He Never Died, Leeds and Flying Nun – Interview with Henry Rollins

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Our writer Ian Schultz emailed Henry Rollins some questions about his latest film He Never Died, his time in Leeds in the late 80s along with other topics and this is what transpired.

With your latest film, He Never Died, you have landed your first lead role. What were the challenges for you?

The same as in any other film I have been in, really. The job is to find the character and occupy it so deeply that you can be honest when you are in the moment. Being the lead in the film was more involved but it was basically just doing what I always do but a lot more of it. In HND, Jack, my character has to carry a lot of the scenes. The main challenge was finding Jack and maintaining that deadness he has. He is completely lost and without purpose.

Did you feel pressure of a film resting on the shoulders of your performance?

No. But not because I am some great actor but because I prepared for months. I read the script over and over, wrote pages of notes and kept in touch with the writer. By the time we started shooting, I was there. It was a great feeling.

What did you learn most from having to anchor the film through your performance?

About being consistent. The more time you are in the film, the microscope on you is more powerful. The character has be as consistent as you are in thirty seconds of your life.

He Never Died is influenced by Film Noir, were you a big fan of the genre before you signed on and what are some of your favourites?

I am not an non fan, just uninformed. I took the job for a few reasons. At least two are that I really liked the character and I can’t stand not having a job.

Like so many modestly budget films funded with American money, it was shot in Canada. What are the strengths of shooting there, and what are your favourite things to do up there?

Canadian crews and actors are top notch. There is a noticeable unjadedness, if that’s a word, about them. I have done films in America where crew people and sometimes actors just hate what they’re doing and it’s awful to be around. It gets to the point to where you would trade your pay just to leave. I have done a lot of work in Canada and never had that happen. I have spent a lot of time in Toronto. It’s a great city. What do I like to do there? Walk around, write, go to record stores. I am not a social person, so I do the same thing in Toronto as I would in Casa Blanca. I walk a lot and check things out.

 It’s the first film role you’ve in a few years; in the meantime you’ve done a lot of television work. What are the differences between the two?

Actually, I wrote a screenplay at the request of a director. He had written the story line and scenes and asked me to re-write all his temp dialog. I play a few characters in the film. That just wrapped. It’s really cool. It’s not mine to talk about but it was on and off work for a few years. I was writing scenes for it on days off from HND. Television stuff, the work I have been doing, is hosting and interviewing. There is no acting involved. It’s just me trying to keep all the facts straight as best I can. Scripted and unscripted are both challenging. I prefer the latter.

You’ve mostly worked within the independent film world for a long time, and it’s gone through lot of changes, especially in the last 5 years. What do you think are the biggest problems facing independent filmmakers now, based on what you’ve seen?

A lot of good ideas but a very crowded pool of talent, all vying for money and screen time. It’s a small miracle that a film gets made. I was in disbelief when HND got the go ahead. I honestly didn’t think it would happen. I thought the idea was too good.

You’ve worked with some directors who have such a distinctive vision in their films, like David Lynch and Michael Mann. What do you see as the differences between them and somebody who might not have such a clear vision of what they want? 

Those who lack a real insight as to what they want make it hell on the talent and crew. It’s hard to smell weakness on a set. It’s really hard to hang in there. I have experienced that and again, it’s one of those situations where you would pay to leave. A guy like Mann, he gets it done, like really gets it done. He’s already finished the film on shoot day one and just waiting for you to catch up.

What is your favourite film that you’ve been in, and what was your least favourite?

Most favourite was He Never Died, actually. Least favourite, I would rather not say.

I know you lived in Leeds at some point — I actually live on next street over to your old address, and it’s became a bit of local lore. What are your memories of a short time living on the Harolds in Leeds?

32 Harold Mount I think it was. It was a flat that I lived in for several days on two occasions in 1986 and 1987. I thought it was great. I liked walking around Leeds very much. I like that city a lot.

I know you’re a big fan of Australian punk and post-punk, have you ever got into New Zealand post-punk/indie pop like the stuff on Flying Nun like The Clean, The Verlaines, The Chills etc.?

I like a lot of NZ stuff and am aware of the bands you mention but have none of their albums.

You had a TV show on IFC for a bit, and you’ve done some documentary work. Have you ever felt an urge to write scripts or direct?

No. I am incredibly bad with ideas for film or documentaries. I go to meetings all the time and am asked if I have any ideas and just say that I want to be in the most fucked environments and I don’t care when I die, so if they need someone for that, I am ready to go. So far, it hasn’t led to any work.

 Do you have a new book coming out soon, and if so, what’s the topic and plan?

The new book is kind of a fake one. It’s my second batch of 100 pieces I wrote for the LA Weekly. The versions in the book are my edits and titles before the Weekly does what they do to them. So, it’s not like it’s exactly new writing. It’s basically a compilation book. The book that I am working on now, trying to tighten up is journal writing from 2011 to 2012.

Any thoughts on shops that sell a packaged version of “the ’80s hardcore lifestyle”—vinyl, skateboards, Black Flag t-shirts, and so on? Is it something you ever thought you’d see?

I don’t have any thoughts about it and it doesn’t surprise me at all. Anything in western consumerist culture that sits around long enough will find itself defanged and declawed. Thoughts I have on it? It’s things for sale. It’s where many movements, artistic moments and other cultural twitches or convulsions end up, sealed in plastic and overpriced.

I also wanted to ask you about your podcast—what made you decide to do a podcast series with your assistant Heidi?

Heidi basically manages all my affairs. It is a full time job as I have a lot of things happening all the time. It was her idea totally. I would have never thought of doing that. It’s turned into a lot of work but it seems to be a good thing for now. I am glad that people enjoy it.

Ian Schultz