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SXSW ’15: Exclusive “HE NEVER DIED” set visit with Henry Rollins et al.

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When scribbling out a short list of actors to best portray a lonely, emotionally exhausted immortal struggling to conquer his appetite for violence, musician and social critic Henry Rollins might not be the first name that bobs to the surface. Yet anyone who has followed Rollins’ 30-year career through his song lyrics, travel writing, poetry and political diatribes, will be well aware that isolation, alienation and unhealthy socialization are themes he wears tied boldly around his waist like a jujitsu black belt.

“Absolutely,” Rollins agrees. “I live it. I’m an extraordinarily solitary person. [Pause] I’m not the man at the top of the water tower at the university with a thirty-ought-six, taking out students. Not remotely—quite the opposite. I love our species, even if they vote the wrong way. However, I prefer my own company. I don’t miss anyone, except some dead people who left too early. [Over Christmas] I’m going to see one buddy of mine who owns a record label—we’re both music geeks—and a guy I work with at my radio station. Past that, Christmas vacation for me will be devoid of any human contact outside of the barista who sells me coffee at the coffee shop I frequent. I’ll just sit and write with my headphones in. The phone will probably not ring, and I will not seek any company, and I won’t notice until the staff comes back [in the new year] and we resume.

“So [the role of] a guy who sits alone in his place and watches TV for 15 hours a day—which I do not do, but who lives a life of not missing anyone or anything? That approximates my existence, sad to say [laughs]. In many ways, it’s not a stretch, because I’ve always been at odds with humanity. Again, no great plans for revenge; I’ve just always been better on my own.”

Rollins, along with writer/director Jason Krawczyk, is chatting with FANGORIA during a break from shooting their movie HE NEVER DIED (world-premiering at the SXSW Film Festival Tuesday, March 17 at 11:45 p.m.; see more details here). In DIED, Rollins plays Jack, an ageless shut-in who feeds on human beings to survive. Jack is vampiric but no vampire, content to duck the modern world until old enemies conspire to wrench him out into the open. Krawczyk says that not only was the burly Rollins his first choice to play Jack, but that he was also the physical inspiration when writing the character.

“I discovered him in a weird sort of way,” Krawczyk recalls. “It was Comedy Central around 1 a.m., and one of his spoken-word things was on. I was like, ‘Who is this strange, muscular comedian, who’s funny but his jokes are more like commentary?’ He kept popping up; I think I saw him on WIN BEN STEIN’S MONEY [‘I lost!’ Rollins pipes in. ‘I lost to Fred Willard!’], and I realized he was in a band, so I kind of reverse-engineered to Rollins Band and Black Flag. It was also inspiring, because he showed that you didn’t have to be one thing, as long as you’re enthusiastic and focused about them.

“When I started writing the [HE NEVER DIED] script, I would use him as a visual in my mind, because I wanted Jack to be gritty and broad and sturdy. Not like a bodybuilder or a Hugh Jackman, but someone who’s clearly in shape, and if he punches you, your head’s going to come off. And that face, chiselled with experience. That’s definitely [Rollins].”

HENEVERDIED1STSETREPORTFor his part, Rollins was thrilled to again be joining a group of creative indie filmmakers, and that HE NEVER DIED came together very smoothly. “I read the script about 13 months ago, and laughed out loud throughout it,” he says. “I was in New York doing a run of shows, and my assistant wrote me and said, ‘I’m sending you this script. I read a few pages and I don’t know, I think you might like this,’ and she knows me very well. So I read it over two successive afternoons until I had to get ready for the show. I wrote back and said, ‘Wow, I laughed, I love this. It’s so cool.’ She said the producer and director, Zach [Hagen] and Jason, were in New York and wanted to meet me. I said, ‘Sure,’ so we met at a Starbucks in the East Village and I liked them immediately. Very forthright, good guys.

“Jason is just an interesting guy,” Rollins continues. “I’m not just saying that to put him in the pejorative; he’s an interesting person. He’s funny, he thinks differently and he writes a really good story. I told them I’d love to be involved, and one thing led to another. They said, ‘Can we attach your name to it?’ and I said yeah, and they went into money-acquisition mode, as these things do. I’m just happy for the work, but it’s not my film, it’s theirs. It was quite a long road for them, and I’m happy that I’m involved.

