Back to Frank Black speak to Lance Henriksen (2009)

3bf4a-happylanceBacktoFrankBlack.com was thrilled when Frank Black himself, Lance Henriksen, offered an exclusive interview on behalf of the campaign. We were very fortunate to get this opportunity on Thanksgiving day to speak to the actor on a variety of topics. In this first part of the interview, Lance talks about Millennium, its potential future and the work that went into creating Frank Black.
BACKTOFRANKBLACK: Do you think the return of Frank Black is a possibility? Are you still interested in playing Frank again – you were very optimistic at the conventions this past year.

LANCE HENRKISEN: Yeah, I know, I would absolutely love to do it and I really think it is a possibility, but it’s really up to Frank Spotnitz and Chris Carter.

BTFB: If Frank Black and Millennium returned in some form, what would be your preference in the form it would return and why?

LANCE: A movie would be very different. With a movie you have an end in sight – you can gear your energy for it, but when you have a [TV] series that goes on for ten and a half months – there is no way to really have that “end in sight” because you know you’ll be coming back next year. It’s very tiring.

BTFB: So would a movie be ideal?

LANCE: Yeah. Ideally.

BTFB: Aside from Millennium your career has been movie orientated. Comparatively you’ve not focused much on television.

LANCE: No, not very often. The reason I’ve always believed it [Millennium] should be a movie on the big screen or a channel like HBO is you have more freedom with language and the things that can happen. You are allowed to talk about more and that’s more natural to me as opposed to being kind of the sanitized guy. I’m not very good at that.

BTFB: Yes, it could be said your movies do not reflect a “sanitized” film career!

LANCE: [laughs] No I don’t go for it. I’ve tried everything you can try in films and having fun, and it’s a wonderful expression. To be locked into a thing like TV is really tough – I don’t mean to whinge about it, believe me, I loved every minute of Millennium, but it was tiring… it was like.. despair, it was so tiring. I was so tired, but everyone in TV has felt that. I don’t feel very special about it.

BTFB: Both yourself and Chris Carter spoke candidly about the concerns over the stylistic and narrative changes to season two on the Millennium box-set – it would be fair to say that the comments have energized the issue of the second season within fandom – would you mind speaking a little further on your feelings towards the second season?

LANCE: Well, it wasn’t hated! We felt the second season was subversive to the show. The first thing that happened was when Glen Morgan and James Wong put out a t-shirt saying “98% less serial killer”! What? The whole premise of the show was solving crimes that were almost impossible to solve – we felt it was subversive in a real way!

Remember, I couldn’t watch the show while I was doing it! I couldn’t – I didn’t have the time. I didn’t see the shows themselves until the box-sets were coming out. As I got deeper into season two, I felt that the writers were trying out some very unusual work – some very strange events! I started to see one or two of the episodes were very creative! That took the sting out of my original feelings.

BTFB: Can I ask you about Frank’s gift? It’s another fan favorite for debate! Chris has said on the DVD it was originally intended in season one to be simply a depiction of Frank’s intuition, yet even in season one there is a flavor of something more mystical going on. Were you briefed on this possibility?

LANCE: Well let me say this: you know how a great chess player works, right? They study, they study, they study – they know all the moves of different great chess players? I always felt Frank Black had morphed into a person who put abstract loose ends together in his head in a way that other people couldn’t. He could take threads of an idea and they would suddenly appear to him almost a linear story. In other words, walking into a room he would see pieces of a puzzle like a great chess player and he would string them together. And that’s what I always thought – that the Gift was intellect and intuition – not psychic. I don’t know how you would describe a psychic actually – I couldn’t describe one – except a gift from God, like Moses talking to him or a luminary or some stuff.

To me, it was something much more.. kind of pragmatic. I always felt Chris understood that I didn’t want to judge anybody. I didn’t want Frank Black to be a judge or a puritan who sat on the edge of “this is good/bad”. No Gift would work in your brain if you had judgments going on. The Gift was only about discovering the intent and the function of what was happening.

BTFB: Do you think giving Frank this non-judgmental aspect to his personality has helped make the character so unique and iconic?

