One of the films firmly set in our sights at this year’s SXSW Film Festival is He Never Died, written and directed by Jason Krawczyk. Henry Rollins stars as Jack, a recluse suffering from a severe case of depression as the gift of eternal life isn’t all it’s hyped to be and he’s more interested in chowing down on humans than bonding with them. Jack’s situation turns even more truculent when his past catches up with him and he finds himself struggling 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. SCREAM’s Howard Gorman caught up with Jason Krawczyk to find out just what it is that has got Henry Rollins feeling so morose…
SCREAM: So far we’ve only been treated to a short clip from the film. Rollins’ character certainly doesn’t look like a happy chap and the film looks like it’s going to serve up a good blend of horror, violence and comedy. Can you elaborate a little on what we have seen so far?
Jason Krawczyk: Well we find Jack when he gets a kind of moment to jump back into life. The more human he becomes, the more the animal comes out so he tries to distance himself as much as possible from everyone. There’s also certainly a good comedic element to the film, like you said. It was hard to pick a clip to put out in the world because I wanted to let people know there’s violence and I wanted to show off Henry’s great performance but I also wanted to show it’s great to laugh at times. I didn’t want to use a clip from too far ahead in the movie because I didn’t want to give away any reveals. It was a really hard decision to make. Hopefully that clip gives you a good sense of the atmosphere of the movie and I hope it’s entertaining.
SCREAM: You had Henry Rollins in mind as Jack straight off the bat.
JK: When it usually comes to immortal characters like Dracula or Dorian Gray, they tend to be kind of suave and confident and overly sexualised. I felt to myself that if you are immortal you are probably going to become numb to the world around you and you are going to watch all the people that you enjoy around you die and you’re probably not going to have any zest for life whatsoever. I imagined a downtrodden and grumpy curmudgeon who obviously has to go through that entire trauma on his own. I thought that would be more in the vein of what you’d be like if you were immortal so I just wanted to pick someone who looked like they had experience and I thought Henry and his résumé alone fit all that. I mean, he’s been in a band, he also has those spoken words and he runs around and he just has this face chiselled out of experience and he was just the right visual representation of what I had in mind for the Jack character.
When it came to actually casting him I had a long list of very talented actors from our casting agent, Adrienne Stern, but I asked if Henry’s name could be thrown on the top of the list and see what his reaction was. The very next day he got back to us and was like, “Hey, I love the script.” Then I got to meet him and he was really excited and enthusiastic about it. That was a very surreal moment for me to actually meet my role model and for him to tell me that he liked something I had done. It was a very palm-sweating moment but it was also amazing.
SCREAM: I read that Henry jumped on this project because it differed from his usual roles where he would get killed off or sent to prison.
JK: His devotion to this project was humbling to say the least. He was very enthusiastic and set the tone on set. He was really nice and talkative with everybody and he’s a really funny guy. When he first came in I was like, “I hope he likes me.” But he’s just such a great person and I was shocked at how altruistic and humbling he was.
SCREAM: Apart from Henry Rollins, how much of a part did you play in deciding on the rest of the cast?
JK: That was more the casting director in Toronto because we had a US casting director and another in Canada. We shot the movie in Canada so when we came up here we had a handful of American actors come up, like Booboo Stewart and Steven Ogg, and then we started getting audition tapes and stuff like that.
Kate Greenhouse actually came along when I had had a long day and I got home exhausted and I got this cavalcade of onscreen auditions in my email. As tired as I was, I just watched them all and to be honest it’s a hard script to be able to understand when you only have a snippet of it. When it’s out of context I can’t imagine you could pick up the atmosphere of it and I was watching these videos and thinking, “Oh my God. I’m a terrible writer because all these actresses are really good but they can’t really encapsulate what I was trying to do.” But then Kate Greenhouse came up and she was just right. I was so giddy at that moment and ran around the house. She really changed the perspective of what that character would be and how great she would be. She was so great to work with also.
SCREAM: So would you say you were quite lenient in terms of giving the actors leeway with their performances?
JK: I try to listen as much as I can. I would throw them the ideas that I thought would help them best for the scenes and then they’d pitch me an idea back and we’d take it from there. As long as it made sense and it comes out of their mouth and out of their performance more naturally then that’s exactly what I like to see. I love pre-production and talking to actors and going over ideas and just being as collaborative as possible. I mean, my ideas were OK but they are always going to be better when someone else is working along with you.
SCREAM: Did that lead to much improvisation in the film?
JK: There’s a little bit. Usually I try to express to them not to be afraid to talk over each other and be very bantery. I always try and do a last take where I tell them this is going to be the very last take and if they feel any kind of weird inspiration then now is the time to go ahead and give that a shot.
SCREAM: How did you end up choosing to shoot in Toronto?
JK: We chose Toronto because we came up here for TIFF to see some movies and we met up with a couple of producers and we really liked what Pinewood and 108 Media had to offer. They kind of kick-started the movie to work so I started coming up to Toronto whilst envisioning to shoot the film somewhere else but I got the lay of the land and the crew base here and the talent so I realised Toronto would be totally perfect.
SCREAM: The film is premiering next week at SXSW but 108 Media own the international rights so I’m guessing it will be reaching a much wider audience soon. I also believe there are plans to develop a television pilot for a spin-off series.
JK: That’s right, and we’re still working diligently on it to turn the film into a mini-series. Henry Rollins is on board if that goes ahead. I sent him some ideas and he sent me some back and I’m more than happy and gracious that that is a possibility. I’ve written many episodes and I have the treatments ready to go so if I could pull the trigger on that that would be amazing…
We’d like to thank Jason for taking time out to speak to us and we can’t recommend enough that you catch He Never Died at this year’s SXSW film festival at the following dates, times and venues:
– 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)
Henry Rollins will be attending a Q&A session on the 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:
Keep up to date with He Never Died on the official Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/HeNeverDiedMovie
You can also follow the film on Twitter: @HeNeverDied
Words: Howard Gorman (@HowardGorman)