As people strive to find and hold onto a meaningful purpose in their work and relationships, they often find it difficult to simply define the overall objectives in their lives. So they often determinedly set out to describe and showcase their strengths, in a powerful attempt to validate their existence and merits. Actor Henry Rollins profoundly highlighted his persistence in telling an equally emotional and action-driven horror story in his new film, ‘He Never Died,’ which Vertical Entertainment released this weekend in theaters and On Demand and on iTunes. The movie features the actor portraying a complex anti-hero who’s dedicated to finding the significance in his own life, particularly when it comes to protecting the people he has surprisingly come to care about during his unique process of living.
‘He Never Died’ was written and directed by Jason Krawczyk, and had its world premiere during this year’s SXSW in Austin, Texas. The story follows the reclusive Jack (Rollins), whose depression and severe anti-social behavior has led him to avoid human contact as much as possible. While he spends most of his time sleeping and watching television in his impersonal apartment, he does occasionally venture out to eat at a local diner, play Bingo at his church and buy blood from an immoral hospital intern. He doesn’t have any interest in bonding with anyone, as he’s struggling with his battle with cannibalism, which fuels his immortality.
But Jack is suddenly forced to take personal responsibility for his actions when his violent past comes back to haunt him. His life is unexpectedly changed when he receives an angry phone call from an old fling he hasn’t heard from in nearly two decades, who tells him the young woman who has arrived on his door is their teenage daughter, Andrea (Jordan Todosey). But the newly acquainted father and daughter are completely different from each other, as she’s more outgoing than her withdrawn and quiet father. His isolated attitude also begins changing as he begins to develop a bond with one of the waitresses at the diner, Cara (Kate Greenhouse).
But Jack’s unpredicted good fortune suddenly changes again when he’s targeted by two criminals who are desperately trying to kill him. While their vendetta and motivations aren’t immediately made known, he’s able to physically protect himself, as his body quickly heals from beatings and bullet and knife wounds. In an effort to protect not only himself, but also the women who have unexpectedly provided purpose in his life, Jack must now take full responsibility for his actions and emotions, and finally realize there is a meaningful purpose in his life.
Rollins generously sat down to talk about ‘He Never Died’ recently during an exclusive interview at the Gansevoort Hotel in the Meatpacking District in New York City. Among other things, the actor discussed how he was immediately drawn to play Jack after he read the script, as he thought the character was different from anyone else he has ever played, and was also intrigued that Krawczyk mixed violence and humor together throughout the story. The actor also divulged that he appreciated the collaborative relationships he formed with not only the writer-director, but also his co-stars, notably Todosey and Greenhouse, as well as one of the film’s producers, Zach Hagen.
ShockYa (SY): You play the reclusive main character, Jack, a man who avoids developing personal relationships, mainly due to his immortality, in the new horror comedy-drama, ‘He Never Died.’ What was it about the character, as well as the script and overall story, that convinced you to take on the role?
Henry Rollins (HR): Well, at the end of 2012, I was performing in some shows here in New York. The woman who runs all of my offices and businesses, Heidi, emailed a PDF file. She said, “Stop what you’re doing and read this script; it’s amazing.” She had just read it, and she has good taste. So I said, “Yes, ma’am.” I was backstage at Joe’s Pub in the Village, and was going on stage that night.
But I read the script for ‘He Never Died’ later on, and I thought it was brilliant. I laughed, and thought it was different from anything I had ever read. But I knew I could play the role. She said they were going to talk to me about the character of Jack.
I thought, I can do this, and I started seeing the scenes in my head. I thought I could play Jack this way and that he could be funny that way. I also thought he could talk in a monotone, and my imagination started to run away. So I wrote Heidi back and said I read the script, and thought it was really good. She said, “Yes, it is really good. They’re here in town in New York, and I want you to meet them.”
The next day, I met Zach, who’s a producer on the film, and Jason, who’s the movie’s director, at the Starbucks at Astor Place. I told them how I liked the script and laughed all the way through, so I asked if I read the story wrong. They said, “No, there are funny parts. There’s violence and humor mixed together.”
I said how I thought of Jack as being monotone and very dry, and they said, “You got it. Do you want the part?” I told them I did, so they asked if I would attach to the film so that they could use my name to secure funding. I told them that they would never get any funding if they used my name, but go ahead. So they went to work.
Much to my great surprise, they received funding. I’m not being humble, but I’m used to my projects being pitched, and then having trouble getting dollar one. So Zach kept in touch with Heidi and me. He would say, “We had a goal to raise this much money this month, and we’re moving ahead.” I just thought, okay, producer boy. (laughs) I just never thought it would happen.
