star of dozens of science-fiction and horror movies, including a few bona fide classics and the TV series Millennium, and we got to sit in on a conference call with him to talk about the movie, his love of Westerns, and what he'd be doing if he wasn't acting.
You've had this vast career and you've done so many things, but if you had to pick one project, which has been your very favorite and why?
Lance Henriksen: It's always the last one, it's always the last one. Because it's so present in your body. I liked Scream of the Banshee because it was a real challenge. When I got down to Louisiana, we were shooting in a big plantation house. And it was already decorated with a lot of mannequins and things like that. And I thought, "How am I going to pull off this character, I mean, if this is where he lives?" And I thought, "Oh man, I'm going to go for it." He's got all the defects of character that an actor loves to play. So I had a really great time. I really did.
What was it about this character and about this film that made you want do it when you read the script?
Henriksen: What they challenged me with was somebody completely different than anything I'd ever considered doing. The guy is a fired professor living in a plantation in Louisiana. And his whole world is like, a guy that's sort of hiding out. And he's suicidal, and he's a real wacko. He's got such character defects that I thought, "Man, it's the closest thing to comedy without making it a comedy that I could do." And not that I think I'm funny, I think situations are very funny. And they can be dark or they can be anything. As an actor, I like to try to play those character defects in an interesting way. Because it's certainly been done. Defects of character have been done a lot in movies, and I really enjoy it. Enjoy the challenge. It's a little bit like trying to play Bishop after you had Rutger Hauer and other guys performing an android. How are you going to come up with your own? And I found a way, but it wasn't being competitive. If you were trying to be competitive with those guys you'd burn. You'd crash and burn. The director just let me cut loose, so I had a great time. Wait till you get a load of my hairstyle, you're going to love it.
You're really associated with the fantasy/sci-fi genre. Is that something that you've sought out over your career, or is it just really how it worked out?
Henriksen: No, it just worked out that way. If I had been born 30 years earlier, I would have been in all the Westerns. It's just the way that the industry goes. I mean, back in the day there were reasonable-budget Westerns. The kind of running around the same rock on a horse. But here we are in an age of a lot of different kinds of fears and things. And so you have the science-fiction and horror genre doing our morality plays the same way that they would have done in Westerns. And so I really accept it. I absolutely accept it. Because in every respect, fantasy, it's like doing abstract paintings. I mean, it's just the era that we're in. So I'm grateful for the work I've been offered.
You've been in a few Westerns, most notably The Quick and the Dead -- what's your favorite Western project you've worked on?
Henriksen: Well you know, there's been four of them; Appaloosa with Ed Harris -- I loved playing Ring. You know, and then before that I did a movie called Gunfighter's Moon. And then one of my favorites of all time was with Jim Jarmusch, we did Dead Man. You know, I was in that with Johnny Depp and all of that. I ride really well, and I shoot a gun really well. And I love the genre, because I knew Rex Rossi, who was a guy that had been bought by Tom Mix to be in his Wild West show. And Rex was one of my best friends. And he taught me how to ride and do trick mounts and all that kind of stuff. And once I did Westerns, I was hooked. But it sort of was the end of the Westerns, in a way. You know, there's been very few of them made. But I love them. They're morality plays and they're -- you know, I never wanted to play a guy who was acting like a cowboy, rather, play someone who had a real life and then he also was trapped into situations. So, a little bit like comedy. I don't think I'm funny, but I think situations are funny. And I don't think I'm a killer, but situations could force you to do things that you have to do. Everything in acting is about, "To what degree are you asking me to go?"
You almost had a career in the below-the-line crafts, as a crewperson. If you were to work behind the scenes -- which job do you think you would have been suited for the most?
Henriksen: Oh, yes. Yes, because I was already a painter. I used to paint murals. But I would do anything to get involved in theater. Because that was the door. I knew that was the door that had to open before I understood what it was all about. There's a company called ADI with Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff. These guys do special effects -- we did Aliens, Terminator, Pumpkinhead together. And they're still my friends. And I think I would have probably gone in that direction, where it's creating the creature effects and all that kind of thing. Because it's as close as you can get to acting without being an actor, because you have to help create the fantasy. And I love sculpting, too. So, yes that's the answer. I would have definitely gone in that direction.
Scream of the Banshee airs Saturday night at 9 PM on Syfy, and Henriksen's illustrated autobiography, Not Bad For a Human comes out on May 5.
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