Family & Companions
Outstanding character actor Lance Henriksen boasted a wonderfully cragged face and graveled voice that he earned through rugged real world experience gained prior to beginning his prolific screen career at the age of 32. From the very start, he enjoyed collaborations with some of the leading filmmakers of the time, including Sidney Lumet, Steven Spielberg and James Cameron. In fact, it was Cameron who initially envisioned Henriksen in the role of the catchphrase-spouting killer robot in "The Terminator" (1984). And although he was only seen in that film in a much smaller part, Cameron came through with another memorable character for him to embody in the smash hit "Aliens" (1986). From there it was on to a near constant output of work in films such as "Near Dark" (1987), "Johnny Handsome" (1989), "Alien3" (1992), "Hard Target" (1993), and "The Quick and the Dead" (1995). On television he headlined a series of his own as ex-FBI profiler Frank Black in the critically lauded, but ratings-challenged "Millennium" (Fox, 1996-99). Later career roles included voice work in video games and on animated television series, as well as turns in films like "AVP: Alien vs. Predator" (2004) and "Appaloosa" (2008). While the vast majority of character actors blended into the background of the public consciousness, garnering little name recognition with audiences, Henriksen managed to become a sort of working man's movie star, delivering performances just as iconic as those of the megawatt stars he appeared alongside.
Born Lance James Henriksen on May 5, 1940, in New York City, he was the son of Margueritte, a waitress and aspiring model, and James Henriksen, a Norwegian merchant seaman and boxer who went by the apt and intimidating nickname of "Icewater." As a toddler, Henriksen was raised primarily by his single mother, after his parents divorced when he was just two years old. The very definition of a "latchkey kid" by the age of five, he was frequently truant from school and ran away from home often. Hoping to impart a work ethic and skills that would serve him well in his later years, Henriksen's seafaring father took his son along with him for one of his many voyages, leaving the boy with relatives on the island of Borneo for three years, before he eventually returned home to New York. At age 12, Henriksen had had enough of school and began traveling the highways and railways of America, during which time the young wanderer had several run-ins with the law. One such occurrence took place in Tucson, AZ, where movie tough guy Lee Marvin just happened to be filming a project. Fascinated by the production process, the 16-year-old Henriksen - jailed for vagrancy at the time - wrangled an uncredited part as a member of a chain gang in the picture. It was then that he realized his true calling.
Although the stage held great fascination, Henriksen, like his father before him, found the siren call of the sea too strong to resist. He shipped out as a part of the crew on a Swedish freighter and then switched to a windjammer sailing through the Bahamas during a period he would later describe as the best time of his life. A three-year stint in the Navy followed, proceeded by another two years as a Merchant Marine before Henriksen - by now an accomplished and self-taught painter and sculptor as well - once more returned to New York. There, in 1969, he studied performance for a time with the renowned Actors Studio and honed his craft further with his off-Broadway stage debut in a production of Eugene O'Neill's "The O'Neill Sea Plays." One serious stumbling block for the Henriksen, an academic drop-out, was the fact that he was illiterate. Through sheer force of will and determination, the aspiring 30-year-old actor taught himself to read from scripts of films that he was auditioning for with the help of several friends. It was two years later that he made his official feature film debut with a sizable role in the little-seen, Minnesota-set action-adventure "It Ain't Easy" (1972), as a snowmobile racer accused of a murdering his girlfriend.
Henriksen's world-weary face and stolid demeanor served him well, as he began to pick up parts in several notable films. In what would become a bit of a stable character for his early career, he played an FBI agent in Sidney Lumet's "Dog Day Afternoon" (1975), featuring Al Pacino in one of his most memorable portrayals. There was also a small, uncredited spot as a corporate lawyer in Lumet's scathing satire of American TV-culture, "Network" (1976), followed by an appearance in director Steven Spielberg's seminal alien visitation movie, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (1977). By now a favorite of the estimable Lumet, he landed another part in his based-on-fact tale of police corruption, "Prince of the City" (1981), and later that same year took part in first-time director James Cameron's gory sequel, "Piranha Part Two: The Spawning" (1981). This latter collaboration with Cameron would prove to be one of the actor's most fortuitous. Henriksen temporarily broke the pattern of playing law enforcement types with his heroic portrayal of astronaut Wally Schirra for Philip Kaufman's acclaimed ode to the Mercury space program, "The Right Stuff" (1983).
Although Cameron had originally written the character of the android killing machine in "The Terminator" (1984) with Henriksen in mind, the role eventually went to Arnold Schwarzenegger, with Henriksen being given a reduced role as yet another cop. Cameron would try to make it up to the actor two years later, however, when he cast Henriksen as a considerably more likable android - this time programmed to protect humans, rather than eradicate them - in his blockbuster sci-fi sequel "Aliens" (1986). The part of Bishop, a sympathetic and steadfast artificial life form, was so pivotal for Henriksen that he would later divide his career into two sections - one before and one after this groundbreaking film. He next played Jesse, a Civil War-era vampire still traveling the wide open spaces of modern-day Oklahoma in Kathryn Bigelow's "Near Dark" (1987), a grizzly reinvention of the well-tread horror genre that also featured "Aliens" co-star Bill Paxton as one of Henriksen's blood-thirsty cohorts. Although he had firmly established himself as a sturdy supporting player, leading roles in more modestly budgeted genre fare did come his way from time to time in such films as the monster fable "Pumpkinhead" (1988), in which he played Ed Harley, a grieving father who calls forth a hideous demon to avenge the death of his son.
