In Scream of the Banshee, a college professor (Lauren Holly) opens a mysterious box that was found hidden in the tunnels under her university. When she and her students hear the bone-splitting scream of a banshee, they all become fated to die a terrible death. Now the professor, her daughter and a few of her students must try to stop the banshee, before it’s too late.
During a recent interview to promote the premiere of the 200th original movie for SyFy, actor Lance Henriksen talked about his eccentric character, the challenge of taking on a role unlike anything he’s done before, working at a plantation house in Louisiana, releasing his autobiography on his birthday (May 5th), his reflections on his time on the television series Millennium, and what he sees as his dream role. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
LANCE HENRIKSEN: Well, they called and asked me, and then sent me the script. They wanted to know if I was interested, so I read it and thought, “This is really interesting.” Also, I love the concept that, if you’re not acting than you’re not an actor. I’d rather be an actor. So, I said, “Yes.”
What was it about this film and this character that made you want do it when you read the script?
HENRIKSEN: It’s like taking a chance. What they challenged me with was somebody completely different than anything I’d ever considered doing. The guy is a fired professor, living on a plantation in Louisiana. He’s a guy that’s hiding out. He’s suicidal and he’s a real wacko. I thought, “I would love to play this guy, only because there are no edges to it.” I actually asked for the smallest gun possible. He toys at committing suicide on video, but never does it. He’s got such character defects that I thought, “Man, this the closest thing to comedy, without making it a comedy, that I could do.” I really had a great time on it, and I knew I would because the people were very supportive, and so was the director (Steven C. Miller). He just let me cut loose, and I had a great time. It’s a re-telling of the screaming banshee myth. The character I play discovers something that he doesn’t know how to live with, and doesn’t know how to live without. He pays the ultimate price. It’s really bizarre.
How does it feel to be in SyFy’s 200th original movie?
HENRIKSEN: That’s pretty cool. I’ve always liked SyFy. I’m really happy about it. It’s coming on at a very great moment. When you do something current like this, and it comes out at the same time as your autobiography, it’s that great timing thing that works out.
What was it like to shoot in Louisiana?
HENRIKSEN: When I arrived down in Louisiana and I saw the location, it was this beautiful, columned plantation house. It was really wacky. The whole yard was full of mannequins and the inside of the house was as eccentric as you can get, and my character is a real eccentric. As an actor, I like those character defects, and I wanted to play them in an interesting way because it’s certainly been done. Defects of character have been done in a lot in movies, and I really enjoy the challenge. It was a little bit like trying to play Bishop, after Rutger Hauer and other guys played an android. It was like, “How am I going to come up with my own?” I found a way, but it wasn’t being competitive. If you were trying to be competitive with those guys, you’d crash and burn.
HENRIKSEN: Well, the director (Steven C. Miller) just let me go. I told him what I wanted to do, based on what I saw and read in the script, and he just said, “Do it.” The first thing I said was, “What is the smallest gun I could use in the movie that could actually kill you?,” and they found it for me.
You’ve had this vast career and you’ve done so many things, including now an autobiography. Do any of your films particularly stand out for you?
HENRIKSEN: 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. I thought, “How am I going to pull off this character?” But, I also 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.
What made you decide to write an autobiography?
HENRIKSEN: It really happened by accident. I have a lot of stories. I had done a thing called Nightmare in Red White and Blue, which was an anthology of horror films. I narrated it with a man named Joe Maddrey, who’s a writer. He came to my house and said, “Lance would you consider doing this?,” and I like Joe so much that I completely relaxed. As we got into the book, I said, “Joe, if I can’t be honest half way through this, let’s stop,” and he said, “Okay, if that’s the deal, that’s the deal.” So, we started, and the more I worked on it, the more I enjoyed it. It ended up being something that I’m proud of. You only do one. You don’t do a sequel. There’s no books #2, so I put everything into it. We also got some of the best comic book illustrators to illustrate the movies because I wanted it to be accessible to the fans. I’m very excited about that. It’s a very interesting book. Jim Cameron gave me the name for the book, and it’s called Not Bad for a Human.
Since your book is going to have the comic book artistry in it, are you considering attending Comic-Con this year to promote it?
HENRIKSEN: I can’t. If the crowd is too big, it’s too much for me. I took my 11-year old daughter down there, and all I did was spend all of my time worrying that she was going to get lost because you’re caught between somebody with a sandwich in their hand and somebody in a costume. It’s really crazy. I might go visit it one day, but I couldn’t do any more than just visit. I love it, don’t get me wrong, but it’s just too big. I’m going to be at a lot of other conventions this year, with the book and everything.
You’ve been associated with a lot of sci-fi and fantasy projects, in your career. Is that something that you sought out, or is that just how things worked out for you?
HENRIKSEN: It just worked out that way. If I would had been born 30 years earlier, I would have been in all the Westerns. It’s just the way that the industry goes. But now, we are in an age of a lot of different kinds of fears, and you have the science fiction and horror genres doing our morality plays the same way that they would have done in Westerns. I absolutely accept it. In every respect, fantasy is like doing abstract paintings.
