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Book review: Not Bad For a Human

tn_notbadforahumanLance Henriksen is one of my favorite actors. His chiseled-from-clay face and gravelly voice are always interesting even in the worst movies (and in my opinion he’s done some of those). They imply a life full of experience, and work perfectly for his wide array of roles, from humane robot (in ALIENS of course) to flamboyant cowboy (THE QUICK AND THE DEAD) to heartless rich madman/pianist (HARD TARGET, probly others). Now Not Bad For a Human, a new book credited to Henriksen and Joseph Maddrey, gives us insights to both the art on screen and the life that inspired it.

Also there are pictures, if that helps.
The book will be available on Henriksen’s birthday this Thursday (see the websight for details) but I was able to read an early copy for blurb-related purposes. Maybe it’s flattery, but Maddrey told me  he thought of the idea for the book while reading the PISTOL WHIPPED chapter of Seagalogy. I forgot about it until I saw it quoted on his blog (short for web log), but in the book I made a pretty good list of Henriksen’s achievements:

Henriksen is a legend. He’s been directed by Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Sidney Lumet, Walter Hill, David Fincher, John Woo, Sam Raimi and Jim Jarmusch. He’ll forever be remembered as Bishop, the empathetic android who gets ripped in half in Aliens. There are also those who remember him as the ruthless vampire Jesse in Near Dark. In TV movies he’s portrayed two of history’s greatest Americans, Abraham Lincoln (The Day Lincoln Was Shot) and Charles Bronson (Reason for Living: The Jill Ireland Story). In the world of action movies he’s a great over-the-top villain, memorably antagonizing Jean-Claude Van Damme in Hard Target and especially Brian Bosworth in Stone Cold (as the shirtless motorcycle gang leader Chains). His characters have encountered Damien, Pumpkinhead, the A-Team, Cagney & Lacey, The Terminator, Hardcastle and McCormick, Aliens and Predators, the Super Mario Brothers, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tarzan, whoever the killer ended up being in Scream 3, the Mangler, the giant bugs from Mimic, Evel Knievel, Pinhead, Bigfoot, Superman, and now, finally, Steven Seagal… That long and varied history as a character actor can be heard in Henriksen’s deep, distinctive voice, and seen in every interesting line on his face. He rarely gets shots at leading man roles, but when he does he’s really good at those too. He had a good run as the psychic serial killer hunter on the TV series Millennium, and I honestly think he’s great in James Cameron’s much-derided directorial debut Piranha II. He’s the Roy Scheider of that particular Jaws rip off and he’s up to the task. Despite everything he’s accomplished I think he’s still an actor who really hasn’t been given his proper due.

bc_notbadforahumanSo Maddrey decided to give him some of that proper due. Having interviewed Henriksen previously for the horror documentary NIGHTMARES IN RED WHITE AND BLUE: THE EVOLUTION OF THE HORROR FILM, Maddrey convinced him to do a series of interviews about his life and his entire body of work (so far). Those interviews, boosted by some additional insights by the likes of Don Coscarelli, Bill Paxton, Walter Hill, Stuart Gordon, Craig R. Baxley and even Jim Jarmusch, became an excellent written-down-oral-history of Henriksen, starting with his childhood and going through pretty much film-by-film from his debut to today.

What surprised me most about the book was learning what a crazy life Henriksen lived before he became an actor. I don’t want to give too much away, but he goes from a family of grifters to a Naval brig to being left in the desert for dead (and later giving an autographed copy of the Omen II novelization to a woman who thought for years that her husband had murdered him). After such a chaotic upbringing the stage accidentally became a much needed outlet for his anger and yearning to express himself. Next thing you know he’s hanging out with Al Pacino talking about Shakespeare and trying to hide that he can barely read.

Some of you might remember that Henriksen used to sell pottery on his websight. Turns out that wasn’t just some hobby he picked up on the side. He considers pottery as important to his life as acting, and the book draws parallels between the two artforms. It seems the creation is more rewarding to him than the eventual product, but of course sometimes that product is very good, or we wouldn’t be reading this book.

Most of the book is about his movies and his experiences making them, his struggle as a young man to make it big, his eventual place as a valued character actor and his brush with TV superstardom. Yes, he has a couple funny things to say about working with Seagal. I was also really happy to find that the book has alot on STONE COLD, a movie it turns out he’s very proud of because he convinced them to let him improvise all of his dialogue. Also it turns out his mom likes that movie alot.