LANCE: Right, because I read all the books on what different kinds of serial killers there are and the things they go through, how they cover their tracks and all these things. I always felt the “art” that would come out of this is in the impartial acceptance. In a way it’s like raising a child – you don’t ever want to break the self-esteem of a child, you want to nourish and nurture them, right? In a sense, in pursuing someone doing terrible things you really want to know why to stop them from happening again. Because these people are not well, they’re really not well.

BTFB: This seems to be what makes Frank so internationally compelling, he is a man not looking for justice through revenge, but simply to stop people doing horrible things.

LANCE: Right, exactly, you do know they have to be put away, but that’s somebody else’s job – that’s not his [Frank’s] job, his life. There is a great phrase, and the phrase is “I don’t really like religion so much because it’s for people who are afraid to go to hell, a spirituality is for a person who have already been there.” And I think that’s more about what Frank Black is – he’s already been there.

In fact we based it [Millennium] on a man who actually was working on over a 100 cases and he had a stroke and almost died. They found him in the hotel room and he was almost dead. And he came back, he was fine after they got him back on his feet – but once you come that close it changes you.

BacktoFRANKBLACK: You very much get in the character – what we see in Frank Black seems a great deal from what you’ve researched and what you feel about the character. Are there any actors you’d be interested, from a purely artistic point of view, to see what they could bring to the character?

LANCE HENRIKSEN: A friend of mine has a great phrase “if you’re having bacon and eggs for breakfast a chicken was involved in laying the egg, but the pig was committed,” and I think commitment is something that an actor like Heath Ledger had. Man, he really tried. You see it a lot when you see him in Batman – this guy really went somewhere! He dug deep. There are a lot of actors out there like that, there really are – but you can’t hit a home run without a bat.

If you are given a role that requires that type of commitment and a director and producer want to support you in that pursuit, then you can do that kind of work. But often they’ll give you a job that is in a style that they’re not willing to let you go there – they’re asking for more a surface style that doesn’t lend itself to that pursuit of commitment.

BTFB: So are there any actors you’d like to see try a different take on Frank Black?

LH: There are many good actors out there, believe me, I’ve met a lot of them! Of course giving their names might be giving the job away! [laughs]

BTFB: Fair point! What in your mind gives Frank Black and Millennium the longevity required to return after nearly a decades absence?

LH: While we were doing Millennium, we were a little ahead of our time, Chris had a real vision for the show in what he wanted to do and how he wanted to do it. When I met with him I said “this is very dark, where is the light? How is this going to work?” He was very cryptic – he said “the yellow house.” I said “what?” and he said “yeah Lance, the yellow house – trust me this is going to really work!” The guy had the vision and so I went along with it. He was very convincing to me.

BTFB: Indeed – the devotion and love of Frank’s family was not just unique for television, it very much lifted the show from its dark themes.

LH: Right, and when the show killed Catherine Black, I was like “what? Now the audience has nothing to hold on to! Now what?”

BTFB: That’s very true – though Frank’s relationship with his daughter Jordan remained very strong as the show moved into the third season.

LH: Oh I loved her! Brittany Tiplady, what a wonderful child. Oh my God – I fell in love with her, she was like my daughter – she really was! I remember when we did the pilot she did this incredible thing. We pulled up in front of the Yellow House for the first time and we looked out – she was so excited she licked my nose! She was such a giving and wonderful child.

BTFB: Going back to the campaign, one of the aspects BacktoFrankBlack is keen to emphasize is we’re not looking to go “back” to Millennium, but taking Frank and the Millennium universe from its theme of 20th century pre-millennial angst and into our dark new world of the twenty-first century. A Frank Black film could offer thematic answers to the questions the vision that Millennium posed: what would life be like after the millennium? The idea that the 21st Century carries its own paranoia, tensions and fears could make for an interesting interpretation of a future Frank Black project. What are your feelings on the 21st Century?

LH: Sure, well, when you look at what’s going on in the world right now – extreme people causing destruction. It’s more like what everybody thought it would be when the clock ticked to midnight [2000] – and here we are – and there is a lot of terrible shit going on, there really is.

