If you’re a fan of the action genre then you probably know the name Lance Henriksen. With a TV, movie, and voice acting career spanning over 50 years, not to mention a credit list stuffed full of iconic action characters and moments, it is little wonder that Henriksen has become a favourite with all of us who love action based media. There are potentially dozens of reasons why Henriksen is so adored, but I have narrowed the list down to 7 reasons why I personally think Lance Henriksen is absolutely AWESOME.
1. HE HELPED BRING US THE TERMINATOR
In 1981 a young film writer/ director wrote a draft for a script in which a cyborg was sent back in time to kill a young woman, the mother of the future leader of the human resistance. However, with only one Hollywood writing and directing credit to his name at the time (Piranha II: The Spawning) he had some trouble getting anyone to take the idea very seriously. This, of course, was James Cameron, and the script in question was for The Terminator. While Cameron was able to sell the script (for a single dollar with the proviso that he would direct) and agree a distribution deal with Orion Pictures, he had to secure financial backing from another source.
Cameron had written the role of The Terminator with a particular actor in mind, a friend of his by the name of Lance Henriksen, who he had also worked with on Piranha II: The Spawning. Cameron set up a pitch with John Daly, chairman and president of Hemdale Film Corporation. Cameron had Henriksen wear a leather jacket, cover his face with fake cuts, and put gold foil on his teeth. Henriksen then arrived at the meeting fifteen minutes early, kicked in the door (causing Daly’s secretary to drop her typewriter) sat in a chair and stared at Daly. By the time Cameron arrived with the script, and a painting of Henriksen as The Terminator, Daly was more than ready to do a deal. Although Henriksen didn’t actually play the Terminator, with the role instead going to the up and coming Arnold Schwarzenegger, as a thank you for his assistance in securing financial backing for the movie Henriksen was cast as Detective Hal Hukovich.
Henriksen’s involvement with getting The Terminator off the ground has become something of a Hollywood legend, with the Terminator going on to become a cultural icon. This is far from the only time Henriksen has been involved with iconic movie monsters, as you see…
2. HE HAS BEEN KILLED BY A TERMINATOR, PREDATOR, AND XENOMORPH
Yes, it’s an obvious one, but the number of iconic action franchises that Lance Henriksen has been associated with cannot be understated. Henriksen is one of only two actors who have had the honour of playing characters that have been killed by a Terminator, Predator, and a Xenomorph, the other being the late Bill Paxton (RIP) Henriksen’s character in The Terminator, Detective Hal Hukovich, met his end at the hands of the Terminator during the police station shoot out. His character in AVP: Aliens vs Predator, Charles Bishop Weyland, was impaled on the wristblades of the Predator, Scar, after he attacked Scar with an improvised flamethrower. In Aliens, Henriken’s character, the artificial person known as Bishop, was attacked by the Alien Queen after the drop ship returned to The Sulaco.
Now I know what some of you are thinking, didn’t Ripley actually deactivate Bishop, thereby killing him? Well here’s the thing, if a person is stabbed and ends up in a coma, later dying by having their life support switched off, it was still the person that stabbed them that was ultimately, and legally, responsible for their death. It may have been Ripley that pulled the plug, as an act of mercy and at Bishop’s request, but it was the Alien Queen who stabbed Bishop through the back and tore him in half, causing the majority of the damage that caused him to be thrown on the scrapheap at Fiorina “Fury” 161. While Bishop may have been synthetic, meaning that the damage didn’t kill him straight away as it would probably have done with a biological life form, it is ultimately the Alien Queen that it responsible for Bishop’s demise.
This brings us nicely to…
I have written before about how brilliant Bishop is, and how there wouldn’t have been any survivors of LV-426 without him. In a movie full of great characters and memorable moments Bishop more than holds his own, from the cafeteria knife trick to crawling through the tiny pipeline to get to the platform so he can remote pilot the second drop ship down from the Sulaco.
However the main reason why Bishop is such a memorable character is because of Henriksen’s performance. The idea of a synthetic humanoid can be disturbing at the best of times, there are entire tropes based on this concept. Henriksen knows just how play on this fear and every part of Bishop’s persona, from his childish desire to please the humans and fit in to his concentration as he studies the facehuggers, is just a little too intense to be quite human. It’s clear that the idea with Bishop was to evoke images of Ash, the synthetic from Alien, in order for the audience to understand and maybe share Ripley’s distrust. Henriksen pulls this off with aplomb, earning both Ripley and the audience’s trust and respect. This makes it all the more bittersweet when Bishop, having finally proven himself, is torn apart by the Alien Queen. It would have been easy for the performance of Bishop to slip into becoming hammy and overdone, but Henriksen is almost chillingly restrained, conveying more with his big doe eyes and one word in his distinctive deep voice then less skilled actors could with a paragraph of dialogue. It is a trademark of Henriksen as an actor that he values movement and expression as highly as the conveying of dialogue when crafting a performance.
This may have something to do with the fact that…
4. HE CONQUERED ADULT ILLITERACY
In Henriksen’s autobiography ‘Not Bad For A Human‘ he revealed that when he first started acting at age 30, having gotten into it through building theatrical sets, he was completely unable to read. In order to learn his lines, Henriksen would ask his friends to record the entire script onto audio tape. He would learn the lines of the entire script, and eventually he taught himself to read. Later, when asked about his illiteracy in a Reddit AMA, Henriksen remarks “It hasn’t been a curse, it’s been a gift – because I think in pictures. Words aren’t as important to me as visuals.”