Henriksen went on to play a murderous thief in director Walter Hill's "Johnny Handsome" (1989), the story of a once deformed man (Mickey Rourke) recently given a new face and out to exact revenge on the people who had betrayed him years earlier. He gave a tortured performance as the Grand Inquisitor, Torquemada in the bloody adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe's "The Pit and the Pendulum" (1991), then reappeared as a new-model Bishop in David Fincher's often-maligned franchise entry, "Alien3" (1992). Working at a relentless pace, the character actor delivered memorable supporting performances that included a turn as detective Andy Garcia's concerned partner in "Jennifer 8" (1992), a vicious hunter stalking Jean-Claude Van Damme in action auteur John Woo's "Hard Target" (1993), and the leader of a futuristic island prison colony in "No Escape" (1994). A lifelong fan of the Western genre, Henriksen enjoyed himself playing a quick-shooting dandy in Sam Raimi's "The Quick and the Dead" (1995), opposite Sharon Stone and Gene Hackman, followed by an appearance as a cannibalistic gunfighter in indie filmmaker Jim Jarmusch's "Dead Man" (1996), starring Johnny Depp.
Known primarily for his work in film, Henriksen had worked relatively infrequently in television for years, making the rare series guest shot and a smattering of TV movies. It was, however, on the small screen that he would portray a character with which he would be most closely identified by legions of fans in the years to come. Cast as the lead in the highly touted "Millennium" (Fox, 1996-99), a supernatural-tinged conspiracy crime series from executive producer Chris Carter, Henriksen played Frank Black, a retired FBI agent recruited by a shadowy quasi-governmental organization known only as the Millennium Group. Black's uncanny knack for getting inside the minds of serial killers and murderers became a useful tool in the days of increasing hysteria and instability that led up to the end of the 20th Century. Although the series began its run with impressive ratings and critical reception, "Millennium" saw a sharp decline in viewership over the course of its three season run, and was eventually - much to the dismay of its devoted fan base - canceled one year short of the actual "Y2K" date.
Continuing to work tirelessly, Henriksen, while appearing more often in lower-budget horror fare, could occasionally be seen in higher profile projects such as "Scream 3" (2000). He made a quasi-reprisal of the role he originated in "Aliens" with the character of billionaire industrialist Charles Bishop Weyland, the human forefather of the dependable android of the future and financer of an ill-fated Antarctic expedition in the monster mash-up "AVP: Alien vs. Predator" (2004). In a similar nostalgic vein, he returned as the ghost of Ed Harley in a pair of made-for-TV sequels "Pumpkinhead: Ashes to Ashes" (SyFy, 2006) and "Pumpkinhead: Blood Feud" (SyFy, 2007). Working with increasing frequency in a new medium, he lent his distinctive voice to several video game properties, including such titles as "Mass Effect" (2007). Always happy to oblige an offer to get back in the saddle, Henriksen delivered an appropriately grizzled performance opposite Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen in the Harris-directed Western "Appaloosa" (2008). For a change of pace, he then joined the Broken Lizard crew for the raunchy restaurant comedy "The Slammin' Salmon" (2009), and later returned to TV where he voiced the deadly super villain Grim Reaper in several episodes of the animated comic book series "The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes" (Disney XD, 2010- ).
Cast (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Feature acting debut in "It Ain't Easy"
TV-movie debut in "Return to Earth"
Appeared on Broadway with Al Pacino in a production of David Rabe's "The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel"
First film with writer-director James Cameron, "Piranha II: Flying Killers" (the director's debut)
Posed for good friend Cameron's preliminary character sketches for the robot antagonist of "The Terminator"; the producers backed the concept but balked at Henriksen in the role; part went to Arnold Schwarzenegger
Early TV guest shot, the pilot for "Scene of the Crime", an NBC detective anthology
Screenwriting debut, credited as one of the writers on Cameron's "The Terminator"; also acted
Breakthrough feature supporting role, played Bishop, the gruff sympathetic android in Cameron's "Aliens"
First starring role in a feature, "Pumpkinhead" (the feature directorial debut of FX artist Stan Winston)
Starred in "The Horror Show"
Rare TV guest shot, "Beauty and the Beast", played a hired assassin named "Snow" in an episode with that title
Appeared in "Cutting Cards", a Walter Hill-directed episode of "Tales From the Crypt"
Narrated the Books on Tape adaptation of "Alien3"
Reprised the role of Bishop for "Alien3"
TV series debut as regular on Fox's "Millennium", a sci-fi crime drama series produced by Chris Carter
Had his first feature as a writer-director in development, a sci-fi Western tentatively entitled "Tracer Pierce"
Portrayed Abraham Lincoln in the TNT movie "The Day Lincoln Was Shot"
Cast in Wes Craven's "Scream 3"
Starred opposite Dennis Hopper in "Unspeakable"
Reprised the role of Bishop in "Alien vs. Predator" written and directed by Paul W. S. Anderson