Exclusive: Lance Henriksen Talks Stung, His Evolution, and Legendary Characters
Lance Henriksen is in Benni Diez’s Stung. Reason enough for any horror fan to rush out and see it. Pull it up on VOD. Giant mutated wasps aside, we have come to see Henriksen, a genre staple… the voice, the stare, the silhouette. This time he brings another side of himself to the role, that of corrupt politico Caruthers—a character that is a bit of fun and very funny, something of a foil amidst practical creature insanity.
Dread Central was honored to chat with Lance Henriksen about his process, his wisdom, and his legendary role of Jesse from Near Dark. And yes, Stung (review) as well.
Dread Central: Why did you take on this role of Caruthers?
Lance Henriksen: I love humor. I don’t think I’m funny, but I think situations are funny. When I got a chance to play this guy, when I read it, I went, ‘Oh boy!’ This is one of those moments that it’s like, kind of payback, because I have had a lifetime of listening to politicians, and all of their b.s. and all their manipulations and everything else, with the pretense—They varnish themselves, and shine themselves up, and I can see through it. When I get to play a guy who—This is the underbelly of it. This is a loser. He’s a mayor, but he knows he’s not going to get re-elected—because he’s burnt out. And he’s drinking like a fish, and I thought, ‘Wow.’ The classic line in the whole movie for me is when I say to the guy, ‘Look, I knew I was not going to be re-elected, but now, well, at least something is happening. I’ll have something to talk about!’ Which is really funny. But anyway, yeah, I loved it. I really loved doing it.
Dread Central: How did you approach the character?
Lance Henriksen: There was very famous mayor up in Toronto [Rob Ford], and this guy was overtly saying, “Well yeah, I smoke a little crack; there’s nothing wrong with that!” [laughter]—Or whatever the hell he was using, and I thought, ‘Yeah, I understand that.’ He’s having a nervous breakdown, that’s what he’s doing. Anyway, when we started working on it, I thought, ‘I’m just gonna really be present and see where this takes me.’ When you have a director like Benni [Diez], who has a very sophisticated sense of humor, and he chose all the right cuts, and he spent a lot of time polishing this movie to what it is. When I saw it, I was very proud of him. And Adam [Aresty], the guy that wrote it, he was on that set the whole time we were shooting. We were moving lines and trying to personalize it all—everybody did. We had wonderful talent in that show, so I’m really happy.
Dread Central: Have you had that experience before, having a writer on-set to play off of?
Lance Henriksen: Not a writer that will conspire with you. I mean, a lot of writers will be on the set, but they’ll be absolutely defending every syllable. But the best ones are the ones that are the Paddy Chayefsky guys, who have written something incredible, but know you have worked so hard on it that it becomes you. You know. And there’s all kinds of situations. But I’ve been very lucky this year, I did a movie called Monday 11:01, and the writer was also the lead actor in it, and he had this wonderful openness about—when things happen, and they’re full of life, why deny it? Why push it away? So I had another good experience with that. So, I don’t know if I’m a good con man or something, but it seems that I have a really good time on sets with people. Because I’m there for the same reason they are: I really want to conspire to make a good movie. No matter what the budget.
Dread Central: How do you feel you’ve evolved as an actor?
Lance Henriksen: Willing to risk. Willing to accept other people’s ideas and personalize them for yourself—and have the adventure. I think people forget that it’s all an adventure. When I walk on a set, right before I start, I go, ‘I’m gonna go right back to zero now, like I’ve never done this before, and have this ADVENTURE.’ I don’t want to come in there loaded with tricks. I just want to have this adventure. It’s all about the chemistry of all the people that you’re meeting for the first time, and I like that. I like it.
Dread Central: You’ve had an incredible body of work in many different genres—dramas, westerns, for example—why do you keep coming back to work in the horror genre?
Lance Henriksen: It’s not my fault; it’s the fault of this era. There’s so many more thrillers and science fiction and horror films being made now because there’s an accepted kind of construct to it that allows you to do it with lower budgets. It’s almost like you don’t need a big budget to look under your sink and find a black widow there, and that’s a scary moment. You know what I mean? So the construction of the storytelling in this particular era can lend itself to any budget. That’s one way of looking at it, anyway.
Dread Central: What do you think makes a great director?
Lance Henriksen: Somebody asked me if I ever wanted to direct, and I said, ‘No. I don’t.’ I would CO-direct with somebody, but I don’t want the masochistic situation of everybody in the world coming up to me and asking me a question. I really would like to do what an actor does—You’d be private publicly. You’d do the work, and you’d have good ideas, and you’d worked on it hard enough, but I don’t need to be the king, the boss, because the truth of it is, on a set, once the train leaves the station, it’s not gonna stop ‘til it gets there, and you don’t get a second chance, so your only second chance is in the editing. But anyway—You don’t finish a movie and then they go, ‘Well this doesn’t work, so let’s start shooting all over again, we’ll go back to page one.’ That doesn’t happen. So, everybody has a role to play, but I think I’m better off when I conspire with other actors to make everybody look good. I want them to look good. I’m not just being Pollyanna: It comes alive, it’s a very rarefied atmosphere to be on a set, because no two sets are alike, and it’s like a real high to experience that, that situation.
Dread Central: Was there sort of a family atmosphere on the set of Stung?
Lance Henriksen: [Laughs] Yes, everyone came loaded for bear.
Dread Central: In Stung, you play a more comedic role, whereas you’ve also played more brooding, serious roles—Is there a type of character that you feel closest to?
Lance Henriksen: I swear I can’t compartmentalize what I do that way, but when a script comes under my door, I suddenly have an automatic feeling about it. I always write down my first impression of everything that I read in the script with a pencil, and usually my first impressions are pretty on the money.
Dread Central: What was your first impression when you read your character of Jesse in Near Dark?
Lance Henriksen: I had read all of Anne Rice’s books—Interview with the Vampire, all of those books—and I thought, ‘There’s a great sorrow in all of them’. I remember hearing that she had written Interview with the Vampire because her daughter was dying of leukemia, and that was her way of handling the sheer grief of that situation. And that resonated with me just as a statement, just as a sentence. And so when I did Jesse, I realized there’s a great kind of sorrow in outliving every living creature around you—everything, everywhere. You’ve lived too long. You’ve seen too much. There was a weariness. And then Kathryn [Bigelow, the director] did the amazing thing of making us a real family. You cared about them because they cared about each other. As vicious as they were.
Benni Diez’s Stung opened in limited theaters and on VOD courtesy of IFC Midnight TODAY! The film stars Clifton Collins, Jr., Jessica Cook, and Lance Henriksen.
In a remote country villa set amid foggy rural farmlands, the elderly widow of a pharmaceutical magnate holds an annual garden party for the local elite in honor of her late husband. But the festivities take a grisly turn when a plague of giant killer wasps is unleashed on the unsuspecting partygoers, leaving the caterers, Julia and Paul, pitted against the seven-foot mutant predators in a deadly fight for survival.
A delightfully gory horror comedy from first-time director/mad scientist Benni Diez, Stung revels in its outlandish premise, never shying away from the opportunity to showcase the film’s gruesome creations. With its seamless blend of CGI and oozing practical effects, this modern update of the ’80s creature feature is a thrilling and inventive roller coaster ride.