Obviously there’s alot on his relationship with James Cameron, how he was almost cast as The Terminator, etc. I gotta admit I was most interested in what he had to say about the one that gets the least study, PIRANHA II: THE SPAWNING, and I wasn’t disappointed in the coverage. I believe Cameron said in an interview recently that he’d only spent a couple days on the movie, but that’s not the story Henriksen tells. “He was in a room making rubber fishes by himself because they wouldn’t give him enough. He would not give up.”

The book goes on to claim that “Right up until the eventual release date, he fought for the film like he was fighting a war… and he won.” This to me seems more believable because despite the miniscule production values there’s a whole lot of James Cameron in that movie, from the underwater photography to the great stunts (some of which almost killed Henriksen, the book tells us) to even the career-long theme of a man trying to fix a broken marriage. I don’t think Cameron should be embarrassed of the movie, and I’m glad Henriksen doesn’t seem to be.

Of course, it’s easy for him to say, having been in worse. He’s one of the few actors you could read a biography of and he says, “That’s the end of the Sasquatch movies. If you’ve done three, there are no more expressions you could possibly have left towards a Sasquatch that would be new, unless he steps on me.”

(ABOMINABLE is a good movie, though, too bad they don’t really discuss that one. I guess he’s only in one part though.)

The book also addresses the long fought nerd controversy of his role in ALIEN III. Introduced as the CEO or something of Weyland-Yutani, I’ve always believed that the manner of his eventual death (SPOILER) meant that they had lied and he was actually another android. Well, Henriksen agrees, saying he played “Bishop II” as an “‘advanced model’ android.” Take that, suckers. Of course, the troubled history of the production could mean they eventually changed that concept after filming. I guess.

Not all of Henriksen’s roles are as beloved as Bishop or his TV character Frank Black (Millennium features heavily in the book), but alot of the stories are great even when the movies aren’t, because he takes the roles so seriously. To play Torquemada in Stuart Gordon’s version of THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM, for example, he lived in a dark castle, consuming only water and bread, wearing a hair shirt and no shoes, studying books on torture. For a more notable movie to people like us, HARD TARGET, he hung out with real gangsters and glued his ears back to look like a Doberman. It’s great to hear these little stories that confirm the suspicion we’ve always had that Lance Henriksen just doesn’t phone it in. It doesn’t matter what it is, doesn’t matter if it stars Brian Bosworth or a sasquatch. Doesn’t matter that he used to work with Sidney Lumet and Steven Spielberg. He’ll still throw himself into the role like he’s throwing himself in front of a train.

If my book really gave any inspiration to this project I’m proud to have been able to do it. ‘Cause like I told Maddrey, if this was just a book that came out I would’ve bought it as soon as I saw it. Although Henriksen is far from just a villain in action movies I think he’s particularly great at that, so I’m happy to consider this an essential new entry in the slowly growing library of Books on the Films of Badass Cinema.

(note: in celebration of the new book I’ll be reviewing a couple of obscure Henriksen movies)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011 at 1:56 am and is filed under Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

54 Responses to “Book review: Not Bad For a Human”

  1. I saw Henriksen last weekend at a convention. He was despite his legend status apparently not the most popular guest star there (the room was only 2/3 full whenever he was on stage) and I heard some people complaining about his laid back way to handle Q & A’s, but he was a nice guy with some interesting stories. (On Sunday morning, after a long and hard party night with only 3 hours of sleep, I asked him if he has any special suggestion for me, how I can stay awake, because earlier he talked about “Jetlag movies”, where he flies around the world and has to shoot his first scene within less than 1 hour after he left the airport. His answer was: “No, sorry. The best thing you can do is just sit down and treat this day like a dream”, followed by a story about how MINDRIPPERS was filmed in a freshly shut down nuclear power plant in Bulgaria, full of lead containers with open lids, but not one single Geigercounter. After 4 hours they left voluntarily and never returned to that location.)

  2. Kevin Holsinger

    May 3rd, 2011 at 3:03 am

    Good morning, Vern and all.

    He was also in “Color of Night” with Bruce Willis, just in case anybody here’s a Bruce Willis fan.

  3. His badass juxtaposition is pottery, this guy just got ever cooler in my book (which admittedly I haven’t written yet).

