Last week we spoke with helmer/scribe Jason Krawczyk all about his SXSW Midnighters strand film He Never Died. Henry Rollins (Feast, Wrong Turn 2: Dead End) stars as Jack, a recluse who just wants to be left alone so he can stay in bed and watch television. The reason for his intense state of lugubrious depression is the fact that the gift of eternal life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and he’s far more interested in devouring humans than bonding with them. If that wasn’t enough, Jack’s situation goes from bad to worse when his daughter shows up on his doorstep and he finds himself struggling even harder to keep his cannibalistic cravings at bay.
Also starring Jordan Todosey, Kate Greenhouse, Booboo Stewart and Steven Ogg, He Never Dies is all set for its world premiere this Tuesday, March 17th at SXSW. SCREAM’s Howard Gorman caught up with Rollins to find out how he went about slipping into the skin of an immortal cannibal. Words can’t express how passionate he came across when discussing the project and how predisposed he was to provide the most authentic portrayal of Jack possible…
SCREAM: Having spoken with the film’s writer and director, he had you in mind for the lead role right from the word go?
Henry Rollins: That’s what he told me and at first I thought he was just being polite. In November 2012 I was doing shows in New York and Heidi, who runs all my business, wrote to me saying there was this screenplay that came in and she really thought I should read it. If Heidi says I should read it then it probably means that I should so I told her to send it. So over two sound check periods I read it and I loved it and I said, “Man I could do this no problem!” Heidi told me that the director and the producer were in town and they wanted to meet me so I said, “Set it up!”
So I met them before one of my shows and I said, “I’m not trying to be offensive but I laughed through parts of this.” It can be a quick way to offend someone by saying “It’s funny right?” but I said, “This part, this part and this part I laughed my ass off,” and they were like “Oh good! You get it.” That was when I told them I loved this character and that was when Jason said he’d written it with me in mind. I said, “Oh come on man! Who did you REALLY ask to be in it?” I’m never anyone’s first choice so I asked him to tell me the five actors he really had wanted to get to do this. They just said that actually they really wanted me and I kind of believed them but I’d just never really heard that before. As soon as they asked me what I thought I said I was in.
It’s one of those things where, in the case of me, you have an indie film with like a 49 cents budget and they need your name on it so they can run around and say, “We’ve got Henry Rollins!” but in the real world of filmmaking when you attach my name to a film the reaction is “Errrr, do you have any real actors?” The filmmakers were sure they would be able to get money for the film with my name on it and I said, “You won’t! Have a nice time trying!”
So they kind of go away but they keep in touch with Heidi and they said they were still working on it and we thought ok, but knowing nothing was going to happen. But then we get this crazy phone call and they said they were almost done with casting and they wanted Heidi and me to help finish the casting process and we weighed in and gave our opinion and then they got the money. This just knocked me over as I’m not used to it and suddenly I’m getting onto a plane to Toronto to go into fitting and working out with the stunt people, because there was going to be a lot of rolling around and getting knocked into stuff, and suddenly we were making a movie.
And I just love the character and Jason is a really interesting guy, and I don’t mean that in an insulting way. He just thinks differently and he’s a joy to work with and we got each other. We were sitting in this tiny production office in Canada a few days before we were due to start in this phone booth sized office working on this character. I’d ask all about Jack’s back-story and what he would say in different situations and we were basically just dialling this guy in and we got it. Then we brought in Kate (Greenhouse), who plays the waitress, Kara, who is an amazing actress, and we started working with her on this crazy relationship I have with her in the film. Then we did some rehearsal and we started shooting and the only part I didn’t like was when we had to leave.
SCREAM: If everything goes well you might be able to get back into Jack’s shoes though as there’s a TV mini-series idea out there.
HR: Yes. The original idea was that we were all going to convene about a year later and do part two of the movie but that’s changed. I’ve actually read two of the episodes. Jason has pretty much written the season and he sent me two of the later episodes and they are hilarious, completely insane, wonderfully violent and completely extraordinary. I would love nothing more than to do that for the next three or five years.
SCREAM: Going back to the film, how was the shoot in sub-zero conditions in Toronto?
HR: So many nights we had were shot in like almost polar-cold temperatures.
SCREAM: Even when you get dumped into the river in one scene?
HR: Well, of course I didn’t have to go in the water even though I volunteered to do it. Thankfully the stunt guy fell into like a bunch of pads but they did have to wet me up for the scenes when my character comes out of the water. This story is crazy but it actually happened:
I had to put Vaseline on my body and the makeup girls had to rub up my arms while I worked on my legs. It was hilarious and I said to them, “Oh, you’re feeling up some old fifty-something ex-rock star.” They just laughed because they don’t care about some grey-haired, old tattooed man. Anyway, we had to cover me in Vaseline to insulate me and then they put on clothes that were rubbed in Vaseline to also insulate me and then they had to pour water on me. So I had to walk around and do scenes dripping wet in like 8 degrees and then I had to get all those clothes and that Vaseline off me. It was crazy but we got it, we got the shot.
SCREAM: Apart from the freezing cold conditions you also had to sample some rather unsavoury cuisine.
HR: Oh man, eating those fingers was really bad. Those were gelatine fingers with breadsticks in the middle. The breadsticks were to give the crunch like the bone. That was the makeup guy’s masterpiece! He was so proud of those. I think Jason ate one out of solidarity. The fingernails were made out of something that was edible and Jason dipped one into fake blood so it tasted extra awful and he ate it out of solidarity.