But then 11 months after I met them, we were filming in Toronto. I thought, am I really here? I just thought it would be too good to happen. It’s such a cool script, but I thought there was no way it was going to get made, at least not with me in it. But we were suddenly making it.
During that time, I kept getting encouragement from Zach. He’d always say, “This is going to happen.” So I prepared and prepared for the role. I had a weekend ritual in which I read the script, beginning to end, over and over. I read it so often that the film felt as though it had become one long scene.
I thought of every action Jack would go through, and every word he would say. I would rehearse it all. I show that he doesn’t lose his temper, he doesn’t like people and he’s not curious; he’s just done. He’s been alive for so long, he has become anti-social. I had to bring that element to the set once we began shooting. Jason and I also sat in a small office in Toronto and wet over each scene. I’d ask, “Do we do this or this?” He’d say, “I don’t know!” So we’d try both ways in rehearsal.
We were both super enthusiastic about the project. I also helped cast the film, and put together the soundtrack, so I also became involved behind the camera.
SY: Since the supernatural thriller is driven by Jack’s continuous emotional and physical struggle to remain alive, what was the process of collaborating with Jason on the character, particularly in developing your anti-hero’s backstory and motivations?
HR: The process was super collaborative. When I first met Jason, he said, “If anything doesn’t sound like something Jack would say, re-write it. I know you’re a writer, and you get Jack.” He asked me to describe Jack, and I went into this whole thing I created about him. Jason said he based the character on me. I was like, “Gee, thanks-you wrote a guy who hates people and human life, and based him on me.” He said, “No, I knew you would understand the character.”
I didn’t end up changing any of the words. But we had a ritual that before we would film every scene, we’d discuss Jason’s ideas, and then we’d do the scene his way. Then Jason would ask me if I had any ideas. If I did, Jason would tell everyone that we were going to shoot the Henry version. In the final version of the film, you’ll see several of the Henry takes.
There’s a scene where Jack kicks his daughter out of his apartment, because he looks at her as food. He knows he shouldn’t, but he still does, because he’s an awful person. Don’t think of him as a nice guy, because he’s not. So I told Jason that I had a thing I wanted to do. I said, “I’m going to be thinking a certain way, and it’s going to affect my physicality. But I’m not going to tell Jordan.” He went, “Cool!” So we did the scene, and the version of the film that (has been) released (uses) that take.
In the scene, Jordan’s character, Andrea, runs out of the apartment, screaming “F*ck you!” I tripped her up so much that she actually really ran out of the building. When she later came back in, she was out of breath, and everyone was like, “She returned!” She asked me, “What was that?”
Even Jason saidd, “Wow, that was terrifying!” What did you do?” I told him, “I went at her as food or sex, and it informed my overall physicality.” He told me, “That’s totally screwed up and really intense.” I agreed, saying “Totally. But Jack’s a monster. I let my body take on that idea.” But doing whatever you need to do to make something really jump is important.
I was given free rein in developing the character of Jack. But Jason’s very smart and collaborative, so I would often go up to him and ask him, “What do you think about this?” He’s someone you can really trust. The great thing about people in this line of work of filmmaking is that there are writers, directors and actors who are open.
I was talking to my friend, (writer-director-producer-actor) David Lynch, and realized he thinks differently about everything. It’s a marvel to hang out with him. Jason’s also like that, because he also thinks differently. When I first read the script for ‘He Never Died,’ I thought, what is this? It’s really cool. As soon as I met him, I knew working with him would be great. Thanks to an amazing cast and crew, we made what I feel is a pretty sturdy, cool independent film that loosely falls into the horror genre. It at least falls into the genre because of the blood and screaming.
I don’t watch many movies, which is a shame. I can’t sit still long enough to watch them, unless I’m on an airplane. So I don’t know that much about horror films. When you make movies in the genre, you’re almost expected to be a mini-genius on the subject. People will ask, “What’s your favorite film by this guy?” I’m like, “Huh?”
So this is the type of film I wouldn’t normally go see. I’m not really interested in seeing this kind of film; I’d rather make a movie, and then go work on something else. But I have actually seen ‘He Never Died’ a few times at different film festivals, and I quite enjoy it.
SY: Jack regularly insists that he doesn’t have any interest in developing meaningful personal relationships. However, there are moments during which he appears concerned about the people in his life, including Andrea and Cara. Why did you feel it was essential to both Jack and the story’s development to emphasize both his cynicism on life and protectiveness over the people he cares about?
HR: Here’s how I approached it. I came up with the idea, which I ran by Jason, that Jack is 99 percent awful. During his monologue to Steven Ogg’s character, Alex, he says he’s killed nine-year-old girls without even thinking twice. He’s a cold-stone monster, and people should be scared of him; he’ll eat people’s families.