Henriksen has been associated with some amazing achievements, from his work with director John Woo on Hard Target to his performance in vampire movie Near Dark. However, an actor as prolific as Henriksen is bound to find himself taking part in a stinker or two along the way, and yet…
5. HE CAN TURN MEDIOCRE INTO MAGNIFICENT
One of Lance Henriksen’s best qualities is that he gives 100% to every role he undertakes, and as a result of this his mere presence is enough to turn a concept that would otherwise be lame or terrible into something worth watching. While it would be easy to highlight a movie such as AVP: Alien vs Predator honestly the best example I can think of of an idea working solely because of Henriksen’s involvement is Pumpkinhead.
Pumpkinhead is a 1988 monster horror movie directed by Stan Winston, who would later become a hugely successful special effects artist. The story concerns a generic group of city kids who are careless while travelling through generic hillbilly country, causing tragedy to strike store owner Ed Harley (played by Henriksen) Distraught Harley visits a hillbilly witch and she uses her magic to summon a spirit of vengeance, known as Pumpkinhead, to punish the wayward teens. It’s an unimaginative concept, combining many of the most overused tropes and conventions in horror. The careless group of city teens that each consist of a single stereotype (the virgin, the jock, etc) that are hunted one by one by a monster after violating the universal horror rule that you don’t mess around with hillbillies.
Henriksen has stated that he takes every role seriously, never doing anything out of boredom or a desire for fame/wealth. This is shown clearly in movies like Pumpkinhead, where it would have been acceptable (even expected) to just coast through and then pick up a cheque. Pumpkinhead should have been a forgettable monster flick, however the sheer conviction of Henriksen’s performance turned this movie into something special, so much so that the movie has since gained a cult following and even spawned several sequels. We suffer with Harley as he makes his journey, moving from loss (which I will not dare spoil here) to vengeance and then through to sorrow and regret at what he has unleashed. It’s a silly movie, but one that I would recommend every Henriksen fan watch, if only to see how the presence of one great performer can make even the stupidest movie not just watchable, but enjoyable.
Conviction and commitment are Henriksen’s greatest strengths, this is especially apparent in…
Millennium was a TV show created in 1996 by Chris Carter to serve as a sister show for the The X-Files. In a role written specifically for him, Henriksen played former FBI agent Frank Black, who worked as a consultant and criminal profiler for the mysterious Millennium Group, a powerful and sinister organisation whose agenda was explored during the series. Black, though stating that he is not psychic, was able see into the minds of murderers and criminals, giving insight into their thoughts and motivations. As the show progressed more supernatural elements were introduced.
Though not as successful as The X-Files, Millennium ran for three years, building its own loyal and dedicated fanbase. For his performance as Frank Black, Henriksen was nominated for a Golden Globe three years running. Millennium was cancelled in 1999, but still has a lot of love from its fans. A seventh season episode of The X-Files that featured Frank Black and the Millennium group was written to serve as a finale for the show. There are several websites and books dedicated to bringing it back. This included the Back To Frank Black Campaign, which Henriksen himself supported, although this ended in 2016 after eight years. In many ways Millennium was ahead of its time, a dark and atmospheric TV series where a good but gifted and troubled protagonist solved crimes by intuitive understanding of the criminal, these conventions are now the bread and butter of procedural crime drama. Though the show itself may have struggled to find its identity, Henriksen had an intimate understanding of Frank Black, allowing a character consistency that managed to overcome the writing difficulties of the series.
One of Henriksen’s hallmarks is his distinctive deep voice, which leads finally to…
7. HIS AMAZING CAREER AS A VOICE ACTOR
Lance Henriksen has an amazing body of work as a voice actor, encompassing cartoon shows such as The Legend Of Korra and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, animated movies such as Disney’s Tarzen, to video games such as the Mass Effect series, Call Of Duty, Red Faction 2, and Aliens vs Predator.
Henriksen’s voice is deep, resonant, and distinctive. As a gamer it’s always a pleasure to hear Lance Henriksen’s voice in a game and in this I think it’s fair to say that he was trailblazer, opening up video game voice acting outside of movie tie-in games as serious work for Hollywood actors. As I said earlier, Henriksen gives 100% in every role he undertakes, and this is no different when it comes to voice acting. The sheer quality of Henriksen’s voice adds a gravitas to every performance, evoking a wonderful feeling of warmth and recognition.
Now I’m aware that this list is pretty short. I didn’t get around to talking about Henriksen’s weird beer advert, his appearance on a Brazilian soap opera, or the fact that he has been in no less than THREE movies about Bigfoot. I have failed to include the number of Weylands he has played, from Charles to Michael to Karl, honestly the Weyland family photo albums must be really confusing. I also didn’t talk about Henriksen’s humble origins, his love for his fans, or his humility. I didn’t mention his professionalism, even when working in difficult circumstances. It’s clear that there are plenty of reasons to love Lance Henriksen, be sure to let me know why you do in the comments.