“Not bad for a human.” Do you recognize that voice on the Verizon Droid commercials? That is the voice of a badass. That is the voice of Lance Henriksen. And “Not bad for a human” is not only one of the more memorable lines ever delivered by the man, whose career has spanned a veritable library of film, it’s also the name of his biography. And a full biography it is.
Henriksen landed his first movie role in 1961 (that’s 50 years ago, folks; can you say longevity?). He played the role of a US Marine in the Tony Curtis film The Outsider. He was uncredited in the movie and only got the part because he was working as a set designer on the project at the time. Now, five decades later, he has amassed an amazing body of work that spans well over 100 films, a couple dozen television shows and numerous voice-over appearances.
Of course, two roles stand way out from the others when you take a look at Henriksen’s career. The role that made him recognizable to the average American television viewer was that of Frank Black in the FOX television show “Millennium.” Henriksen played the bad guy-hunting ex-FBI officer with a strange gift for seeing into the mind of killers. The role was specifically written for him by “X-Files” creator Chris Carter. “Millennium” ran for three seasons (1996-99) with FOX giving the show a budget of approximately $1.5 million per episode. That’s a lot of cheese. And that’s how much producers thought of the show.
But well before he worked for the Millennium Group, Henriksen had a much less human role for which he’s remembered. He did play supporting parts in such big name films as Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), The Terminator (1978), Dog Day Afternoon (1975) and Damien: Omen II (1978), but it was his portrayal of Bishop, the android executive officer of the Solaco in the 1986 James Cameron film Aliens that made Henriksen a genre favorite.
Anyone who saw Aliens cannot help but remember Henriksen. And you know exactly the scene I’m talking about. Sure Sigourney Weaver was awesome, as always, as Ellen Ripley, but it was Henriksen stabbing that knife around Bill Paxon’s hand at blinding speeds that was the real cringe-inducing, memorable moment of the film. (And just an aside here: Why is it the seemingly little things that give us the big ‘Oh shit’ reaction. We can watch butcher knives plunged into chests all day long, but show us one pinky toe get cut off with a pair of bolt-cutters, and we are nearly hiding our faces. Well, maybe that’s just me).
Henriksen would return to play Bishop again in Alien 3 in 1992 and Charles Bishop Weyland (the man Bishop’s appearance was modeled after) in AVP: Alien vs. Predator in 2004.
But of all the roles Lance Henriksen has played, one stands out as my personal favorite. He’s played astronaut Walter Schirra in The Right Stuff and also Charles Bronson in Reason for Living: The Jill Ireland Story, but the one that truly strikes a chord with me is distraught father Ed Harley in the 1988 cult classic Pumpkinhead. Damn, I love that movie!
Henriksen is just perfect to play Ed Harley, the crusty, small town store owner, living for nothing but his son…until his boy is killed by careless motocross riders. Oh, they must pay. And thanks to that old hag in the woods, pay they would. But at what price to Ed Harley?
Pumpkinhead is such a wonderfully simple revenge film. We get introduced to a group of people we can’t help but dislike, and our natural instinct is to cheer on the monster. The Pumpkinhead character is set up to be a hero. Of course he does have a tendency to go a bit overboard, but kudos to him for his enthusiasm.
In all seriousness, Lance Henriksen deserves all the credit we can heap upon him. James Cameron wrote The Terminator with Henriksen in mind to play the lead role. As mentioned above, Chris Carter did the same thing with the “Millennium” series. And Victor Salva had Henriksen in mind when he was creating Jeepers Creepers. Unfortunately Henriksen would ultimately only play one of those roles, but the fact that these filmmakers respected his work enough to create parts specifically for him speaks volumes.
Scores of movies, dozens of television shows, and we’re not even mentioning the fact that Henriksen voiced General Shepherd in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, a video game which sold over 20 million copies and earned over $1.4 billion dollars (yeah, with a ‘b’). He’s been a master of his craft for half a century, and for that we thank him and give Lance Henriksen a Tip of the Scalpel. Not bad for a human.
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