An iconic character actor with a flush resume, Lance Henriksen could book work on reputation and his gravelish voice alone, but for the last year and a half, the actor has somehow found a way to continue his hectic career in TV, film, and video games (like Mass Effect 3 and SEGA’s Aliens: Colonial Marines) while also pouring his passions into a new project that he first imagined two decades ago.
That project, To Hell You Ride, is a 5 part comic series from Dark Horse Comics that debuts today (12/12/12). Last week I had the opportunity to talk to Mr. Henriksen about ‘Hell’, how it came to be, and both the chances of a Millennium comic and an update on the potential movie.
What pulled you toward telling this story as a comic? Was it always meant to be a comic or did it start as something else?
Lance Henriksen: It started as a movie that I wrote twenty years ago and the script was lost. I got divorced at one point and the script got thrown away with a lot of the other stuff. You know how that goes… but anyway, when it came up with Mike Richardson down at Comic-Con, he just asked me “would I like to do a comic?” and because [Tom] Mandrake and Sienkiewicz and Eric Powell and all these guys had done drawings for me for my biography, I was aware of comics and I love these guys and I thought “Why not?”
I met Tom Mandrake at one of those conventions and I really liked the guy and he had done a drawing, a pumpkin head, for my biography and it was a great drawing. Then Joe Maddrey and I wrote the book together and worked together before and we all joined forces and Dark Horse agreed that we could work the way that we wanted to, which was staying in real great communication. It wasn’t just us turning in a script and Tom Mandrake drawing it.
What happened was, we decided that we wanted to talk all the time and write from the pencils all the way through to the finished product and we’ve been working on it for a year and a half. We have five issues coming out and three of them are done and we’ve got two more [to do] and by the time the third one comes out and onto the market, the other ones will be finished.
It’s a phenomenal adventure for me, man, because normally films are my thing and the restraint and the drama that has to be so specific in a comic — it’s been a great thing to learn and understand. These guys are talented, Mandrake does such dramatic work, it’s beautiful and it fits perfect with what our mythology is in our story.
MORE AFTER THE JUMP
Now you’ve been acting for 45 years at this point and you seem energized by the comic process. Is this something that you want to continue doing, or is this just a brief detour?
Henriksen: This is not very brief. I mean, a year and a half, you know what I mean? But, what I love about it is how specific you have to be. Without restraint there is no art, you know? In telling a good story or a sharply defined story, especially in a comic, it requires restraint because you have no sound, no movement — it all has to be there in those panels. It’s been a fantastic adventure, it really has.
I mean the only thing I can say to you man, is by the time we’ve finished this, the five issues, I think what we’re going to do is have a glass of champagne and take a long nap and then decide what we’re going to do if we’re going to go any further. I don’t mean with this particular comic, because it is only five issues. But it’s been something, it really has.
Any chance that you might — after you have that glass of champagne and have that nap — see if you can pry away the license for Millennium and do a Frank Black comic?
Henriksen: Wow, what an interesting idea. You know I found out that Bill Paxton is doing a comic, Seven Holes For Air, I forget who’s doing the art with him, but it seems like comics… You know I was raised on Tales from the Crypt when I was a kid and I loved comics –I’m talking when I was 5 or 6 years old. Those drawings didn’t frighten me one bit, I just “marveled” at it. I hate to use that pun, but anyway, they’ve been in my life for a long, long time and I think actors have a craving for telling a story that is controlled by them.
Do you know what I mean? I mean, normally they’ve written the whole thing and two years have gone by and they bring an actor in and the actor has to catch up and try to bring that thing to life, that character whatever it is. But doing a comic is such an intimate process and it’s slow and easy and deliberate, and when I say “easy” I don’t mean “easy”. I mean the pace of it is an easier pace then the pressure you’re under to make a film. So it’s very inviting. It has been for me, I don’t know about others, but I love the longevity of the process and it’s a cool thing, it really is.
I don’t know about doing a Millennium or one of the other movies, Near Dark or whatever, but what I love is the conspiracy. Where the three of us — Joe Maddrey, Tom Mandrake and I — are conspiring to really make the best comic we’ve ever seen, that’s what we wanna do of course and so I don’t know where it’s going to go, but in my mind I love the process so anything is possible. I have learned so much — a year and a half is a long time and I had to learn all the elements that go into making a comic from the captions to how wind is colored, pencils as opposed to inks and it’s a very well thought out process.
