Henry Rollins Talks About Almost Being Negan In ‘The Walking Dead’
Probably the best way to describe Henry Rollins is as an artist. Writer, actor, musician, broadcaster, producer—these are just a few of the strings on Henry Rollins’ creative bow. However, despite having a slew of acting credits to his name, he seems to be least willing to use the term ‘actor’ to describe himself.
Rollins’ resume boasts such acclaimed films as Michael Mann’s Heat ($187.43 million worldwide) and David Lynch’s Lost Highway ($3.79 million domestic), as well as under appreciated gems including The Chase and Johnny Mnemonic as well as TV work such as the highly regarded Sons of Anarchy.
He has never been afraid to play in the low budget, indie film scene with the likes of Feast, He Never Died and his latest film The Last Heist, a dark thriller, made on a budget of just $200 thousand.
I caught up with Rollins to talk about the film, how Back To The Future’s Crispin Glover persuaded him to get into acting and how he was almost Negan on The Walking Dead.
Simon Thompson: You’re no stranger to heist movies, but this one is a bit different to your previous ones.
Henry Rollins: We haven’t reinvented the wheel with this film, it’s genre specific—there’s a scary guy, there’s blood, people die etcetera—but that doesn’t mean it can’t be cool. I get the parts that I get; Hollywood is not beating my door down by any stretch, and every now and then I get intense scripts like The Last Heist. I read the script, and I had an idea about how to play him. I saw him as smiley, weird, but he doesn’t yell. It’s really underplayed and strangely sick, so I met with the director, and he had an idea that was kind of the same so I did it.
I’m not an actor. I’ve never had any training, and I’ve learned to act by just showing up and being in films. When I’m not acting I spend my time watching real actors act, and I’ve learned a lot. When I got this part I just wanted to bring something to it and that’s the appeal that film has to me. If I can be an asset to a production and confidently come in with an idea that is validated by the director and the producer, or I can listen to them and understand what they want from me, then I will do it. What I don’t want to do is slow down a production.
Thompson: Why don’t you consider yourself an actor? You have turned in great performances in great movies and worked with some amazing directors.
Rollins: In my mind, I come from the minimum wage working world of the late 70s and early 80s. I left an ice-cream scooping job for Black Flag and came out here to Los Angeles fromWashington D.C.. I’m a high school graduate who was basically looking forward to, or getting ready for, life in the minimum wage working world where I could aspire to being the head manager of some small retail joint but never an owner.
In the early 80s I started getting movie offers, but there was no time to do them because I was touring. In the late 80s, they were coming in more often, and it was a friend of mine, Crispin Glover, who suggested I should at least consider acting because I could probably get somewhere with it. It’s because of Crispin that I got a beautiful script later that year, a UCLA student film called No Not One, but the film never got finished. We shot it, and it’s probably sitting in the guy’s closet now… I would to go back to that one and shoot it again. I learned to act on that film thanks to being around students who did acting classes and were taking it deadly seriously. It was around that time that The Chase came to me and then the next film and the next film so I kept getting hired. I’ve never considered myself an actor but I’ve done a lot of movies, I have written 27 books but I have never considered myself a writer—I’m just an opportunist.
Thompson: As you were friends with Crispin Glover did you ever discuss getting a role in Back to the Future? You would have been amazing as Biff.
Rollins: Yes but it never came up. Crispin was the guy that really put that idea in my mind that I could do more than just be some guy in a band. By the 90s I was doing talking shows all over the world, doing acting now and then, a lot of music and writing full time, not only for my own little company and my own little books. Magazines like the Village Voice would hire me to review records, and I got it into my head that more was possible. If you come from nothing you really have nothing to lose and it keeps you free, there are no lines drawn, no hard ins and outs, I’m fluid.
Thompson: You’ve flirted with comic book movies, and you’ve done voice work for a number of them. Have you ever been offered a role in one?
Rollins: No, never once, no offer that I’m aware of, but wouldn’t that be great?
Thompson: But you would do it if it came up?
Rollins: There’s not a lot of stuff that I wouldn’t do, I’m an opportunist, and I like to do stuff. What I detest is sitting around. When someone asks me if I want to be in a movie I’m like, ‘Yes! What is it?’. If someone asked if I wanted to be in the Avengers movies then I’d absolutely take it, and I’m looking at two years of work. I’ve been freelancing for my dinner for 35 years, so rarely do I get a steady job. The closest I have had to that is six months on one season of Sons of Anarchy, two seasons of a History Channel show, four seasons hosting shows on IFC or touring, so something like that would be amazing and I’d love it.
Thompson: Are there any other TV shows you would like to do because I could see you fitting in really well on The Walking Dead?
Rollins: Since I didn’t get the part I can tell you this. I was up for the role of Negan because Charlie Adlard, who worked on the comic book, based that guy on me and so I was a shoo-in for an audition. The internet was wild with speculation because in the upcoming season, they were going to introduce the character. A woman that works in my office put my name and the character’s name into an internet search and all this speculation came up. I went for the audition, and there were five pages of really cool dialogue with all these curses and it was beautiful, but I didn’t get it.
I later saw a photograph of the guy who did get it, and he looks almost exactly like the comic book rendering. The woman at my office watched the episode where he turns up. The dialogue that I auditioned with was in the show and she said, ‘It should have been you.’ Obviously it wasn’t or this conversation would be very different but that happened. I had to sign one of those documents where you can’t talk about it but now it’s over and done with… so yeah, I was up for that part. I get great auditions, I auditioned for stuff like Narcos too, but rarely does anything come my way. What usually comes my way is a no audition thing like The Last Heist or He Never Died that the film’s writer, Jason Krawczyk, wrote with me in mind.
Thompson: Do you prefer to work on bigger budget or smaller budget productions?
Rollins: I want to work with those who want to work with me. I’m 55 and not exactly jaded but it takes me a lot to go ‘Woah!’ and I want ‘Woah!’. I go after anything where I find enthusiasm, and I go where the passion is. The Last Heist’s director, Mike Mendez, does a lot with a little when it comes to the budget because he knows what he wants. He has made a stylish film with pocket change and even the guns going off are CGI because it’s way cheaper than actual bullets, plus you need a license and it gets expensive. Also, working on small budget productions, the pretension level is next to zilch. and I can’t stand pretension because it only gets in the way. You only need one guy with an attitude and they will be the dead mouse in the punchbowl that will poison the whole thing.
Thompson: It’s an election year and you continue to tour your spoken word show. Do you feel a duty to be out there and talking about key issues?
Rollins: I don’t feel it’s my duty, but it is an imperative for me to do it. Find me an election year when I wasn’t on tour? In 2012 I was out all year, and this year I am out all year. America is a fascinating place during any Presidential election. I am really going to miss our amazing President,Barack Obama, and this time I am not excited by any of the candidates, but I am looking at 40 years of the dumbing down of America and all of those chickens have come home to roost.
The only reason Donald Trump is getting any traction is because he is taking great advantage of a very divided and angry America. A lot of people are pissed off, even some of those who voted for the President, because they didn’t get what they wanted for all kinds of reasons. It is important for me to be out touring during an election year, and I will be in the U.S., on stage, almost every night in October and November. I like to be out amongst my fellow Americans and out in the world because the world watches America and we’re like Duck Dynasty.
The Last Heist hits theaters and VOD on June 17 2016