CS Interview: Henry Rolllins on ‘kooky’ Dreamland
Just in time for the film’s digital release, ComingSoon.net got the chance to chat with punk rock legend and actor Henry Rollins (He Never Died) to discuss his role in the surreal new crime thriller Dreamland, in which he stars alongside Stephen McHattie (Come To Daddy) and Juliette Lewis (I Know This Much Is True). Click here to rent Dreamland on VOD!
In looking back at when he was initially offered the role in the film, Rollins joked part of his desire to take the job was simple “they offered it to me” and that he “works for a living,” but noted the timing of the offer was perfect as it came when he wasn’t on tour and he was excited at the prospect of reuniting with director Bruce McDonald after previously working with him.
“I’ve known Bruce for 23 years now and so he wrote me and said, ‘Hey, would you look at this script and look at Hercules,’ and I said, ‘For you, of course,'” Rollins described. “He’s such a cool guy, I genuinely like being around him, so I looked at the character and thought about it and I asked, ‘Can I take a couple of days?’ and he said, ‘Yeah, just take your time.’”
After his initial chat with McDonald about the film, Rollins had to ask himself, “Can I do this?” as the deeper he read into the character, it became apparent he’s “awful” and that “there’s nothing good about this guy,” namely his human trafficking of underage girls, as “the only thing worse than a pedophile is the person who feeds a pedophile prey.”
“You’re at least as bad as the monster, and so, ‘Can I do this?’” Rollins recalled. “So I thought about ways that I can make this guy scary and pathetic and dangerous for himself and anyone near him and just horrible and I thought, ‘I could do it.’ The main thing I had to overcome was whether I could laugh on command, which is harder than you think for many of us, at least for me. I spent at least one night trying to laugh and learning how to time the breathing, because when you laugh for real you don’t think about your breathing, but they hit it after a line, you have to have enough lung full where it can explode from your mouth. Once I got a convincing laugh, I thought, ‘Well, I could pull this off,’ so I wrote Bruce back and said, ‘Hey man, I’m in.’”
From there, the two began collaborating on developing the character further, with Rollins taking an “MRI” of his character and exploring “how he got the name, the backstory” and “kind of invented this guy,” while helping develop him further with McDonald.
“Bruce basically said, ‘I like it, here’s my ideas,’ and I said, ‘Cool.’ He said, ‘I like all of this stuff that you got, so let’s do it,'” Rollins explained. “So I went out to Luxembourg two and a half years ago and shot it with an amazingly talented cast and it’s a kooky movie, people turn into bats. Someone’s a vampire and he’s funny and so it’s not exactly Godfather II, where it’s believable, it’s out there so you have to kind of get in the car and go for the ride. Even Dreamland, the title fits, because it’s a very stylized movie and it’s not necessarily real, you have these kid gangster types and this cool jazz guy and even McHattie wears two different roles. So I just kind of bought in, as you do, and went for it.”
Given the fact that “no one likes” his character in the film and that “all he gets is fear and hate” without any respect, Rollins found his biggest creative challenge in tapping into this role was “being someone that hopefully I don’t resemble at all,” while noting there were a few people he used for reference to capture that personality.
“I usually like full disclosure in interviews, I believe in transparency, but I will not tell you two of my sources,” Rollins chuckled. “They’re still with us and they will very well hear that I used their names, I just don’t need the aggravation. But two people I used who have been in my life, I said, ‘Yeah, that’s where I’m going to get the laugh from.’ You know, someone who laughs at their own joke, like, ‘Wow, six breaths you did laughing at your own bad joke. I wish I liked myself the way you love yourself.’ The character of Hercules is so low-rent, you couldn’t say to him, ‘You’re amoral’ and have him understand what you mean. He’s not even manipulative, because no one buys it. He’s in a tough part of the world at a weird age where he’s got some opportunity for someone to make some money. I mean people do some really awful things to bring home the bacon, they go into jobs where they hate their boss, they hate their fellow workmates, where they do things they find immoral, abhorrent, and they put on a tie and go to work and do it every day. From the tops of buildings in Manhattan to $15 an hour jobs at places that stink or where bosses have touched them and they keep going back because there’s two kids, an upside down house and payments. There’s just awful situations people throw themselves into every day and I just figured those are all the people, like the women who work for me in the film, everyone who works for Hercules hates their job. My job is to make sure they hate their job, knowing that I have to play this guy, I just have to be as awful as I can. Of course just in the parameters of the acting job, not at lunch, I’m not one of those who stays in character, I’m delighted to leave it in the locker and go home.”
Written by Burgess and Whistler and directed by McDonald, Dreamland centers on the night of the strangest weddings in cinema history, in which a grotesque gang boss hires a stone-cold killer to bring him the finger of a fading, drug-addicted jazz legend.
McHattie leads a cast that includes Rollins (He Never Died), Juliette Lewis (I Know This Much Is True), Tómas Lemarquis (Blade Runner 2049) and Lisa Houle (Pontypool). The film is set to hit select theaters, digital platforms and on demand on Friday!