The other one percent of Jack is where the movie picks up. He finds out that he has a daughter who he didn’t know about for 19 years. He obviously had a moment with her mother all those years ago. He doesn’t meet his daughter until she shows up, and then she’s in trouble because of something he did. He realizes that he’s responsible for her predicament, because he knocked off this guy’s dad, and the son’s taking out his revenge on him. So he has to deal with that.
Cara, the waitress, also gets pulled in, and she’s a nice gal. She lost her restaurant, so she’s now a waitress, and she’s not having a nice time in life. He realizes that these two women are decent.
He also thinks that maybe he can do one decent thing in his life-save his daughter from something that’s not her fault. Since it’s all his fault, he realizes that he has to right his wrong.
So his whole life is turned upside down. He’s used to only doing the same few things-playing bingo, going to the dinner, watching TV, sleeping and drinking bags of blood, so he doesn’t have to touch people. He’s dialed into this lifestyle, but he then has to throw it all away to save these people.
Jack also loses his blood connection because of what he did. So these three people he’s in contact with all become screwed up. So he realizes that he has to do the right thing.
There’s a moment where he walks Cara home, and she says, “Okay, this is me.” They both stand there, waiting for the goodnight kiss, and he leans in. He then begins thinking, what the hell am I doing? So he about faces and bolts. Those are the moments where you see the little cracks in Jack, and where his humanity comes out a little.
But overall, he’s the guy who has killed a lot of people, and isn’t good. So he isn’t necessarily redeemed, but he does lean to the side of good in this one instance.
Jason is brilliant in his filmmaking, and I was he was here. He showed how the two lead women, who are played by Jordan and Kate, are the two decent characters in the film. Otherwise, there are these mean and violent men, including the dumb thugs, a monster and a crappy boyfriend. But it’s the two women who put Jack on his best behavior.
SY: Since ‘He Never Died’ is so driven by Jack’s conflicting feelings, particularly his apparent lack of compassion and his repressed desire to protect his daughter and potential love interest, what was the experience of building the characters’ relationships with Jordan, who played Andrea, and Kate, who portrayed Cara?
HR: It was fantastic-they’re both so good and energized. They have both made films that are really intense, like this one. You want the people around you to really be with it, because there aren’t any mellow scenes in this film. It’s all dark, evil and insane. People like them are able to jump up to do those types of scenes, as they’re extremely talented and strong. They’re both absolutely delightful to work with, and I’m such a fan of their work.
They both get a ton of work in Canada, and they’re very well known there. Jordan has been an actress since she was eight, and she’s on TV every day up there. Everyone knows her in Canada. Kate also gets one part after another. It was so much fun working with her, because we have so many intense scenes together. That poor woman-in every scene, she has to be upset or mad at me, but she was so good.
So it was a joy for me to show up everyday with these kick-ass people, as well as the great crew. We also had a great director who had a great idea. The only bummer for me was that it ended. There was the initial euphoria of, we did it! But the next day, I thought, I already miss it. I wish we can come back in a month and do Part 2. Hopefully, we do get to do more.
SY: Jason has mentioned that he would interested in making a sequel to ‘He Never Died,’ if the opportunity became available. Would you be interested in collaborating with Jason on a follow-up to the thriller? How would you like to see Jack’s story continue?
HR: Well, I’ll tell you this, and it really isn’t a secret-the film is an overpriced pilot. Zach and Jason have always wanted this to be an episodic project, and they would use the movie to launch the episodic series. Jason has written a full season of TV for ‘He Never Died.’ I have read two episodes, and it’s absolutely crazy.
Jack has been alive for a long time, so we can go back and forth in time and play around with the truth of history. We can ask, who was Jack the Ripper and Dracula? Jack could have been either one. He could have committed any unsolved crime.
We’ve pitched the series to people, who have all seen and loved the movie. They read the episodes and said, “Wow, we’re officially interested.” If all goes well, we’ll all be gainfully employed. I hope they would keep me around as Jack.
SY: ‘He Never Died’ had its World Premiere at this year’s SXSW. What was your experience of bringing the movie on the film festival circuit?
HR: It was fun. We were representing something that we truly loved, and honestly felt was really good. I’ve never been in the position of doing a press tour for something I didn’t think was great. The only times I have done a press tour like this was for an album and for my shows on IFC, the History Channel and National Geographic. I haven’t had to talk about my smaller roles in my films, except when people ask me, “Why’d you make that film?” I do them because I work for a living.
But I think people should absolutely go see this film. I think it’s really good, because of Jason and his idea. He also cast it well, and I’m lucky enough to be one of the people who’s in the film. For me, it’s all about Jason and his idea.
Watch ‘He Never Died’s red band trailer below.
Written by: Karen Benardello