Henry Rollins is one busy man. The former lead-singer of legendary hardcore punk band Black Flag certainly has his fingers in many pies. He’s a passionate political activist, an international speaker, a poet, a radio show host and an international singer. Add accomplished actor to that list and to call his career multifaceted would be an understatement.
In his latest project, Rollins takes on his first lead role in a film in HE NEVER DIED, a horror-drama written and directed by Jason Krawczyk. HE NEVER DIED tells the story of Jack (Rollins) an isolated loner and social outcast who is thrust out of his comfort zone when the outside world bangs on his door and he is unable to contain his violent past. The film made its UK debut at Grimmfest back in October (read what we thought of the film here) and is out in the USA on 18 December 2015. In anticipation for its release, Rollins took time out of his busy schedule to chat to Donna Kelly about his involvement in the film.
“He can’t die” explains Rollins, of his character Jack. “He’s incredibly bored, hyper depressed and living in an existentialist waking nightmare of eternity, which is really hilarious and that’s what drew me to the script.”
The script for HE NEVER DIED first came to Rollins through his longtime assistant Heidi May. He read it backstage while he was on tour at a venue in New York and immediately fell in love with the story and the character.
“It’s pretty brilliant the idea. I’ve read a lot of scripts in my life and it was a total standout. I read it, I laughed and I said “man I could be good in this, I could do it”.”
Rollins was certainly was the man for the project. In fact, writer and director Jason wrote the role with Rollins specifically in mind.
“I met the director and the producer the next day” explains Rollins. “I said, “I could do this” and they said “oh, we wrote this for you, we know you can do it, you’re the guy we want in it” so I said “let’s go”. They went about gathering all the money and doing all that kind of stuff that producers do, and 11 months later, we’re in Toronto shooting it.”
Funny, dark and grotesque, HE NEVER DIED is a refreshing addition to the noir genre. The film tows a careful line between comedy and brutality with Krawczyk’s darkly witty script adding to the film’s appeal. A new kind of character is also brought to the forefront with Jack. Part vampire, part zombie and part monster, Jack is a disaffected immortal, cursed to wander an earth that holds little of interest to him.
“He’s just this thing that is alive. There’s no joy at all and violence is just utilitarian” explains Rollins, of his character Jack.
“He doesn’t enjoy food or television, or bingo, or breathing or even violence. That was a challenge, not to react or overreact to anything that came at me. That took a lot of rehearsal on my part.”
Rollins’ hard work and determination to get into the mindset of the character certainly pays off. The former Black Flag frontman fits the character in every sense, delivering the droll, deadpan dialogue with a deft comedic hand, which is impressive considering he’s never had an acting lesson in his life.
“When you have eternity dangling, it’s going to play into your physicality, into the way you speak, so I did everything I could to make everything monotone, which I think makes it hilarious, especially when someone is yelling at him.”
It’s clear to see that Rollins is extremely enthusiastic about the film. No surprise then that Writer/Director Krawczyk and Producer Zach Hagen asked Rollins to come on board as an Executive Producer. In fact, Rollins helped the project to get the green light by supporting the Indiegogo campaign, offering signed merchandise and even personalised voicemail recordings to supporters in exchange for their money.
Rollins was also heavily involved in the creative process of the film, working on everything from the character’s physicality to the stunts.
“I said to Jason [Krawczyk] “how much do you like having an actor prod and poke and ask?” and he said “oh, I want you to take over”. He said “I really want you all over this as much as you feel like contributing” and I said “good because I have so many ideas”. Over the course of 11 months, I was on him like a cheap suit which he loved.”
“I was there days before in pre-production. To the stunt co-ordinators I said, “Here’s my idea. He’s [Jack] really good at fighting just because of repetition so everything he does is going to be very efficient. He doesn’t break a sweat, his pulse doesn’t race, there’s no heroic. It’s all close quarter, quickly despatching someone because he’s had over a thousand years to perfect it”. They said, “That’s exactly what we’re thinking and so here are your moves”.”
Rollins also was heavily involved in the casting process.
“They asked me to cast and I said really? I really don’t want to be a judge for someone else but they said “we’d really like you to do this” so I said OK with a bit of trepidation”.
“Auditions were sent to me and I picked people out” explains Rollins. “Everyone who auditioned were damn good but the ones who got the part, it was obvious it was them. The people we picked are just, hand-in-glove, born to do it”.
Rollins is coy about revealing which cast members he helped to recruit but if you watch the film, you’re sure to recongise a few familiar faces. Canadian actress Jordan Todosey plays Jack’s teenager daughter Andrea, while award-winning actress Kate Greenhouse plays Cara, the local diner waitress secretly smitten with Jack.
“She [Greenhouse] is an amazing actor” comments Rollins. “She and I worked really hard on every scene we did and I can’t say enough nice things about Kate, she’s just a wonderful person and a crazy talented actor. I look good because she made me look good”.
The chemistry between Rollins and Greenhouse is certainly apparent on screen. The interplay between the two characters is both hilarious and touching, adding a new dimension to the film alongside the violence and gore.
“The walking scene when I’m listing all of the jobs, she [Greenhouse] and I rehearsed that outside the production building. We just took laps around the building to get our physicality together because we didn’t want to reflect that we had just met that morning so by the time we got to shooting, she and I were somewhat familiar with each other”.
“I’m kind of a lonely person and my life sucks right now” says Rollins of his character Jack.
“She [Cara] takes an odd interest in this guy and I don’t really have an interest in her until there’s that one moment when I kind of do. It can’t be too long, it can’t be too brief. She [Greenhouse] and I worked on that so it would be just perfect.”
Following rave reviews from critics during the festival period (including ours), there is also talk of turning HE NEVER DIED into a TV series.
“Jason, our amazing director, has already written a season for television, I’ve read a couple of the episodes and its absolutely nuts” explains Rollins.
“The waitress [Cara] and the daughter [Andrea] are involved. There is good and evil and Jack in the series struggles because he sees that he has some humanity and he’s trying to deal with that. He likes his daughter and he wants Cara, the waitress, to have a good life. He gives it all up for these two women in his life who he obviously has some respect for, so that puts some complexity into what otherwise would be kind of a flat line, linear assessment of some kind of vampearian monster. That is explored more in the series”.
But if HE NEVER DIED did transfer from the big screen to the small screen, would Rollins return to the character of Jack?
“I would love nothing more to return to the character and to the idea of it” comments Rollins.
“When we wrapped the film I actually kind of went into a mini withdrawals. I went back to Los Angeles 48 hours after wrapping feeling very empty like I wish we could back like a month later and get right back to work on part two.”
HE NEVER DIED hasn’t quite made it to TV just yet but Rollins is showing no signs of slowing down. Next year, he is returning to his punk-rock roots with new project GUTTERDAMMERUNG, a loud and dark fairytale starring Iggy Pop, Grace Jones, Josh Homme (Queens of the Stoneage), Jesse Hughes (Eagles of Death Metal) as well as Rollins himself.
“I wrote the screenplay and play a few different characters in GUTTERDAMMERUNG. That’s done and will be rolling out next year so I’ll be out shamelessly promoting that on and off all over the world next year”.
The part rock show, part immersive cinema experience has been described the “the loudest silent movie on Earth” and is to be directed by Belgian-Swedish visual artist Bjorn Tagemo. Check it out below:
HE NEVER DIED is released in the US on 18 December 2015.
This post was originally written for ScreenRelish