There’s little doubt that Jack, the man at the center of writer-director Jason Krawczyk’s horror thriller He Never Died, is an odd sort. He’s antisocial to the point of rudeness; he sleeps a lot in his gloomy, sparsely decorated apartment; and when he does go out, he follows a dull routine: eating at the same diner and playing bingo with the neighborhood seniors. And there is the unexplained regular stop in a parking lot, where Jack (played by Henry Rollins) appears to purchase a bag of bloody body parts (origins unknown).
- Angry at the world: Henry Rollins as Jack
Then a couple of events jolt Jack out of his rut: He has a run-in with some local toughs (easily vanquished by Jack’s seemingly super-human strength), and a long-lost daughter appears. Forced to interact with the world, Jack is gradually revealed to be something not quite like the rest of us: He’s impervious to bullets, he knows about stuff that happened centuries ago and, well, there’s that taste for bloody bits.
Krawczyk’s film is a bit of a slow burn, juiced up with some violent action scenes. And despite its mostly somber vibe, He Never Died does offer the occasional bit of dark humor. The work has the feel of a graphic-novel adaptation, and should appeal to fans who like a lean but intriguing story with a morally conflicted, avenging anti-hero at the helm.
Its main attraction is its star, Rollins — the former Black Flag frontman, and current writer, spoken-word performer and ad hoc culture critic. Rollins has dabbled in acting before, most notably portraying a violent white supremacist in a season-long stint on Sons of Anarchy. And his solid, vaguely threatening physicality gives the mysterious Jack an immediate and believable presence. (Raise your hand if you can easily imagine Rollins biting the neck out of somebody.) But Rollins also has a sensitive side — he’s a published poet! — and he lets a little of that through when Jack turns from recluse to involved citizen.
City Paper caught up with Henry Rollins by phone from New York City, and he discussed his involvement with He Never Died.
Was there anything in particular that drew you to this project?
When I read the script, it occurred to me that I’d never read anything quite like it before. I enjoyed the funny parts. I sat alone in a room and read it, and laughed throughout. I immediately saw myself doing it. Like, OK, I would do this this way, I would do that that way. And a day later, I met the producer and the director, and they said, “This was created with you in mind — this is yours for the taking. Would you like to attach to this?” And I said, “Well, let’s see, yes.”
And how involved were you going forward?
I helped cast it and helped with the soundtrack — both by request. They said, “Would you look at these casting reels?” I’d never known that before. And I must admit, it made me nervous to sit in judgment of someone else, because I’ve been the person standing on that piece of tape, hoping for a job, trying to fight the humiliation.
[Director Jason Krawczyk said to me] more than once: “Read this thing, and if there is anything that occurs to you that Jack wouldn’t say or do, tell me and we’ll change it.” And I said, “No, man. I think you’ve written a great script. … I trust your judgment.”
But no director had ever said anything like that to me before, so after reading the script many times before we shot it, I would call Jason and I’d say, “Hey, I got a question — why would he do this?” And we eventually did end up where it became a real conversational thing, and days before we shot, we were fine-tuning the character down to what he would do.
In the film, Jack tries to stay out of the fray of life, but outside events force him to act.
He’s trying to not exist as well as he can. He’s dialed it in — 15 hours of sleep, playing bingo … he has his routine, which is upset when his past comes back to him. And that’s what makes the movie — he finds redeeming qualities in these two women in his life, and they bring out the 1 percent of him that is not a really awful monster.
For him, violence is a distracting annoyance, and it allows Jack to be funny, but he doesn’t know he’s being funny. He’s such an odd guy, that’s what makes him unique. When I talked to the producer and the director, [I said,] “This is my read: He doesn’t know he’s funny, but he’s hilarious. His dryness and dullness [makes] anything he says is funny.” So that’s what I did in the film: I underplayed myself to the point of feeling like I was moss.
It seems this film is personal to you.
I’m [usually] given small parts, and I try and get as close to it as possible. When you have a small part and you wrap in five days, the whole thing is so brief, you don’t get much closeness because you spend more time driving to and from the set than being on the set.
But with He Never Died, I worked on this character for 11 months, and then we shot it and then I was asked to look at edits and help with the soundtrack. It was this conversation that was ongoing, where it was months and months, and now I’m out doing press on it. So it’s a story that is still relevant to me. I read the script in 2012, so this has been a thing in my life since then. It’s part of me now and I don’t have that relationship with any other film I’ve ever done.