“As you do in this business, I read a lot of scripts,” he adds. “I am a workaholic; it’s just what I do. I’ve shown up for films where I’m less than enchanted, because I like to work. I look at them and think, ‘I can do this.’ Do I love it? Nah. I like it enough to sell it when they say, ‘Action’. And I don’t sign up for anything that I don’t intend to kick ass on. I give you 110, or I don’t show up. I’m not going to be the problem, or the weak link in the chain. So I’ve shown up for stuff where…it’s not exactly holding your nose and doing it, though I have done a couple of those. But rarely is it something where I’m like, ‘Man, I am so into this.’ And that would be [HE NEVER DIED]. Also, there’s a very big difference when you’re the lead in a film and the whole thing is centered on your existence. It’s not an ego thing, but it’s very interesting and unique for me, in a film situation, to be the focal point.

“There’s a guy in the movie, Steven Ogg [probably best known as the voice of Trevor in GRAND THEFT AUTO V]. I’m used to getting parts like his—good small-to-medium-sized roles, with me getting thrashed. That’s work I’m happy to have. I’m in for a few days, and rarely does it end that well for me; the monster eats my head, I’m arrested or somehow disposed of. So HE NEVER DIED is a very different experience for me.”

And while Rollins is loath to hash over past accomplishments, he surprisingly cites filming a goofy, little-seen ’90s action/comedy as affording him a similar freedom to the indie film world. “I never watch [my movies],” he says. “Maybe an edit or something. My own books, I’ll look for typos; even my records, I only listen for the mastering. ‘OK, good mastering, Fossil. Next.’ I’m on to the next thing. What you did…eh, go write a history book. But I can remember pretty accurately how much I didn’t enjoy things; you always remember that. Since 1988, I’ve been steadily doing film and television, and HE NEVER DIED has been the most fun I’ve ever had. The only thing that would even come close would be THE CHASE, with Charlie Sheen, where I didn’t have to use a script. I just got to improv the entire show.

“No one had ever given me that much leash before,” he continues. “It was great, because me and my cop partner [played by Josh Mostel], we were just two knuckleheads. With us, it was just basically goof off all day and drive really fast and chase Charlie Sheen. That was cool, but HE NEVER DIED has been really special. These people work constantly, and a number of [cast and crew] came up to me today, saying how special this has been, and what a great experience this was. I said, ‘Really? You do stuff like this all the time,’ and they said, ‘Yeah, and it’s not always good.’ These people are not easily impressed. Believe me, they’ve seen it all [laughs]. Everyone in this business has stories, and if you’re not careful, you’ll be one.”

FANGORIA is visiting the DIED set at the tail end of the shoot, barring an extra day or two of inserts and ADR recording. Rollins will be wrapping shortly, and he says he isn’t especially concerned about the reception DIED garners upon its eventual release, preferring to reflect on the challenge and gratification of the work. “I’ve described us in an L.A. Weekly article as ‘The Thor Heyerdahl Posse,’ dragging our own little Kon-Tiki to the sea,” Rollins says. “How it will fare on the rough waters of the world, I have no idea. Also not a great deal of concern, in that there’s not a lot I can do other than smile for the photo and do every interview possible. What people make of the film, that’s up to them.

“What I can say,” he concludes, “is that if I had the opportunity to do five more of these, I’d be happy to just move to Toronto and wait for the next one to start. I’d be buying Jason a box of Depends and duct-taping him to his desk, like, ‘Keep on writing.’ There have been so many moments with this, after the last shot of the night and walking down to my little rental apartment, where I’ve been so high from what we’ve done. Where I am so incredibly elated, just from the camaraderie, and what we’ve achieved in some of these scenes, where we hit that magic where while you’re acting, you forget that it’s not real. In those, you need a really powerful actor on the other end who can not only stand up to you, but raise you one. You’re in a hyper-reality of over-believing it, and that’s what I had with Kate [Greenhouse, co-star]. There was a scene with me, Kate and Jordan [Todosey], another tremendous actress, that ends in this really amazing, symbolic thing, and I just walked away from that going, ‘If I could have more moments like that in this business, I’d act full-time.’ I’d chain-smoke films, like, ‘Line ‘em up!’ ”

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About the author
Trevor Parker http://www.trevorwriter.com
Trevor Parker is a Toronto-based writer and editorial assistant whose work has appeared in numerous international periodicals and websites. He also contributes the 'Dump Bin Diaries' column to Fangoria magazine. He can be reached at trevor@fangoria.com or via his website at www.trevorwriter.com.
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