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The 10 Greatest Roles of Lance Henriksen

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?When the Chuck Norris Facts meme eventually runs out of steam there is a suitable replacement waiting in the wings. His name is Lance Henriksen, and he is every bit the man that Walker, Texas Ranger is and then some. Plus, he is a close personal friend of Bigfoot who once drove around with Billy Paxton pretending to be a vampire and tormenting law enforcement officials (Lance is a Renaissance Man like that). Since the 1970s he has become one of Hollywood’s go-to guys when they need crazed villains or stern authority figures. Yet to the genre crowd, he is forever linked with his roles in The Terminator, the Alien franchise and Chris Carter’s lamented series Millennium. Recently, Henriksen released the autobiography Not Bad for a Human. The book features the gruff-seeming actor providing insight into his most iconic roles. In honor of the book’s release, the time seemed right to present this overview of his finest parts from his lengthy career. From outer space to Sasquatch Mountain and beyond, this should prove to be one hell of a trip.


10) Karl Bishop Weyland, Aliens Vs. Predator

Since the Bishop character first appeared in 1986’s Aliens, Lance Henriksen has gone on to play variations on the character in Alien 3 and AVP: Alien vs. Predator. Despite the dubious merits of those subsequent works, Henriksen’s performances were consistently terrific. This is especially true in AVP, in which he portrays Karl Bishop Weyland as a dying man driven by his all-consuming need to secure his legacy. The hour of the Weyland character viewers get is one of the few things that make the film watchable (although that scene where Sanaa Lathan runs with her Predator buddy is pretty amazing as well). Henriksen layers his performance with desperation and self-righteousness, making a familiar face a stranger to audiences. This Weyland has the exhilaration of a true explorer who seeks to make his mark on history — regardless of the cost. The additional films in the Alien saga have shown how dark this legacy turns out to be, so it’s especially interesting to see Weyland portrayed in almost a grandfatherly fashion here. It’s a shame he won’t be popping up in Prometheus, as further development for the character’s lineage would be most welcome.


9) Beer Pitchman


This New Zealand beer ad from the 1990s seems to be saying that if you don’t drink massive quantities of Blue Flame beer, Henriksen will come to your house and scare the living shit out of you. No word yet on if this promotional campaign caused a spike in alcoholism amongst the Kiwis, but I’m willing to guess it did.


8) Lieutenant General Shepherd, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2


Recent years have seen Lance delving increasingly into voiceover work. And why not? As you’ll see elsewhere on this list, he has established himself as a sinister force several times in his live action roles. So it makes sense that he would be just as adept at bringing some of his trademark badassery to animated shows and videogames too. (He has voiced foes on toons including Transformers: Animated and The Avengers, and will be heavily featured in the upcoming Tron: Uprising series). Gamers know him best for Mass Effect and, above all, his pivotal role in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Those who have been dwelling in a cave since the game’s release last year and don’t want it spoiled should definitely not watch the above video. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2‘s billion-plus take is far and away the most financially successful project Lance has ever been involved with. Which hopefully means he can take a break from projects that cause this to happen:

Dude deserves so much better.


7) Detective Hal Vukovich, The Terminator


Watching the video above gives you a chance to enjoy Henriksen’s oft-told story about how he was originally going to be cast as The Terminator. An even more delightful yet totally insane anecdote is how Henriksen decided to get into character by covering his teeth with tin foil and roaming the streets of Los Angeles during the pre-production period of the film (stories of similar Lance antics — Lancetics? — can be found on the special features of the Near Dark and Aliens DVDs, check them out as soon as humanly possible). Once Arnold Schwarzenegger became involved with the picture, Henriksen was given the consolation prize role of playing Detective Hal Vukovich. Assisting the long-suffering Lieutenant Ed Traxler –played by the underrated Paul Winfield — the Vukovich character is a bit of a scamp. Sadly, the Terminator kills him and we never get to hear more about the psycho that screwed a blanket and was subsequently arrested.


6) Ed Harley, Pumpkinhead


Stan Winston’s underappreciated Pumpkinhead afforded Henriksen the opportunity to demonstrate his range. When we first meet the Ed Harley character he is a loving father who dotes over his son. Then some goddamn teens kill the boy and Henriksen begins running through a playbook of complex emotions that would make both Elisabeth K?bler-Ross and Uta Hagen do cartwheels. Lance recently returned to the Harley role for some direct-to-Syfy Pumpkinhead sequels, but he never managed to recapture the manic brilliance of his original performance. Equally noteworthy is when the Pumpkinhead creature begins resembling Ed towards the end of the film. It doesn’t really have anything to do with Lance’s acting but seems worth mentioning anyway.

