SHOCK locks down the inimitable punk rock icon Henry Rollins to jaw about his role in the cannibal thriller HE NEVER DIED.
For a performer like Henry Rollins, with dozens of albums, tours, and books to his name, his occasional acting gigs always seemed like a lark, a diversion from the day job. In between the decades of recordings and live shows, Rollins distinctive mug would pop up on screen in some unlikely placesfrom cameos in steroidal action fare like HEAT and BAD BOYS 2, to more comedic roles like an over-enthusiastic highway patrolman alongside Charlie Sheen in THE CHASE. But as Rollins musical pursuits have wound down, his screen appearances have become much more substantial: witness his recurring turn as a scheming white supremacist on T.V.s SONS OF ANARCHY, or as an ex-military reality show host up against a clan of mutant inbreds in Joe Lynchs enjoyable gorefest WRONG TURN 2.
Now, at the seasoned age of 54, Rollins has assumed his very first lead with the film HE NEVER DIED (out Friday from Vertical Entertainment), and its a doozy: In DIED, Rollins plays Jack, an immortal, invulnerable creature who is forced to consume human flesh and blood to survive. At this stage of his endless existence, Jack has his days set to a predictable course of bingo games and blood bags. That numbing routine is disrupted when a heretofore unknown daughter is kidnapped by revenge-seeking gangsters, and Jack is forced to shrug off his self-imposed isolation to mount a violent rescue mission.
Through the world-weary, hilariously brusque character of Jack, Rollins emerges as a commanding and magnetic lead actor, helped along by writer-director Jason Krawczyks acerbic dialogue. SHOCK recently had the chance to chat with Rollins on the appeal of indie films, his burgeoning status as a horror icon, and more:
SHOCK: Readers of your books will know that you dont put much stock in what critics have to say about you, but is it somewhat rewarding to be receiving such positive notices for your work in DIED?
ROLLINS: I havent read any of the reviews. Ive just seen the tip sheet that has all of the exclamation-point one liners. Henry Rollins is a force of nature! and all of that stuff. I believe in the First Amendment, in that I really think you should say what you want. I dont have to like it. And so anyone giving me a review, of which there have been many, and of every stripehateful or laudatory or whateverto me theyre all the same in that the movie is done. The record is done. Whatever youre reviewing is done. Theres nothing I can do about it or what you think of it, and so I dont know that I should bother to read any review of me in that I cant change your mind nor would I seek to. I cant change the ending or the final product. I just go make something else. So Im quite surprised at the good reviewswell, the one-liners Ive been told about. The people that gather the press have been saying, Henry, this thing gets really good reviews!, and Im like, OK, well, Im kind of done with it, in the way that I cant shoot the film again. So my work is basically done, and now Im just talking about it with wonderful people like yourself. But really, my hands are tied as to what you will think. If you dont like (DIED), I will not argue with that or take umbrage or try to disabuse you of that opinion. But I must say, Im very surprised at the critical response and the audiences really dig it. I didnt know what to expect. Im used to mediocre, tepid-to-scathing reviews for the things Ive done, which has never stopped me from doing the next one or the next one. Im not necessarily the friend of critics, in that when I get a bad review, it really doesnt surprise me. But I dont get angry.
SHOCK: In other interviews, youve said that youve essentially retired from performing music. Are you finding that you get the same sort of artistic satisfaction from acting?
ROLLINS: Well, in a way its very similar, in that its disciplined preparation and believing in what youre doing. You have to be coming from some jagged version of the truth to do music or acting or anything, really. Some version of the truth is in there, no matter how crazy or twisted up. (Acting) is not as full-on or loud as rock and roll, which is a high-decibel sweat festat least when I did it. The one thing I really love about acting is that it demands your full attention. Its extremely hard, which makes me marvel at those who can actually do it. Im completely untrained, Ive never had a lesson. I love the moments you have in a film like HE NEVER DIED where you can be overwhelmingly intense and thats what the job requires. Thats why I took to the stage as a younger person; because there was a place where I could plug in, be the maniac I am. No one gets hurt, its art. I dont want to be in a street fight, I just want someplace where I can expend all my energy and wipe myself out night to night. Music allowed that. With intense films like HE NEVER DIED, you get that same opportunityit might not be with a rock band, but the opportunity to be intense in a situation thats obviously fictitious, and that makes you have to believe it all the more. You go from reality to hyper-reality, which suits me just fine.
SHOCK: Throughout your acting career youve fluctuated between both mega-budget Michael Bay-level productions and the scruffiest, tiniest indie film sets. Which of those worlds do you find suits you better?