  4. man, I just watched Close Encounters the other day and I don’t remember Lance, who was he in that?

  5. Thanks for bringing my attention to this book. I’ll definitely be picking it up.

  6. I wish they’d set up a way to pre-order it, that’s a glaring oversight! Let me give you my money, jeez! :)

    I wasn’t sure I was going to buy a copy (as opposed to wait for it to show up on BookMooch) until I saw the magnificent limited edition hardcover… it’s gorgeous and I wants it.

  7. Lance Henrikson: One of the greatest character actors of all time.

    Now, is this available by order only, or is it going to be widely published?

    Finally, an observation: Henrikson is one of the best ensemble actors–he fits in so well as part of a team or group.

    And I love his huge, screen-filling closeup at the very end of Close Encounters, when you suddenly realize, “What?! Hey–Lance Henrikson is in this!”

  8. It’s so depressing seeing the concept art of him as the Terminator and thinking of what might have been.

  9. Fine book review. Lance Henriksen is an exceptional actor, in supporting character or lead. I’m definitely looking forward the biography’s release (and get LH to sign it next week in Burbank). Wonderful contribution to the LH blogathon. Thanks.

  10. heimp – don’t be too sad. TERMINATOR still turned out pretty good, in my opinion.

  11. Vern –

    It wasn’t JUST flattery. Reading that passage in SEAGALOGY was the big a-ha moment. I called Lance the next day and made my case for writing a biography. I also sent your new book to Craig Baxley after reading the section on STONE COLD. He loved it!

    FYI – we will have a PayPal button up on the notbadforahuman.com website on Thursday (Lance’s birthday) for the LIMITED EDITION hardback version of the book. A softcover edition will follow in early summer, and will be distributed through conventional channels.

  12. Henriksen is a true badass in the classic sense – the man just flat out rocks, with more awesome films and TV in his filmography than pretty much everyone else ever.

    And oh, shit – “limited edition hardback?” And here’s me, trying to go steady this month. I gots to have that.

  13. Verbal Hooligan

    May 3rd, 2011 at 11:57 am

    Must Have Book NOW!

  14. Man, this sounds like an awesome book! Henriksen, is one of the all time great character actors. I can’t think of one bad Henriksen performance. The guy always brings it. This post reminds me of the extra features from NEAR DARK where Bill Paxton talks about how Henriksen was such a committed method actor he went out and picked up a hitchhiker just to play mind games with the guy and freak him out.

  15. SirVincealotThere

    May 3rd, 2011 at 1:05 pm

    The man is terrific even is tiny doses. I don’t remember well, but I seem to recall he was not very much in PRINCE OF THE CITY (the Lumet connection) and you may blink and miss him in THE RIGHT STUFF where he again leaves a mark – among some of the very, very best character actors of that generation, no less.

    Thanx a mil for the heads up Vern…

  16. Joe, will you be taking international orders?

  17. I usually do not care for biographies of actors and the only ones that have interested me before this to pick up was Alan Alda’s and Bruce Campbell’s and this sounds like something right up my alley.

  18. One thing I have to ask: Did the book even cover Spitfire?

  19. I know a lady who dated Lance Henriksen when he lived in Cambridge, MA in the early ’70s. Or, as she recently put it, “I didn’t ‘date’ him– let’s just say we spent some time together.” Hubba hubba, friend from high school’s mom…

    Coincidentally, I just finished watching NETWORK, and dude pops up in that for a half sec, too.

  20. Stu,

    Yes – we’ll be taking international orders.

    Cassidy – Lance didn’t have much to say about Spitfire, so it’s not in the book. HOWEVER, since you asked, I went back to my Q&A tapes and dug up the one anecdote he shared with me:

    “[Albert Pyun] called me about a movie [Spitfire] with Robert Patrick and Brion James. So there were three guys who had played androids, or artificial humans. And [Pyun] was shooting three movies at the same time! The way he got the actors to be in it was he said, “Would you like to go to Manila, Rome, Hong Kong?” And we all went, “Yeahhhh.” I just went to Manila. That was enough for me. We shot at an airport in Manila, and he gave me about a twenty-page monologue on the morning of the shoot. So I’m sitting in the back of a fucking van… And I had to loop it all later, because of course there were jets taking off the whole time. What a nightmare. That’s a real low-budget, peel-your-skin-off-and-roll-you-in-salt kind of moment.”