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5) Cole Wilson, Dead Man


“He fucked his parents.” That quote from Jim Jarmusch’s existential Western Dead Man pretty much sums up the lack of social graces that Henriksen’s character, cold-blooded killer Cole Wilson, has. Yes, he did in fact fornicate with/kill his Ma and Pa, but even more charming of a personality trait is how he loves eating his victims. This is demonstrated in a brief cannibal scene featuring the Wilson character. It is one of the flick’s darkest and most hilarious moments. Not to mention jarring. Throughout my recent initial viewing of Dead Man, I found Talking Heads’ “Road to Nowhere” repeatedly floating through my mind as the movie progressed. I understand why, because like the song the film is a bleak and at times frustrating (in the best possible way) exploration of the odyssey from this world that we will all eventually have to embark on. Some of us will be guided on our journey, like Johnny Depp’s character is, by a kindly soul while others will be ripped away senselessly by folks like the sinister Cole. And sinister he is. Unlike a moustache-twirling villain, Henriksen embodies Cole with a random unpredictability. His behavior can alternate between whimsy and coldly calculation, making him the most dangerous breed of psychopath. The evil he projects is tangible, and it’s fascinating to watch… if more than just a little unsettling.


4) Jesse Hooker, Near Dark


Ignore the cover art on the recent Blu-ray release, other than the fact both films include a romantic element there is nothing Twilighty about Near Dark. The vampires in Kathryn Bigelow’s film don’t sparkle in daylight, they erupt into flame in a cacophony of violence the likes of which would never be allowed in Forks. Lance Henriksen’s performance is equally burning in intensity. He plays father figure to a family of vampires — including Aliens co-stars Bill Paxton and Jenette Goldstein — whose fondness for self-preservation makes him an extremely deadly man to cross. In discussions of Near Dark, Paxton gets all the acclaim for his amped up performance in the bar massacre sequence. Don’t believe the hype. Henriksen’s scenery chewing is the true backbone that supports the rest of the film.


3) Bishop, Aliens


Hands up, how many of you required stitches because you attempted to replicate Bishop’s knife trick at home? It’s debatable whether that scene or the one where he gets ripped in half is the character’s most iconic moment. While portraying the enigmatic android, Henriksen is all about subverting expectations. Audiences familiar with Ash’s antics in Alien kept waiting for Bishop to betray Ripley, et al. Instead, that role was doled out to Paul Reiser’s fantastically weasely Burke, leaving Bishop open to become the greatest plastic pal whose fun to be with since the heyday of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation. As stated above Lance played “Bishops” two other times. I think we can all agree that the milk-spewing original remains the best.


2) Frank Black, Millennium


I’ve never really gotten over the fact that Lance Henriksen’s Millennium character wasn’t based on the portly Pixies front man, yet I can appreciate TV’s Frank Black nonetheless. The first season of the show was a precursor to the crime procedurals that would dominate the airwaves a decade later (albeit much darker). The incredible second season found Black getting involved in the dark mythology of the Millennium Group and it drew to a close with what seemed to be the end of the world. And the third season was, well, about whatever it was about. It was pretty disappointing with the exception of that Kiss episode. I can’t believe I’m quoting Meatloaf here, but two out of three ain’t bad, and for awhile Millennium was appointment television. The show may have struggled to find its identity, but Henriksen owned the character of Frank Black from the very first episode. He got that Frank was a good man who wanted to protect his wife and daughter from the encroaching darkness. The early episodes allowed Henriksen to demonstrate this versatility by back-and-forthing between the safety of his yellow house and the dark underbelly of Seattle. As the series progressed, things got bleaker and we saw less and less of the character as a family man. But what endured was Frank Black’s decency. Because the writing got so dodgy during the final season, this consistency can be attributed directly to Henriksen’s understanding of his character. Every few years a rumor about a Millennium revival project resurfaces to torture fans of the show. This is cruel because Frank deserves a better wrap up than the one he was given on The X-Files. So for now, followers of Black’s adventures are left to wait, worry and wonder who cares once more.


1) Any Role That Allows Him to Share the Screen with Bigfoot


Sasquatch. Abominable. Sasquatch Mountain. Powder on Sasquatch Mountain. Predators Are Abominable. Predators Are Abominable Too. And so on. Lance Henriksen loves Bigfoot. As someone who regularly obsesses over both creatures, seeing them together in one place is like Christmas morning covered in chocolate presented at my front door by a litter of puppies who smell like new Star Wars figures. The essence of happiness really. Obviously every project on this list is better quality wise than Lance’s various roles in Sasquatchploitation flicks. Yet the others all lack Lance chilling with the mighty and noble Bigfoot and as such are complete failures. Bitch about this all you want in the comments, but you’ll never convince me that entertainment gets better than Henriksen and a hominid sharing screen time.

About Author

Chris Cummins is a pop culture writer and Archie comics historian who has contributed to The Robot's Voice, Den of Geek US, Philebrity, Geekadelphia, Uproxx, and Unicorn Booty. He is the co-producer and co-host of Nerd Nite Philadelphia, and is regularly involved in producing and hosting New York Super Week events. In 2014, Chris began Sci-Fi Explosion, a mix of live performance, trivia and funny clips celebrating the weirdest in science fiction that regularly travels around the United States. He wrote the introductions to the compilations Archie's Favorite Comics From The Vault and (with Paul Castiglia) Archie's Favorite High School Stories. You can find Chris on Twitter at @bionicbigfoot and @scifiexplosion.