TR Review: Not Bad for a Human by Lance Henriksen

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?As I’ve previously stated on Topless Robot, I am a huge fan of Lance Henriksen. So when I found out that his autobiography, Not Bad for a Human, was being released I eagerly tore into it hoping to get insights into the man and his notoriously intense approach to acting. To paraphrase Marty DiBergi at the start of This Is Spinal Tap, I got that… and a lot more. The book is a collaboration with co-author Joseph Maddrey, who often mixes Henriksen’s lengthy recollections with insights from associates and co-workers. The finished product feels more like an impeccably researched article than an autobiography, and yet its unconventional approach towards its subject seems fitting given the atypical way Lance has made his mark on show business.

Lance Henriksen’s adolescence was fraught with chaos, much of which is detailed in depth in the book’s early chapters. One point that is emphasized repeatedly is how the instability of his upbringing — which included being raised in a broken home and a disastrous stint in the Navy — made the appeal of escaping through acting alluring. Yet more than simply helping him survive, the arts allowed him to thrive on a fundamental personal level (Henriksen never really learned to read properly until he began pursuing roles in the early 1970s).

Once he begins finding work is where Not Bad for a Human really comes alive. In his own words, Henriksen gives his candid thoughts on all of his major roles… and some that he’d like to forget (it is my sad duty to report that Lance goes on the record to say that he will never make another Sasquatch film). Amongst the highlights are stories about how he approached Steven Spielberg with his idea of how Close Encounters of the Third Kind should have ended, how he deliberately terrorized a hitchhiker while preparing for the character of Jesse Hooker in Near Dark and his disappointment with the lack of creative collaboration on Millennium. What is most refreshing about these anecdotes are how they completely lack pretension and the bullshit that usually comes with Hollywood bios. The highs and lows of his career are honestly discussed, including the films that he admits to doing in order to pay alimony.

The most compelling thread that is weaved throughout Not Bad for a Human is how Henriksen’s acting technique is so extremely Method that he invariably has a hard time once a shoot is over. The personal toll that immersing himself in his characters takes provides the book with much of its pathos. Overall though, it is an incredibly entertaining read, and probably the funniest book I’ve read in years (it will surely go down in history as the only biography ever to feature passages about unwanted foot massages by drunken foreign diplomats and Oliver Reed’s penis tattoo). While the illustrations by folks like Bill Sienkiewicz and Mike Mignola are terrific, it would have been nice to see more personal photos included. That small issue aside though, the book is a must for Lance aficionados and casual fans alike. You can order Not Bad for a Human here.