Over the course of his more than 40-year career, Henry Rollins has won fans over through a number of artistic expressions. The figure first earned attention through his musical projects Black Flag and Rollins Band before lending his intense persona to on-screen roles in films like Heat and Lost Highway, which paved the way for him to take on a number of roles in genre projects. Additionally, Rollins regularly goes on spoken word tours, has published a number of books, and hosts a weekly radio show for KCRW. His latest project, Dreamland, sees him playing one of his most villainous and outlandish characters yet.
In the film, "On the night of the strangest weddings in cinema history, a grotesque gang boss hires a stone cold killer to bring him the finger of a fading, drug-addicted jazz legend." Rollins plays Hercules, a man responsible for corralling young women to be sold off to predators.
ComicBook.com recently caught up with Rollins to talk about how alternative music connects with genre films, collaborating with director Bruce McDonald, and his thoughts on comic book movies.
Header photo courtesy of Kevin Winter/Getty Images/Uncork'd Entertainment
Metal Shows Are Coolsville
ComicBook.com: In addition to being a fan of your own musical projects, I wanted to thank you for all of the musical recommendations I get through your KCRW show. It's a blessing and a curse because I feel overwhelmed by all the great, new bands I have to check out.
Henry Rollins: Thank you so much. It's hard on the credit cards, I know.
From my experience in the punk/metal communities and in the horror community, the fandoms of these more extreme arenas of art have a lot of overlap. Every punk fan I meet seems to dig horror movies, and vice versa. I was curious about what your thoughts were on why these niche forms of expression have such an overlap in audiences, from your experience in both realms.
Well, a thing I learned many years ago was don't judge the book by the cover. You see all the heavy metal guys like, "Oh, what a bunch of idiots." Then you start talking with them. You're like, "Wow." These are readers. These are some very thoughtful people, where the exterior doesn't indicate what the interior is coming with. One of the safest places on earth is Wacken, the music festival. It's 75,000 metal people who are the coolest people on the European continent. So it's like Coolsville, and you can get some reading tips. So I have found that that laps over into the horror thing because I think it's quite often imagination driven.
Like a lot of genres in film, you have to go along for the ride. The guy has a chainsaw? Okay. Or the doll's going to kill a family of five? Okay. You just have to give belief, take the afternoon off, and just get in the car and go on the ride. I think with metal, like when you see people going off at a metal show, fists in the air and the guy on stage has some crazy makeup on. Yeah, it's the afternoon, there's a smoke machine, and, yeah, Satan. It's a thing in a song, man. "Come on, man. Loosen up. We're doing a thing here." And I think with the horror genre, you pay your money to sit down and get in the car for two hours. That's the thing. You're not trying to believe it. You're trying to believe it in that moment, where you screamed because it was scary.
I think there's some really bright, imagination-driven people in the punk and metal genres where, maybe some other genres of music, I'm not here to bust on them, they're maybe not as playful, as far as pursuing things. Maybe they're not readers, per se. And I'm not Mr. Knowledge on the horror genre in that I'm just hyperactive and it's hard for me to sit through films. I watch films on airplanes. I'm in 55J, I'm way back there going to Australia or somewhere else.
That's how I watch all those Iron Man movies, which, they're fun. Especially when you're in the fetal position for 17 hours. But I'm not really a movie guy. I like making them, I like being in them. Every once in a while I have to watch one that I'm in and I cringe watching myself. But I say yes to them if I think I can do justice and not screw up the director and the actors. That's where, over the decades, the horror genre has reached out to me like, "Hey, can you yell and be scary?" Probably. "Can you be loud and offensive?" Definitely.
So Bruce, the director of Dreamland, that was my third thing with him. And it's a solid alliance since 1997. And I genuinely like Bruce. I like being around him. I like why he does films. I like the environment he sets up. Like, "Hey, let's go play." That's his whole thing is. He's really laid back. "Hey, you guys ready? Okay, cool. Hey, good to see you." That's his whole thing. "Okay, action. Let's do it." When I'm around that, then I relax into a guy who yells and screams and laughs and is an awful person. I need to be ultra-relaxed to do that. As strenuous as that part looked, and it was, I need to be loosey-goosey to go jump into that rubber suit and be this pedophile enabler. And it's good to have a director who goes, "Yeah, man, that was really disgusting. Let's do another." Bruce keeps you loose so you can really go full on. One of the main reasons I said yes to the part was because it's a Bruce thing.