HENRIKSEN: Well, there’s been four of them. There was Appaloosa with Ed Harris. I loved playing Ring. And then, before that, I did a movie called Gunfighter’s Moon. One of my favorites of all time was with Jim Jarmusch, called Dead Man. I was in that with Johnny Depp. I ride really well and I shoot a gun really well. I love the genre. Once I did Westerns, I was hooked. I love them, but there’s been very few of them made. I never wanted to play a guy who was acting like a cowboy. I wanted to play someone who had a real life, but was also trapped into situations.
Looking back, what does the experience of doing Millennium mean to you?
HENRIKSEN: We did 60 shows in three years, so that was a lot of shows. Working with Chris Carter and the great writers they had on it, who we were a little ahead of our time, was great. It was going in a direction that, in a couple more years, we would have really made a mark, a lot larger than we did, even though I was very, very proud of at least half of those shows. It was a tremendous amount of work. We’re still thinking that we should do a movie. Even after all these years, it would be amazing to do it.
So much has happened since then. When you think of all the things that have happened, since that problem with computers in 2000 and everybody was afraid and they were buying water, imagine what Millennium would do with all the things that are going on in the world right now. It has the capacity to be a movie. But, anyway, I loved doing it. It changed my life because the guy that I was playing was so much more educated and smarter than I was, so I had to live up to it. I learned a lot. I really did. Millennium is a state of mind. I always thought of Frank Black as the greatest chess player that could take random pieces of information and string them together into a scenario that was accurate. I never thought of him as a psychic at all. We need people like that.
The monsters and creatures that you’ve faced in your career have surely fueled the nightmares of many people. Do they ever appear in your own nightmares?
HENRIKSEN: The only one that’s appeared in my dreams is the one from Aliens. H.R. Giger’s version of that Necronom was almost like a tic. It’s reptilian. That creature is like a baby and tic combined. It’s very frightening. It scared the hell out of me, it really did.
HENRIKSEN: The only one that I think I could beat, if my life depended on it, would be the Predator. If it was in my territory, in my domain, with the guns that I’ve got, I think I could hurt him pretty bad. That’s the only one, though. When you get into metaphysical creatures, they don’t play fair.
Being an actor and an artist, where did that creativity come from?
HENRIKSEN: When I was a kid, all of the parents and grandparents came out of the Depression Era. They were all freezing bread in their freezer, they were covering their sofas with plastic, and they had plastic runners on the floor. There was a great distance between them and anything authentic. My whole childhood, that made my skin curl. I was looking for something authentic. I think that drove me into the arts, I really do. That really did it. The only other thing that made me survive, as a human being, was getting into the arts. I was surrounded by people that were very bright and they invited you in. They were gracious. So, it gave me a great education.
Do you feel like your life skills and your acting skills were honed by how hard it was for you as a kid and that you had to work for everything you had?
HENRIKSEN: Yes, that absolutely was the case. And, I attribute that to the generosity of people that are in the entertainment business because they are all struggling. All roads seem to come to acting, for certain kinds of people that have a reason for being there. They want to be seen and heard, but there’s more to it than that. There’s a kindred spirit of struggling to find out, “What is this thing? What are we?” It’s those eternal questions. But, in the meanwhile, I’ve met some wonderful people doing this.
What path do you think you would have taken, if you hadn’t become an actor?
HENRIKSEN: There’s a company called ADI, with Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff. They do special effects. We did Aliens, Terminator and Pumpkinhead together. They’re still my friends. I think I would have probably gone in that direction, creating the creature effects. That’s as close you can get to acting without being an actor because you have to help create the fantasy. I love sculpting, too.
Do you watch yourself on TV or the big screen?
HENRIKSEN: No, I don’t. When I’m making a movie, I never watch the dailies. I see the movie once and that’s it. It’s really not about that for me. It’s not about the externals. When I’m on a set, I don’t want to see it. I want to be subjective in it. That’s my habit now. I stay subjective because that’s what I do. That’s one of my abilities. I don’t need to watch it because I’ve had the adventure. I don’t do low-budget acting. I do the same acting, whether I’m in a Jim Cameron or not. I always try to do good work. There’s no snobbery in there.
HENRIKSEN: There’s a potter that lived back in the 1800s, in Biloxi, Mississippi, and his name was George Ohr. He was of Russian descent, but they called him the “Mad Potter of Biloxi.” I’d love to do a great character study and comedy about that guy’s life. That would be my dream role. I know it’s an oddball thing, but it’s true. He lived at the turn of the century, in the 1800s.
Would you ever be interested in writing or directing?
HENRIKSEN: I think I would co-direct because I love actors and I’ve got a very good eye. I’m not a second-guesser. I don’t think that I would be very happy, getting inundated by financial issues. I would love to co-direct with somebody because that would be a real freedom and an adventure, and then I could leave all the pain and misery to them. I’m not glib about it. I would take the responsibility to make a really good movie.
Do you have any other films coming up?
HENRIKSEN: I’ve actually got an offer to do a movie in the month of May. There’s a movie that I’m very proud of, that I’ve already shot the first 20 pages of, and that’s called Ambush. I’m playing a guy who’s very similar to Ted Turner. He’s a billionaire. It’s going to be a very good movie. The first 20 pages were a fight scene, so we did it first. It’s being directed by Joe Bauer, who’s a really terrific guy. I’m very excited about that. That’s coming up very soon.