Happy Birthday, Lance Henriksen...
I name drop Lance Henriksen’s moniker quite a bit, usually in despair that someone isn’t giving this fine actor better roles. (I remain flummoxed particularly that the producers of Deadwood, a show that seems to specialize in casting well-known character and B-movie actors—Brad Dourif, Jeffrey Jones, Keith Carradine, Ricky Jay, Titus Welliver, Peter Coyote, William Sanderson, Powers Booth, Alice Krige [and that’s just the first season!]—hasn’t found a part for this guy.)
The gravelly-voiced Mr. Henriksen popped up in several early James Cameron films, and played the hero in the director’s first, Piranha II: The Spawning. Henriksen was Cameron’s initial choice to play the killer robot in The Terminator, and purely in story terms, would have been a lot more logical choice than Arnold Schwarzenegger. Instead, Henriksen played one of the cops slaughtered in the raid on the police station. Perhaps his biggest sci-fi role was as the android Bishop in Camerson’s Aliens.
Henriksen remains best know for his genre work, and his horror and sci-fi credits are extensive: Mansion of the Doomed, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Damien: Omen II, The Visitor, Nightmares, The Terminator, Savage Dawn, Aliens, Near Dark, Pumpkinhead, The Horror Show, The Pit and the Pendulum, Alien 3, Super Mario Brothers, Man’s Best Friend, and many more. Sadly, though, as noted above, he now generally appears in tepid DTV fare.
However, if he is best know for his genre work, Henriksen has also appeared in his share of more mainstream movies: Dog Day Afternoon, The Right Stuff, Prince of the City and The Quick and the Dead. He also played the villain in two very fun action flicks, Stone Cold and Hard Target. Like most character actors that have hung around long enough, Henriksen has worked for the best of directors (Cameron, Spielberg, Philip Kaufman) and the worst (Albert Pyun).
Probably his signature role, however, came via fizzled TV wunderkind Chris Carter, who followed up The X-Files by casting Henriksen as the lead character, Frank Black, in the highly anticipated Millennium. (Which also starred another actor much like Henriksen, Terry O’Quinn. The latter has had rather more luck, lately, as one of the stars of TV’s hottest show, Lost.)
The show ran for four years, and had some great episodes. However, the ratings never were as high as they could have been, and this led to tampering with the program’s basic storyline with each new season. They never found the right mix, and eventually the show was allowed to die. Carter and Henriksen later provided an elegiac coda to the series when Black later appeared on an episode of The X-Files.
Mr. Henriksen is one of the few actors working today—Tony Todd being another—who in another era (pretty much anything through the ‘70s) had the chops and charisma to have become an old-school horror star. Instead, the breed seemed to die with Donald Pleasance, mostly because most schlock horror now is direct-to-video stuff rather than theatrical releases. As well, this product is far more boring and cookie cutter than it used to be. As objectively bad as the poverty row fare churned out by Bela Lugosi and (to a lesser extent) Boris Karloff back in the ‘30s and ‘40s, at least that stuff retains a certain charm about it.
Sadly, however, Henriksen has lately been in stuck in mostly tiresome cheapies generally only elevated by his own presence. When Alien vs. Predator is the biggest title on your résumé for the last ten years, something has gone horribly awry. While both Henriksen and his fans must be at least pleased that he continues to work steadily—he has four films listed as being in pre-production on the IMDB, including two Pumpkinhead sequels, and 40 credit listings since 2000 alone—one could certainly wish the actor was getting the sort of roles worthy of his talents.
Mr. Henriksen is 66 today. Someday he will no longer be with us, and people will look back and mourn that his talents were so tragically wasted over the last decades of his life.