    Also, if you join Lance’s official facebook page and look into the behind-the-scenes photos folder, you can see an on the set photo of Lance with Brion James and Robert Patrick. He loved doing a movie with those guys…. I don’t think he was as enthusiastic about wearing a James Bond-style jet pack…

  21. That’s awesome. Thanks for the anecdote, Joe. The one (and only) thing I did love about that movie was it was basically Lance doing James Bond and he threw himself into it despite it being simply an Albert Pyun film.

  22. Lance should be the Eric Roberts of Expendables 2! Unless of course they get the obvious top-pick for best bad guy ever: Mr Ronny Cox! Hmm, maybe they can team up. Now that would be a sight for sore eyes…

    I love books from B-actors. Bruce Campbell’s ‘If Chins Could Kill’ was a great – if very light – read. A Q&A format would have probably been more informative, but far less entertaining. A-list actors are of course too fancy and important to write a dirty old book, aside from Michael Caine of course who’s written 2 or 3.

  23. I’ve been a huge fan of Mr. Henriksen for many years. I’m glad to say that this year I’ve had the privilege to work with him (indirectly) on an upcoming movie. We just finished the trailer last week and may release it on the internet in the next few days. I’ll post the link here when I get the OK.

  24. I’ll definitely be getting this book. The Millennium info alone would sell me. Watching that show turned him from an actor I like into one of my favorites.

  25. The first good screenplay I ever wrote (4th one I tried, second one I finished) was absolutely inspired by reading and commenting on this site. And now I’m friends with a couple of the guys you cover on this site. So I don’t doubt that you could inspire a great many books with your writing.

    In short, if you ever come to LA, you can stay on my couch for as long as you like. Hell, you can even drink my last brew.

  26. Am I the only one who thought “Wow, badass juxtaposition!” when Vern mentioned the bits on pottery? Damn, that practically DEFINES the term.

    Henriksen gets a lot of love on this forum, and it’s all deserved. There’s no question he’s a real-life badass, look at what he goes through to get shit done. You gotta respect a guy who lives in a castle, lives on bread and water, and reads books about torture, just to play a role more effectively. That’s a helluva long way to go for your art.

    Hope they bring out an edition of this in the UK, it’s so irritating having to get books like this one delivered from the USA.

  27. Joe – So glad to hear you’re doing international orders, any chance of them being signed at all? (I know it’s cheeky but gotta ask)

  28. billydeethrilliams

    May 4th, 2011 at 8:12 am

    Vern- Do you think you’ll review more books in the future? Some personal favorites perhaps? Also, I would like to thank you for getting me into the Parker novels. And I’ll tip you off to… George Pelecanos. Unless you’ve already heard of him, then I’m not sure who to recommend. But again, thanks.

  29. Good point, Vern. I should probably find less insane things to be depressed about, like how Morgan and Wong took over Millennium. Did anyone watch those episodes? Are they bearable?

  30. Bishop II doesn’t die at the end of ALIEN3. He’s one of the few characters who lives.

  31. Please tell me that Lance improvised the best line in Stone Cold:

    “Moments like these remind of my father’s last words to me which were ‘Don’t son, that gun is loaded!!!'”!!! (cue spraying machine gun fire)

  32. The limited edition of Lance’s biography is now for sale on the official website (notbadforahuman.com)

    Dirk – You’ll be happy to know that ALL copies of the bio ordered through the website will be SIGNED BY LANCE!

    Jaimerey – Yes. That line was all Lance.

  33. heimp, The Morgan and Wong season is so much better than it’s reputation. Chris Carter wasn’t happy but for me it’s great television.

  34. caruso_stalker217

    May 4th, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    Thanks, Joe. Just placed my order.

  35. I guess no one wanted to answer my question about who he was in Close Encounters

  36. I’m hugely excited about this book, but a bit confused as to its origin. I know Henricksen narrated NIGHTMARES IN RED WHITE AND BLUE… but I don’t remember him being interviewed in it at all (I think the one image of him in it goes without comment). What gives?