But weaving through that there is a lot of people really trying to have a good life and do the right thing. There are lot of these people – more than the others causing destruction! Of course governments are a pain in the ass, but the thing to remember is that there are people trying to have a life and from that there’s a lot of beauty.

I think children are the only heaven I’ll ever know when you really get down to it – my children are the only heaven I’ll ever know. They’re incredible to watch and they are the best of what we are.

BTFB: In regards to the vision you describe, Frank Black would be a fitting character to return to – because his devotion for his daughter very much epitomizes those values. That purity of love between a parent and their child is such a definite contrast to the horror we see around us.

LH: He’s not another James Bond, he’s the opposite of James Bond – and he’s not a Partridge family – there is a reality to it [Millennium], so yes, there’s a place for Frank Black in the 21st Century – and I think there is room for a guy like me doing it!

BTFB: We’ve had a lot of feedback from the 30-something fan base which to me implies there is an evolving demographic for a show that doesn’t cater simply for a young audience – an older group who want something a little different, like Millennium was.

LH: Right. I think to be honest, Millennium has taken a life of its own, which is why I really want to talk to you – if a thing like this is happening it should be done!

BTFB: We’re just hoping this mutual desire for Frank Black’s return is felt by Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz too. Frank has certainly been kind enough to regularly promote the BacktoFrankBlack campaign.

LH: I like Frank a lot – I like both Chris and Frank. Also some of the writers on that show [Millennium] too – I really liked their work.

There was a line in the first season that fascinated me. “There’s an unusual element of mindfulness associated with the violence,” I thought, “oh my God – what does that mean?” When I picked up the People’s Choice award for Millennium that was one of things I said and I could see the audience jaw drop they didn’t know what the meaning was anymore than I did when I first heard it! I loved the writer who wrote it and the writer thanked me for saying the line! It was funny!

I hope that Chris and Frank take the lead and say “this will happen.” Sometimes it’s a sociological event – if this is something the fans really want, they can certainly get it.

BacktoFrankBlack: Lance, it’s great having you on board this campaign! It’s so rare to have the very icon of a TV campaign standing so vocally behind the fans! A miracle even!

LANCE HENRIKSEN: We’ll we’ve just got the President we deserve! We just did. It’s a miracle and a lot of that miracle came through the internet – it really did! We suddenly have an intelligent, bright guy in the center that’s going to do a wonderful job. Sure, he’ll have problems, but that ‘s the nature of being President! I’m really thrilled. That was a beautiful night that I’ve ever had in terms of anything happening in politics. There wasn’t a dry eye in the country.

BTFB:
I think many in the world are quite jealous of your President!

LH: Oh don’t be jealous! However it may start a trend where people realise that the things they really want, can happen.

See with Obama – I’ve been up and around Harvard, I know what kind of work he did. You see the love he has for his family. He’s a very sharp and coordinated human being whose very happy in his own skin. He’s quite a man and I’m proud of him, I’m proud of what he did.

Getting back to the issue though, it happened because people got on board – and that’s what you’re trying to do. Though I’m not comparing myself to Obama of course!

BTFB: No, I can’t see that sort of comparison would do the campaign much good!

LH: No, that would not fly!

BTFB: It’s a sound allegory – that the internet has created such a stronger international bond of communication allowing people to be heard.

LH: It certainly is. Listen, I have a lot of flaws as a human being. Everybody has a certain amount of character defects – one of the reason I got into this industry in the first place was because really in a lot of ways it was the only place I could go. I’ve been a painter and an artist – I love the arts and all I know is working from my intuition and that’s where I’m at and why the role of Frank Black was so good for me – it was a role that required lot of restraint and observation. Those are things that are natural to me anyway.

In the arts, like in making pottery, you’re basing your pursuit on an observation you’ve made after a firing and you pursue it until something else comes up and then you pursue that… so it’s a lifelong thing. Because you’re one person its coming from a very private source from you alone. Everyone has a gift whether they see it coming to fruition and that’s the place I like to work from – I really don’t know any other way!

BTFB: Would be fair to say you love your pottery!

