Henry Rollins is a lot of things — a rock star, a public speaker, a comedian, a talk show host. In the new movie, “He Never Died,” he is an immortal biblical figure who viciously kills people to drink their blood for food and plays bingo with the neighborhood elderly. Rollins stars as Jack, who meets the daughter he didn’t know he had and saves her when she is kidnapped, enlisting the help of a waitress who has a crush on him.
amNewYork caught up with Rollins in a swanky Meatpacking District hotel (he’s come a long way from the bars he played in as a hardcore vocalist in the 1980s) to chat about the film and his life nowadays.
Your character Jack is a cruel person, but he’s kind to Cara the waitress and he rescues his daughter from her kidnappers. Do you think that love can turn a bad person into a good one?
In my mind, it never occurred to me that Jack loves anybody or anything. He just realizes there is something good he can do and maybe he can get one thing in his life right — save the kid, help out this really decent woman who had bad luck in business and she’s now at this diner where she’s super overqualified. I think he’s motivated by, maybe once in my eternal life, I’ll do something decent instead of being a guy who eats people, lives alone and just hates life.
He certainly doesn’t rush out to go save his daughter.
Nope. It’s not his instinct to go, “I’ll save you!” It is to get left alone. The reason he goes to bingo is he gets out of the apartment, he can go be around other people, it is a distraction, but they’re elderly. Their flesh is old, full of medicine. He doesn’t look at them and go, “dinner.” And so it allows him to crush 24 hours of existence. You and I live our lives with an end date. Like I’m sure you’re not sitting here right now thinking, I’m gonna die one day, but you have your 10 places to go before you die and things you want to do before you die, because one day we’re out. If you take that option off the table, where’s your ambition? All of a sudden you’re like, “Well, I’ll get that done next week, or next century, or in a thousand years.” And that’s where Jack is. That’s what attracted me to the script, is Jack’s existential, day-to-day nightmare.
Blood is his food, but he seems to be addicted to it, and his daughter is an alcoholic. Did you relate to their struggles from anything in your personal life?
No. I mean, I was in a band once with a guy who, toward his end of his time in the band, it’s one of the reasons why he was no longer playing with the band. He started getting into habits where you’re like, “What are you doing? You can’t do that and do [the band].” But I’ve never done anything like that.
Was that in Black Flag?
That was in Rollins Band. The guys in Black Flag, believe it or not, we were all kind of young, ambitious go-getters. Most of the time vegetarian. Hardly anyone drank. Mainly we were just going show to show. It’s like being in the NBA. We were just: play; sweat; fall over. There was no time for anything else and I was never interested anyway. So I never had any of those struggles in my life, and no one in my family. For Jack, it’s his food, so if you took you and me and starved us for four days, you could very well call us food addicts because we would go far and wide to eat.
Although Jack admits in the film to killing children, on-screen he only kills adults. Would Jack murder a child for food?
Oh yeah. He’s a monster. That’s the thing, don’t forget, this is a really awful person. He’s killed 9-year-old kids without a second thought because the flesh was tender — making reference to Vlad the Impaler, who took kids and impaled them on the side of his castle, or whatever the lore is. And it was [screenwriter and director Jason Krawczyk’s] idea that you could assign any deadly legend. Like Jack the Ripper could have been Jack.
Jack is a man of few words, but you are not known for being quiet. Was it difficult to play a reserved character?
Yeah, but I had 11 months to prepare. I understood what the job was. I had to Botox my central nervous system, Botox my facial expressions and talk in that flat monotone. The reason Jack is like that is because, what if you had 12 or 1,300 years of humans? You’d be like, “I’m so done.” After one day on the subway, you’re like, “I’m so done with humans, like I hate them all.” Like, I live in L.A., in traffic I’m like, die die die die die. What if you had 10 centuries? That’s why he lives alone, that’s why he’s a man of few words. He’s trying to get every human interaction over with.
Is playing a lead role a lot of pressure for you?
No, and understand that when I say that, it’s not because I think I’m something cool. As I said, I had almost a year to prepare and I used all of it. I read the script so many times, I wrote notes on my notes. I called the director who wrote it. And Jason loved it, like wow you’re really into this. And so by the time we were ready to shoot, I knew all my lines, I had a very certain idea of Jack. And if you put me in your movie for two days, I go at it at the same intensity. I do everything that way, every interview. I know it’s a bit much. I try to give people a break.
[Laughs] I just want to have time to ask you all my questions. So in a broader sense, beyond the movie, you’ve done so many different kinds of performing, both on and off screen. Is there an overall message you want to convey to the world or do you just enjoy entertaining?
I just like working, being vigorous. I don’t like sitting on the couch. Like after this press run, I go back to L.A., I’ve got like 12 days before I leave on tour for about a year. The 12 days, thankfully, I have a lot of records I haven’t heard yet, and I’m gonna listen to a lot of records and do a lot of editing and writing, because relaxation is [working] to me. I don’t go on vacation. When I travel, it’s not vacation, it’s work. If I have any kind of message, it would just be like, go. Hurry. Do stuff. Cause, I’ll be 55 in February, and from [age] 22 to 55, it goes so fast.
In interviews you say you’re not an actor. Even after nabbing the lead role, you still don’t think you’re an actor?
No, because it insults people who are actually trained. You can’t work with someone like [co-stars Kate Greenhouse and Jordan Todosey], and Bruce Lee [laughs], because they come onto the set and beat your ass with some acting. I do my best to keep up and not screw it up.
But it can’t be all work, you must feel some connection to your fans?
I feel very connected to them. I fear them. I don’t want to let them down. I have an overwhelming affection for them. But when I’m making a record or doing a movie, I’m not thinking about them, I’m thinking about the work at hand. And I only fear losing them, because I need them more than they need me. Without an audience, I’m just a tree that falls in the forest unwitnessed and unheard.
Is there a branch of entertainment that you want to try but haven’t gotten do to yet?
No, I don’t think that way. I just kind of take what they offer. I just finished a screenplay that actually got made into a film. This guy said, here’s an idea, here’s a comic storyboard of some of the scenes, would you write the words? I’m like, I’ll try. That was five years ago. We finished it, the film is great. It rolls out this upcoming summer, it’s called “Gutterdammerung.” It’s got me, Iggy [Pop], Slash, Grace Jones, all these great musicians are in it. Queens of the Stone Age, Jesse Hughes of Eagles of Death Metal is in it, did I say Lemmy [of Motorhead]? Lemmy’s in it.
You retired from music, do you ever miss it?
No. Not because I have anything against it, just because I did it to death.