The Lance Henriksen Blogathon is this week (May 2-7) and we have a special entry -- a Masters bio for Henriksen written by Joseph Maddrey, the co-author of Not Bad for a Human, Henriksen's autobiography. Find out more about this awesome event at NotBadforaHuman.com
Lance Henriksen is a versatile character actor who's as adept at playing strong, nurturing, heroic characters as he is at playing ruthless psychopaths. His secret is astute observation, empathy, and a willingness to surrender himself completely to every role he takes - whether it's in A-list drama or Z-grade schlock.
Born in 1940, Henriksen grew up in Manhattan under the intermittent care of his family of nomadic grifters - a family he likens in some ways to the vampire clan in Near Dark (1987). Until he was in his late twenties, the actor says, he was aimless. In the late 1960s, he decided to become an artist - a painter, a potter and an actor. He belatedly taught himself to read by comparing written plays to recorded transcripts, and slowly worked his way up from local theater to a supporting role in Sidney Lumet's 1975 film Dog Day Afternoon. After that, he never looked back.
Over the next ten years, he tackled a plethora of supporting roles in a wide variety of films and television shows, including several early forays into the horror genre. He played a blind prisoner in Charles Band's The Eyes of Dr. Chaney (1976), a drill sergeant who mentors the Antichrist in Damien: Omen II (1978), a wealthy gigolo in the incomprehensible psi thriller Stridulum (1979), and a kindly police chief in James Cameron's directorial debut Piranha II: The Spawning (1981). His collaboration with Cameron evolved toward a supporting role in the cult hit The Terminator (1984) and a breakthrough performance in Aliens (1986), as the humanistic android Bishop.
Bishop remains Henriksen's most personal role. He created the character by drawing on the details and emotions of his own troubled youth. Following the phenomenal success of the film, the actor vowed to create all of his future characters using the same internal process - which has led to a series of iconic performances revealing the actor at his most horrific as well as his most enlightened. Alternately, Henriksen has fought the monster (in Pumpkinhead, The Horror Show, Man's Best Friend, etc.) and become the monster (in Pumpkinhead, Near Dark, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Nature of the Beast, etc.).
He often relishes the opportunity to play villains, explaining that his secret is not to play them as villains: "When a bad guy says he'll kill you if you fuck with him, that doesn't have to mean that he would enjoy killing you. Playing a villain can be like playing a king. A king doesn't have to throw his weight around to prove that he's the king. He just is the king. He can go like this [beckons with one finger], and people come. They come without question, because they know he's the king. So you don't play the villainy. It gets in the way."
Playing the hero, he says, comes just as naturally: "Growing up, whenever my family had a bill they couldn't pay or got scared of anything, they would get into an argument about it. If I went to them with any kind of problem, they would respond with anger. They would make themselves larger than my fear, in order to diminish the importance of my feelings. That's how poor people handle the fear of defeat. They try to make themselves bigger than their fears. That's how I was brought up... and that's what I do sometimes in these movies. It's very easy for me to fight against insurmountable odds, because I never really believe that I will lose. I can make myself bigger than the monster. I was trained to do that as a child.
Fighting monsters is what he does best as criminal profiler Frank Black, a fan-favorite role that he played for three years in the TV series "Millennium" (1996 - 1999). In the years since, Henriksen has solidified his reputation as a reliable "heavy" in genre films, matching wits with Ghostface (in Scream 3), Predator (in AVP: Alien vs. Predator), Pinhead (in Hellraiser: Hellworld) and even Bigfoot (in The Untold, Abominable and Sasquatch Mountain). Today he is recognized as a horror icon on par with the likes of Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff and Vincent Price. Whatever the role, Henriksen's sincerity and integrity shine through.