ROLLINS: The smaller movies are more fun. Theres less ego all around, so I think theres less pressure on everyone. Im not going to name names, but sometimes you can be working on a big film, and its cool and wild and an interesting time of your life, but some of the people can be extraordinarily self-involved and quite unpleasant to be around day after day. Its like, Wow, you really believe your own hype. Its where theyre so sucked up into the idea of themselves; its not even the character, theyre just self-absorbed. I dont like being around that, and Ive found the horror genre to be amazingly free of it. Where its intense and fun but theres a backbeat of comedy, or theres a least a backbeat of between takes, were going to have a laughOK, the head came off wrong! Ok, get the glue. In the moment, you take it seriously, but you dont take yourself so seriously and Ive been with people who take themselves so seriously that its just unendurable. Its like, really? Are you that stuck on yourself? It must suck being you. Ive run into those people here and there, now and then on the big movies. As you said, Ive been in big films and Ive been in small films, but please understand this: I get the parts that are offered to me. Every once in a while its a little part in a big movie, or a slightly larger part in a small movie. I just get what they choose to offer me, or what I can eke out in an audition. Its not like Im making choices, like Oh, this year Ill do big films. The next year, Ill do the artistic route. I describe myself as a hyena who makes his dinner off of an animal after the lions have had their fill. So I eat the intestines and the tendons and the bones after the true alphas have had their feast. I take what you dont want, and those are the small parts I get. Oh, weve got a small part, give it to Henry Rollins, hell do it. It takes no skill whatsoever, hes perfect. And so Ive been in a number of movies where it could have been anybody with a voice getting through it. Those are the parts Ive gotten, so what I want you to understand is that I have no illusions about it whatsoever. When I landed this part of Jack in HE NEVER DIED, I was quite surprised and elated. When I read the script, I thought, Man, I know I can do this. I had not one beat of trepidation at all. It just fit me so well. I read it once and said, Man, someone should let me do this. And luckily, it lined up. I hardly think that will ever happen again to me, but even if its only this once, thats fine by me.
SHOCK: The character of Jack seems to be analogous to your public persona, or your portrayal in the media, in that hes very much a loner and prefers his own company. Was that then a fairly easy headspace to get into compared to other characters youve played?
ROLLINS: How Im portrayed in the media well, since I dont read any of it, I dont quite know. I honestly dont read any of it, ever. Id rather read something else, Im not all that interested in myself. But yeah, in my quote-unquote real life, I am an almost complete loner. Im not the guy in the watertower with a .30-06 picking out students to kill at the University of Texas. A lot of the work I do is very time-intensive, like writing, and if someone is in the room talking to you, you dont get the writing done. Im also one of those people whose biggest joy in life is just sitting in front of the stereo, listening to music. You give me five records and my stereo, and thats really all I need. I communicate with a woman who has worked with me at my office for the last nineteen years My best friend Ian MacKaye, of Fugazi fame and who I grew up with in Washington, D.C., we talk every Sunday if we can. But past that, I just see the people I work with: Road manager, bus driver, agent, accountant, attorney, press agent, director, producer, et cetera. I work all the time, and so I meet people on the set or the studio or whatever. On my own, I just spend time by myself.
SHOCK: HE NEVER DIED has been making the film festival rounds for a few months in advance of the general release, and there has already been talk of continuing Jacks story either with a sequel or a television series. Would that be a situation where youd care to come back and embody this character again?
ROLLINS: Oh, yeah. The season of T.V. is actually already written. Ive read a couple of the episodes, and they are completely insane. They are wild. Id like nothing more that the opportunity to do them. I went into Jack-withdrawal for two days after we wrapped. After the euphoria of wrapping, you get that elation of accomplishment, and the marathoners depression. As soon as we were done, two days later Im back in Los Angeles, going, Damn, man. Wouldnt it be great to have a break over Christmas and then come back (to Toronto) in January and film part two? And so Jason, who is the director and creator, Zack the producer, and myself, have been trying to get the next stage of this going since we were shooting the first part, actually. They were working on giving this some life. They want me to be Jack, which is an honor, and I would start on it tomorrow if theyd let me. If something happens, Id say, Yep, thats me. Tell me what time. I am ready.
SHOCK: Youve been seen in a variety of projects over the years, a variety of genres. With WRONG TURN 2, FEAST, your voice work in IN THE HOUSE OF FLIES, and now HE NEVER DIED, it feels like youve found a home within horror. Are you OK with the perception of yourself as a kind of burgeoning horror film icon?
ROLLINS: Yes. If it means work? Absolutely. Because Im just somebody who wants to not be sitting on the couch. And so if the horror world likes me, and if I can be crazy and intense and wild and employed? Ill take it. Im not picky; like I said, Im a hyena. Now, thats when Im working for someone else. When Im on stage doing my own thing, thats my material. Thats me. Ill be doing that all next year, on tour, on and off, and thats completely written and scripted by me. So thats where I get to do my thing, but as far as film goes, Im not a full-time actor. Im an actor when I get the opportunity. So if the next ten things I do in film are all in the horror genre, I would be nothing but grateful. Im just happy for the work, Im not picky.