A Toxic, Horrible Person
Whether it be as a character in movies or TV, hosting your radio show, or during your spoken word tours, you have an intense attitude, but you also clearly have a sense of humor. With this character, how did you find that balance of intensity and sense of humor? Was the character explicitly written like that or was it a collaborative effort with Bruce?
I found the comedic beats in that he's so pathetic. He's so crassly unaware. When he and I got on the phone, Bruce and I, I said, "Can I give you my emotional MRI of Hercules? Can I tell you what I think he is?" He said, "Go." I said, "He got the name 'Hercules' because either a prostitute or some other person playing him said, 'Hey Hercules. Oh, Hercules.' And the next day he went, 'Hey, the ladies all call me Hercules.' And everyone rolls their eyes and goes, 'Uh, yeah. They sure do.' 'Hey, look, it's Hercules. I hate this guy.' And so he doesn't know that everyone calls him Hercules because he's not. He's Fredo [from The Godfather] on growth hormones. He's despicable. What's worse than a pedophile? One who feeds pedophiles kids. So he has no friends. He has people who use him and fear him and need a job. That are that desperate they'll work for this absolute skell." I said, "Like that?" And he went, "Yeah, that'll work."
So the hardest part, for me, I understood the guy pretty much, I think. And I just had to laugh on command and sell that. That took some work, but I did all my work before I left. Because he laughs all the time, and it's hard to fake a laugh. Especially when you're laughing at something that's not funny, like someone who laughs at their own bad joke. They are blissfully unaware of how obnoxious they are, of how unfunny they are. You can't convince them otherwise. It's like someone who likes their own posting on a chat site. So you have to be that guy, and I'm sure in my life I have been that guy. Maybe we all have at one point where, "That was pretty great." "No, it wasn't." He's that guy all the time and people get their lives ruined because of him. He's a toxic, horrible person. So I just went for that. "For the months of November and December in Luxembourg, I'm going to be the worst person in the city for 14 hours a day."
You mention this being your third collaboration with Bruce, was it a matter of seeing that he was calling that you already knew you would accept whatever part he was contacting you about?
Well, let me read it first, yeah. Because, "He's naked for every scene? Aah, I think I'll just leave that one with you." So let me read before I say yes, as desperate for work as I perpetually am. But he came to my manager, I think directly from his team. I went, "Oh, Bruce!" And my manager didn't know I knew him. I went, "Oh, I love that guy. Let me see it." And I read it and I went, "Wow. This guy's a hot mess. Let me talk to Bruce." So we got on the phone and I said, "Here's what I think." He said, "I like it." I said, "You like me for this?" He said, "Yeah, I think you can get out there. I think you can rip the top of your skull off and get out of yourself and hit the wall." I said, "I think I can do that." He said, "I can get you the rest of the way there." I went, "I'm in." Because it's the Bruce Train and I thought I kind of sleuthed the guy out.
I'd like to think I'm nothing like Hercules. And we both agreed. He liked my ideas and he said, "Don't worry. I got the rest. We'll get the rest of the way there on the day." Fear of failure is a fantastic thing. It gets you that adrenaline rush of "Don't screw this up." It's my life story. That was what got me into it. I am grateful for any employment that comes my way, and I'm not trying to be utilitarian. "Oh, it's just a job." But it's work and it pays. And I'm like everyone else around here, I have bills all the time. But beyond that, I abhor inactivity, because I'm almost 60 and I know how fast it goes. I don't like sitting around, it makes me nervous. I do not enjoy downtime. I don't know if I've ever been on a vacation. I travel, but I'm writing a book. I'm burning lean tissue every day. I'm hoping not to get an intestinal parasite. I'm not on the beach unless I'm researching the beach.
When he said, "Here's a hectic job," I'm not going to not look at that very carefully. Especially towards the end of the year when everyone says, "See you next year." Also, I had lost two jobs that year, a film I had signed on for keeled over twice. I'm like, "Really?" Suddenly I've got nothing. During the second collapse of said film, since they're not here to defend themselves, I won't mention it. Bruce came in, I went, "Thank you, because I'm drowning over here." So it was just good timing.