I make pottery – I make 36 inch platters and I have another world of friends who are all potters. They put me on the board of the American museum of Ceramic Art in Pomona – it’s the only museum in California devoted to pottery and they have all the great artists from all over the the country come to the museum and have shows there. I’m sitting on the board with the founder and five other people. We went around the table and introduced ourselves. Four or five said how they went to Stanford or to Berkley and they were great at business, and they came to me and I said “Hi, my name is Lance Henriksen – I am a compulsive potter – that’s all I have to say! That’s it! That’s me! And I have no idea what use I’ll be on this board with you but I’ll give it my best.”

Talk about dropping their jaws! And only because that’s the truth – I’m telling the truth. You can have all kinds of degrees and all kinds of business degrees – but what are you going to do with it? [laughs]

(To see some examples of Lance’s pottery, click here!)

BTFB: One fan question I would like to present to you from Viivi was about your role as a bad guy – for instance, in the picture Stone Cold. How different is it playing the bad guy?

LH: Playing a bad guy in a movie.. Often you have a piece of work that is written where the guy is bad in a bit of a cliché way – it’s obvious stuff. What I try and do with those roles is build a real dense character that has a life to him and that world of biker’s clubs in Stone Cold is a very dark place. What I tried to do with that character was to be very unyielding – in terms of the lifestyle the character was living – absolutely unforgiving. And it worked. I don’t know if the movie worked, but the character really worked!

I’ve just finished a movie called Sirus. It’s an independent film and I’m playing a guy who is the best friend of a serial killer. When I say ‘best friend’ what I mean is he’s an enabler. He’s a real, thick enabler who has a tow truck and crushes car somewhere in the Midwest. He has a psychopathic edge – has no feelings. He has affection for this one person because he can enable him and it was fun to play – it really was. It was almost like playing a 60 year old teenager who had that feeling, you know, the one where you can never be hurt in any way? That’s who this guy is. I suddenly realized when I started playing him. I had a lot of fun playing him because the character didn’t actually hurt anyone personally – and I thought wow, this is sick shit! Really. Wow. But it was so much fun to do him. I even found a hat that a member of the crew was wearing and I thought, “Oh shit yeah!” I felt like I was on a shopping spree and found all the little pieces of this guy! I grabbed this hat from this guy’s head and I said “hey can I use that?” and he said “yeah!”.

I brought my own boots because I had my instincts tell me that being a tow truck driver he’d have certain pair of boots and so I brought mine. Anyway it was putting together pieces of a character and I love that. Believe me I love acting – otherwise I wouldn’t do it, I’d stop.

BTFB: Sounds like the sort of character that Frank Black would have to deal with.

LH: Exactly. Remember: As a person I’ve never killed anybody or hurt anybody in any way. It’s a piece of entertainment where you investigate these types of characters and make audiences believe it, just what’s going on and lead them down unusual paths. But I don’t only want to do the Hollywood ‘bad guys’ or ‘good guys’, it’s about playing characters that have a full range of emotions.

I find a lot of inspiration in acting just comes in a flash and then if you pursue that inspiration you expand it and you see how it affect on the whole world. We’re not a usual creature, humans. You know, last night I was with a group of people and suddenly I was thinking that we were like a pod, a pod of whales – we can’t survive without each other. Whenever I’m in an airplane and look down, we’re like algae, we really are. Algae on a planet.

BTFB: Intelligent algae?

LH: Yeah, well – we think anyway! I mean, the chickens in the chicken yard think they’re the hot shit. They walk around and there’s a pecking order and they can be nasty – but they probably think they are the shit! If you have a snow leopard up in the mountains and its so mysterious and no body knows what its thinking or what it’s behavior. I’m a believer that animals are really, really misunderstood! [laughs]

BTFB: Before we finish, you have a real rapport with the fans – I recall when you were in Manchester last year how much energy and devotion you gave to the people there.

LH: I really did enjoy. I love meeting people and talking even if it’s for a brief few moments. At least I’m making contact and I’ve had some really good conversations around the hotel. It was really worth doing, really fun.

I live with the kind of attitude of gratitude believe me, that’s how my life really wants to be and to be accepted in the industry like I have been it’s been wonderful, I have nothing to complain about at all!