  37. Oh, sorry, Griff, didn’t see your question. Henrickson’s some kind of assistant to Lacombe / Francois Truffaut. (Bob Balaban is also Lacombe’s assistant, but Lance doesn’t translate.) He’s there in almost all the scenes involving the…UN science team, I guess. He’s in the scenes in India, for instance. And there are a couple of deleted scenes where you got a much better look at him, but they’re kind’ve repetitive and were easily cut; now, he’s almost always in long shot until the very, very, end, when he finally gets a closeup.

    Y’know something else that’s really clever and subtle in Close Encounters? When all those people who’ve seen UFOs go to the air force debriefing, and that officer at the head of the table gives the speech about how he’s been chasing UFOs for twenty years; then at the end, there’s a dolly shot with the returning WWII pilots, and they walk by the same Air Force officer, now in plainclothes, and holding a clipboard. If you notice it, you’re just like, “Oh, man, those guys are sneaky….” : )

  38. Joe – awesome news!

    For any UK buyers the book and shipping comes to just under £31.50 at the current exchange rate.

  39. heimp, I have to say that Season 2 of Millennium is actually the high point of the series. Morgan and Wong went in a direction that made it more than simply monster of the week that season 1 was.

  40. Subtlety – if so that was my mistake, anyway he worked with Henriksen on that movie so that was his connection to him.

  41. Placed my order. Got another reason to speed up my AMERICAN GODS reading now!

  42. I listened to the audiobook AMERICAN GODS not too long ago, Stu. Very interesting. It’s thick with symbolic imagery, so it was often hard for me to discern if certain characters are supposed to be bad or good or other. Maybe if the reader has an English accent, it’s better.

    I enjoyed the cons, though. It would be a tough job these days to pull off that ATM trick. Maybe the old violin trick would be feasible.

  43. Teddy Jack Eddy

    May 5th, 2011 at 6:26 pm

    MILLENNIUM was awesome (especially the first season)!!!

  44. Have you reviewed Hard Target yet? I can’t remember. If not you should.

  45. Lance, to me, is one of the most intense actors I’ve ever seen. Each role he takes, even if it’s a shlocky one, is carefully crafted and taken seriously. So, even if you have this bad film, you know Lance will be great, and he never fails. Millennium was one of my favorites shows.
    The show wasa bit uneven at times, the continuety would flop, but he kept it together. Why? the way he took on the role made want
    to see what happens to this characte. So, if the episode was shaky, it literally would take it on his back and make good,
    Lance is awesome! I have met him a few times at cons and he’s just a great person too!
    Roch on, Lance!

  46. sorry for the misspellings, I was in a rush……….LANCE RULES!

  47. Holy crap. I totally forgot until right now that the first thing I ever bought with my “real job” paycheck was Lance Henriksen pottery. It was a beautiful piece and wasn’t expensive at all. Damnit, I need to find that thing.

  48. The trailer I mentioned earlier is up on Youtube:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7kP8MUATWDc

    The movie is called Blood Shot. It’s a buddy cop flick in the vein of Lethal Weapon and Tango And Cash, except it has a vampire who’s a hitman for the CIA. Lance plays the Vampire’s handler and you’ll see him briefly in the trailer.

    Vern, any chance you’d want to review this one?

  49. That. Looks. Fuckin. Awesome, RJ. You won’t need to threaten me with a flamethrower to get me to watch that one.

    Nice job getting Henriksen and Brad Dourif, who’s always great in villain roles, with a $3.5 million budget, according to IMDB, but why not get an actual Arab-looking guy for that role? I foresee some Snooki jokes. Also, this needs to be updated: http://www.imdb.com/character/ch0080312/

  50. Yup. BLOOD SHOT looks outstanding. I’d watch it and I’d love to read what Vern has to say about it.

  51. Yeah, Brad Dourif can play a creep like nobody else. He even has a few instances of mega-acting in this one! But the real star of this is Michael Bailey Smith as the Vampire, and he clearly has a blast playing the part. I’d love to see him go on to a bigger career of playing wisecracking badasses.

    I’ll let you guys know when there’s somewhere you can watch it.

  52. Just finished the first season of Millennium. Damn you cliffhanger!!!!
    (Not the Sly movie/video game)

  53. Wait until you get to the end of Season 2!

  54. I got my book, plus an autographed pic about two weeks ago. Its an wesome read and Im so happy I have that Hardciver one, without ISBN,lol…great article…I wrote a small review on it…I was really tempted to copy -paste half the book, kept it a lot shorter in the end..lol. Lance is just awesome-over and out…

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