SCREAM: It must have been quite the endeavour to play Jack as he is such a complex guy. He is a particularly timid guy yet at the same time seriously impulsive.
HR: I just love that character. Jack doesn’t really realise how screwed up he is and I think the way to make it funny is that Jack can never try to be funny. Jack is just Jack and it’s for the audience to go, “OK, that’s hilarious,” but I could never show it. For example, when someone points a gun at him he’s just like, “Ah, don’t do that” with no expression because he’s been shot at so many times for centuries. He’s a weird dude and he is complex and he has an odd back-story because at one point he did have a wife, or at least a girlfriend, because he has a kid. So at some point he did have an interest with women and all of that and he has a living, breathing daughter. And like a lot of men, he doesn’t identify with his teenage daughter and so you see him trying to wrestle all of that and there are even times when I see my daughter as available food. Apart from all that, I have to remain free of emotion whilst everyone else is freaking out when they realise who I really am. Even in the very violent scenes I just have to be really proficient in that I’m really good at killing people. I’ve had hundreds of years of practice doing it and I don’t particularly hate these people but they are an annoyance and a pain in my ass. If someone comes to my house it means I have to kill them and get rid of them because otherwise I can’t watch TV. So it’s kind of antithetical and counterintuitive to a living, breathing human and so I would have to remember before scenes that I had to show no emotion. What I’m hoping in the film is that people don’t think, “Look he can’t act. He’s just standing there.” I was working really hard to just stand there and I burnt A LOT of calories putting that on the screen.
SCREAM: I loved the idea of including bingo in the film, as weird as it may seem for people who haven’t seen the movie?
HR: It was interesting to me why they had bingo in the tagline of the movie: Blood. Bullets. Bingo. That’s Jason’s incredibly skewed sense of humour I guess. What I really liked about the script is that you and I, being mortal, we both know that one day life ends for us. You don’t think about it often. Maybe sometimes it keeps you up at night and you always kind of have that and I don’t know what that has inspired you to do in your life. It’s like, “One day I’m going to die so I’m going to Spain this summer.” So you have your bucket list because life is short, but what if life wasn’t short? What if you did have the possibility of eternity? For a little while maybe that would be a euphoric thought but after like 700 years you’d be like, “You know what? This sucks ‘cos humans are awful because they keep having wars and they keep blowing each other up and I keep getting thrown in jail.” I really like the hell he is in because he is screwed. He is the most screwedest guy in the world and that’s why he’s furious and wants to leave. And I think his relationship with the Kara character is screwed too because I think he kind of likes her.
SCREAM: I also wanted to chat a little about your Henry and Heidi podcast that you recently got going.
HR: That’s right. That podcast was Heidi’s idea but we got very ambitious with it. What we do is play one a week but we record two a week so we’re stockpiling. These are evergreen in that we could play the first one we did today and it wouldn’t sound out of order really because we don’t ever say a date and they’re just on topics so you can play one a year from now and it won’t sound out of date. It’s something we’d like to do every week for years to come.
SCREAM: One thing that interested me in the latest podcast I heard was when Heidi mentioned the Rollins Band and she said that when Black Flag ended it was implicit for you to hit the ground running and jump straight into the Rollins Band. Would you say you have the same philosophy in terms of choosing acting roles or are you more picky when it comes to these projects?
HR: No I’m not choosy in that I don’t get a lot of offers. If you are Brad Pitt then everyone and his dad is throwing a script at you and you don’t do auditions, you just do meetings and say yes or no. Me, I stand in line and go on auditions. Just the other day I went on one for a pilot for a TV show that Fox wants to do and they haven’t called back so I bet I didn’t get it, which is no surprises here. But more and more I am getting offers so if there is anything that I’m somewhat interested in I kind of will go for it. My instinct is to work. That to me is the greatest importance, to always be working. So I’m not exactly picky but more just always looking for a job.
Having said that, we got involved with He Never Died with no agents whatsoever. We just got involved with Zach and Jason and just did the film. They came to Heidi looking for me. For me, I’m just interested in doing stuff in a creative, challenging environment so if it’s a documentary then I’ll take it and then I come home and like four days later I’m in a movie. It’s all kind of normal to me. It’s like a normal year of my life: a film, two documentaries, spoken word tour and fifteen countries with just me and my camera. That sounds like a crazy schedule but that’s just me and it’s how I’ve been living for many years. I’m just trying to have fun in this brief life…
SCREAM: Thanks for talking to us today.
HR: It has been an honour, thank you.
We’d like to thank Henry Rollins for taking time out of his busy schedule to speak to us and remind you that he will be attending a Q&A session tomorrow, Tuesday, at the Austin Convention Center so if you are there you won’t want to miss out on that. In the meantime we’ll leave you to enjoy some cannibal clout in a clip from the movie:
He Never Died will be screening at the following dates, times and venues at this year’s SXSW Film Festival:
– Tuesday, March 17th at 11:45pm – Stateside Theatre (719 Congress Ave)
– Wednesday, March 18th at 11:30pm – Alamo Lamar A (1120 S Lamar Blvd)
– Friday, March 20th at 7:00pm – Alamo Lamar B (1120 S Lamar Blvd)
Words: Howard Gorman (@HowardGorman)