When I saw the cast, I'm like, "Juliette Lewis? What chance do I stand with a real actor?" Because she's just a black belt as a leading actor. And also just one of the nicer people I've met in a long time, thankfully. You better bring your A-game because she is the A-game. And Stephen McHattie, he's great. And for me, my favorite person in the whole film was [Tómas Lemarquis]. The vampire. Just stunning. And every scene I did with him, I would just burst into laughter after every take. I'm like, "Thank you for stealing yet another scene." He was like, "No, no." I said, "Oh yes, trust me. That was all you." Like when he was in my face where I'm leaning backwards and leaning forwards. Every take, the back bend and the bend over would go further and further, like, "Let's see how far we can do this and make it so insane." And he was just so amazing, a fascinating guy. So I had a really cool time being this really awful person, surrounded by very talented people I took a lot of emphasis and inspiration from.
You've voiced comic book characters for animated projects and have also starred in the comic book TV series Deadly Class, do you have a particular comic book character that you'd like to bring to life?
I hate my honesty in moments like this. I'll take what they give me and if I can pull it off, I will be 20 minutes early, I promise. Because I just want to do stuff. Unfortunately, I don't have that confidence or prowess to say, "Hey, Marvel, reinvent this guy because I can really take it to some kind of level." I just don't have the talent or the idea that I can do that. So I'm kind of the catfish in that, "What's for dinner? I don't know, whatever falls from where the apex predator is." So whatever falls out of their mouth, I call dinner. I always tell people I eat what the lions leave behind. Just me and the hyenas, so, thankfully we love intestines and noses. If something is offered to me, I will go for the audition, or not, if I know I'll just drop an egg, but I take what's offered. I don't go as far as to say, "Hey, CAA," my agent, "Go call up..." Because you know they can do that.
But if I told them to do that, they know they'd be making fools of themselves because I don't have the talent to back up the assertion that I can do something. So no, I don't. And never have I said, "Hey, write this for me," because I just don't think I'm worthy. On the other hand, I come up with an idea for a book and I outline it and it takes me a few years. And I'll write that sucker and put it out, so that I can do. When I'm alone with my own devices, I come up with an idea, it starts in my mind. And it's something you can hold in your hand and listen to or read, or something in a few years. And that I've done since I was 19, and I'm now 59, so that I can do. And I do. I invent companies, I invent books and records. I reissue things and I take the intellectual or the cerebral and I make them physical, just usually on my own time.
Proverbial Shook-up Can of Coke
So if someone called you up and thought you'd be the perfect choice to take over for Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, you'd just demand you get to help write it before agreeing to do it?
I'm happy with anyone else's writing. I'm just a workaholic. I love to, like a race horse, they love to run around the track. Like so many people in Los Angeles, I'd pay you to let me be on stage. I like to work. So if someone has a lot of enthusiasm and a cool idea, like Bruce. That's why I like being around him. He likes to do stuff. He wrote me the other day, and the way he signed off the email was like, "Hey, let's make a movie. Love, Bruce." I'm like, "Yes, let's." And I just like being around people like that, because I'm like that. All of the enthusiasm without the talent. I like being in rooms where everyone's the proverbial shook-up can of Coke. Let's pop the tab and see what hits the wall.
I like being around that and in it. And if I can't get employed by someone else who's doing that, I'll just make up one on my own where I can get up every day. I've been at the house here in Los Angeles, working on a book. All my tour dates this year, gone. All my travel, gone. It's all gone. It's all canceled. So I'm working on a book, two shifts a day. It's going to come out in December, we're ahead of schedule. We are crazy ahead of schedule because I got nothing else going on except clap pushups and trying to get the damn thing done. I'm editing one by day and writing one at night. I keep busy because no one else can keep me busy, and I know I can't depend on anyone to keep me busy, but me.
I'm transitioning into a whole lot of self-employment because I think that's going to be me for the next few years. I have a tour booked. I don't know if any of those ... it's typical touring of mine. It's like 16 months and multiple continents. I don't know if a single one of those shows is going to hold. The agents, they need to get paid so they're incredibly optimistic. Me, I go with the po-faced epidemiologist, "Bad news." I just don't think I'm going to be able to be doing those shows. I think maybe I might've done my last big tour. Maybe that's just not what you do anymore. Like drowning witches, maybe we're not doing that anymore.
Maybe I'm not on a tour bus anymore. That sucks. "Well, then cheer up and go invent four other things to be obsessed with."0comments
Dreamland is available on VOD and Digital HD on June 5th.