You talk about the restraint you have to have when you’re working on a comic to harness all those ideas and put it into something that can be digestible to people, but you’ve also got freedom. I’ve talked to other actors that have done comics and it seems to me that it’s always the freedom that you have, the freedom to tell whatever story you want that is most appealing. Can you tell me a little about what that’s like?
Henriksen: Well, when I say “restraint” what I really mean is that you have to be specific. So in other words you can’t meander, you can’t do what a film does. They set these tones and comics demand of you that you be specific about what you’re trying to get across and that challenge is a great challenge.
That’s a different thing then what actors do, so the ones who jump into this, I think they learn very quickly that there is a great deal of restraint and in art there has to be, cause otherwise you’re doing jazz, and jazz — you could have 22 pages of loosely connected images that won’t resonate, I mean they’ll resonate for maybe five pages and then you’ll go “Well, what was the point of this?” It’s a way of storytelling that demands of you that you be specific, visually and verbally and caption wise and all of that, it’s a great way to work and I just really like it for that reason.
Going back to the book, what was the inspiration for this story and these characters? Also, I’ve got to ask, the Jim Shifts character kind of had a resemblance to you — were you sort of the inspiration for that character?
Henrikesen: Yeah, that’s on purpose. Mandrake did that on purpose. The reason is when I wrote this script twenty years ago, I was an out of work actor and you write it thinking “I don’t have a job right now, maybe if I write a script I can do my movie and I’ll be in it.”
It’s a great thing for an actor that’s out of work to do that, because it keeps you connected to the written word and to the process of making a film, but then nobody wanted it. I mean nobody, at that time I couldn’t get a movie made if my life depended on it.
So the story, originally, was wrapped around Shifts. He had been in Vietnam, he had now retired to this little town and things happen. But the truth of it is, as we started working on it we realized, really, who the main character is and what the story is that we really want to tell and I used that as a background. That script in my memory, I remembered it all, was a driving force but it certainly wasn’t the story we’ve come up with now. We’ve created a mythology out of respect for something and you’ll see as you start getting into the second, third, fourth, and fifth issues you’ll see where this all came from.
I actually was up in Telluride, Colorado — in our story we don’t call it Telluride and we don’t name a tribe. And when I got there it was the end of the road. It was a box canyon at the end of a road back in the seventies and I looked at this place and I went “Who are these people that come here and live here?” I mean it literally is nowhere, the mountains are beautiful and those granite cliffs are vertical and it’s like a box canyon and the story just fell in my lap. I mean, I thought they were reincarnated people who had ended up there and didn’t know why. So I started working on it when I got home and got to a place where I could write and it just evolved. It’s gone through this long evolution to get to where we are now and Mandrake’s drawings, his abilities to create a panel, he knows drama. He’s never acted a day in his life but he knows drama in terms of his art and man has this thing escalated.
I kinda have to ask this: Is there any update on the Millennium movie? You spoke up about it in May and you seemed confident that the movie would be made, is that still the case? Are you still confident?
Henriksen: I feel confident about it, but that doesn’t help the situation. You know, Chris Carter wrote the introduction for a book that just came out in England and now it’s all over the place. It’s on Amazon and everywhere, but it’s a book about making the film and it’s a fan based book of about five hundred pages of people expressing their admiration for that show and it’s very forceful. You know, nobody is happy about the way Millennium ended. You know, wrestling zombies in a cellar while maybe Y2K is happening. Nobody was happy with that and so it’s still resonating. People want to see a movie.
It’s not like an extension of the television series, it’s those characters in a film and I really believe that with all the thousands of fan from eighty-five countries that want that movie, I have a feeling that there’s a very good chance that it could happen.
Well it seems like to me that cult films [and shows] can kinda live forever. I mean filmmaking has become democratized. Look at The Goon, they Kickstartered that into existence. I mean, you guys could definitely do that and I’m sure you could get it off the ground. Look at what Firefly fans did in getting Serenity made. Fandom is not to be trifled with, so, I can understand the confidence.
Henriksen: It isn’t and look, if I don’t believe it then why… you know, it’s just crazy not to believe it. Because, I’m kinda at the tip of the arrow in terms of the attention and the questions that arise and I really believe it can happen. You know, I want to take the book and like Martin Luther, go nail that book to the front gate of Fox Studios and go, “Come on!”
Check out the motion comic trailer for To Hell You Ride with Henriksen’s wonderfully gravelish voice handling narration. After that, go here and buy issue #1. I highly recommend it.