Interview: Henry Rollins Riffs on His Cannibal Thriller HE NEVER DIED



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 places—from 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 Lynch’s 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 it’s 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 Krawczyk’s 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 don’t 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 haven’t read any of the reviews. I’ve 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 don’t have to like it. And so anyone giving me a review, of which there have been many, and of every stripe—hateful or laudatory or whatever—to me they’re all the same in that the movie is done. The record is done. Whatever you’re reviewing is done. There’s nothing I can do about it or what you think of it, and so I don’t know that I should bother to read any review of me in that I can’t change your mind… nor would I seek to. I can’t change the ending or the final product. I just go make something else. So I’m quite surprised at the good reviews—well, the one-liners I’ve been told about. The people that gather the press have been saying, ‘Henry, this thing gets really good reviews!’, and I’m like, ‘OK, well, I’m kind of done with it, in the way that I can’t shoot the film again.’ So my work is basically done, and now I’m just talking about it with wonderful people like yourself. But really, my hands are tied as to what you will think. If you don’t like (DIED), I will not argue with that or take umbrage or try to disabuse you of that opinion. But I must say, I’m very surprised at the critical response and the audiences really dig it. I didn’t know what to expect. I’m used to mediocre, tepid-to-scathing reviews for the things I’ve done, which has never stopped me from doing the next one or the next one. I’m not necessarily the friend of critics, in that when I get a bad review, it really doesn’t surprise me. But I don’t get angry.

SHOCK: In other interviews, you’ve said that you’ve essentially retired from performing music. Are you finding that you get the same sort of artistic satisfaction from acting?

ROLLINS: Well, in a way it’s very similar, in that it’s disciplined preparation and believing in what you’re 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 fest—at least when I did it. The one thing I really love about acting is that it demands your full attention. It’s extremely hard, which makes me marvel at those who can actually do it. I’m completely untrained, I’ve never had a lesson. I love the moments you have in a film like HE NEVER DIED where you can be overwhelmingly intense and that’s what the job requires. That’s 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, it’s art. I don’t 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 opportunity—it might not be with a rock band, but the opportunity to be intense in a situation that’s 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.

Henry Rollins in He Never Died


SHOCK: Throughout your acting career you’ve 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. There’s less ego all around, so I think there’s less pressure on everyone. I’m not going to name names, but sometimes you can be working on a big film, and it’s 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. It’s like, ‘Wow, you really believe your own hype.’ It’s where they’re so sucked up into the idea of themselves; it’s not even the character, they’re just self-absorbed. I don’t like being around that, and I’ve found the horror genre to be amazingly free of it. Where it’s intense and fun but there’s a backbeat of comedy, or there’s a least a backbeat of between takes, we’re going to have a laugh—‘OK, the head came off wrong! Ok, get the glue.’ In the moment, you take it seriously, but you don’t take yourself so seriously… and I’ve been with people who take themselves so seriously that it’s just unendurable. It’s like, really? Are you that stuck on yourself? It must suck being you. I’ve run into those people here and there, now and then on the big movies. As you said, I’ve been in big films and I’ve been in small films, but please understand this: I get the parts that are offered to me. Every once in a while it’s 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. It’s not like I’m making choices, like ‘Oh, this year I’ll do big films. The next year, I’ll 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 don’t want, and those are the small parts I get. ‘Oh, we’ve got a small part, give it to Henry Rollins, he’ll do it. It takes no skill whatsoever, he’s perfect.’ And so I’ve been in a number of movies where it could have been anybody with a voice getting through it. Those are the parts I’ve 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 it’s only this once, that’s fine by me.

SHOCK: The character of Jack seems to be analogous to your public persona, or your portrayal in the media, in that he’s very much a loner and prefers his own company. Was that then a fairly easy headspace to get into compared to other characters you’ve played?

ROLLINS: How I’m portrayed in the media… well, since I don’t read any of it, I don’t quite know. I honestly don’t read any of it, ever. I’d rather read something else, I’m not all that interested in myself. But yeah, in my quote-unquote real life, I am an almost complete loner. I’m 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 don’t get the writing done. I’m 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 that’s 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 Jack’s story either with a sequel or a television series. Would that be a situation where you’d care to come back and embody this character again?

ROLLINS: Oh, yeah. The season of T.V. is actually already written. I’ve read a couple of the episodes, and they are completely insane. They are wild. I’d 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 marathoner’s depression. As soon as we were done, two days later I’m back in Los Angeles, going, ‘Damn, man. Wouldn’t 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 they’d let me. If something happens, I’d say, ‘Yep, that’s me. Tell me what time. I am ready.’

SHOCK: You’ve 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 you’ve 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 I’m 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? I’ll take it. I’m not picky; like I said, I’m a hyena. Now, that’s when I’m working for someone else. When I’m on stage doing my own thing, that’s my material. That’s me. I’ll be doing that all next year, on tour, on and off, and that’s completely written and scripted by me. So that’s where I get to do my thing, but as far as film goes, I’m not a full-time actor. I’m 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. I’m just happy for the work, I’m not picky.

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Tuesday: Jan. 28, 2020


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