Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Lance Henriksen Interview on The Quick and The Dead (1995)

I first had the honor of interviewing Lance Henriksen on May 3, 2003 while I was preparing my book, The Unseen Force: The Films of Sam Raimi

The topic of our conversation was Henriksen's experience working on the one-of-a-kind Raimi Western, The Quick and the Dead (1995).   In that film, he famously played gunslinger (and show-off...) Ace Hanlon. 

Excerpts from this telephone interview appear in my 2004 book, but some sections of the piece have never seen print before.  So today, just for the Lance Henriksen blogathon, I thought it would be great to print more of the interview, especially since The Quick and the Dead is actually my all-time favorite Western.

On getting the part:
HENRIKSEN: That was a really interesting period for me because in 1994 I had done three Westerns in a row.  One was Gunfighter's Moon and the other was Dead Man with Johnny Depp and which Jim Jarmusch directed.  One of the things that happened was that [the makers of The Quick and the Dead] asked me to do the role [of Ace Hanlon] and I read it and thought "this is a wonderful little cameo in this movie." 

On Ace Hanlon's wardrobe:

HENRIKSEN: I started building a character, and one of the things that happened is that Sam hired this incredible wardrobe lady to do the designing of the wardrobe.  She put me all in leather and it [the costume] had this embroidery on it and was beautifully done.

Normally, when I work, I pick my own hats, boots and guns.  If I'm doing a Western, I want my own hat.  So I went to a guy in Tucson that is one of the great hat makers of real, authentic Western hats and I had one made.  That was the hat I used. I had the boots made here in California, but they were period.

When I went to Tucson to do the reading with Gene Hackman and everybody, and we were all around the table to read this thing, I'd already started.  I had dyed my hair black and put extensions on it, and had grown a moustache, and I had this whole thing going, and Sam kept looking at me wondering what the hell I was doing.  I saw this guy [Ace] as very flamboyant."

On doing his stunts:

HENRIKSEN: One of the things that Sam was really open about was ideas.  He is such an enthusiast about the shots he wants to do, but if you come up with ideas, he gets very excited, especially if it's a good one.  I had a buddy whose name is Rex Rossi, who worked with Tom Mix when he was 12 years old and worked in wild west shows  He was my mentor, and he's the one who taught me how to ride horses to begin with.  So a month before the movie started, I said to him, "I've got to shoot a card out of this kid's hand and I think there has to more to it than that". 

So we worked on the horse trick where I flip off the horse, backwards.  He worked on that for about a month before we even got to Tucson.  I got there and I said, "Sam, I want to show you something."  I asked the stunt guy to bring a horse, and he brought a big white horse, and I said "this is how I'd like to shoot the thing out of her hand."  And I jumped up on, and flipped over off the horse, and shot under the belly, and he got really excited and said, "that's in the movie!"

On Raimi:

HENRIKSEN: "He's got the same enthusiasm about film that I do.  I think I always gravitate towards people like that; that are excited about it. I will never reach the stage where I'm just walking through something.

On training:

HENRIKSEN: "I trained with Thell [Reed] a lot.  He's a genius with guns, and a world champion.  He and I used to shoot every day. Real shooting, and we got very, very good with guns.

Not only that, but Sam hired a magician to teach me how to fan cards.  My favorite thing as an actor is going through the stage of acting I call "gathering."  I really try to keep the role at as far a distance as I possibly can before I do it, but while I'm doing that I'm gathering little pieces of skills, and I really become that person.  That's the process I use.  With a guy like Sam, who is willing to support that kind of work, it was just great."

I have to say that when you do a movie the intensity of that particular film is something that is as deeply motivating as a love affair.  It's a true romance, a real heated fling.  That's what it's like."

On Ace Hanlon:

HENRIKSEN: Actually, my favorite thing about my character is that I wore my guns the way they really wore them in those days.  They wore them very high, and I practiced a hip draw that was Thell's idea.  I really felt like I was that guy...the crew even signed a petition saying "don't kill Ace Hanlon."

I used to say "we should do a sequel where Ace Hanlon is killed and his three brothers, Hearts, Diamonds and Clubs come looking for him."  And Hearts wears white leather with red hearts on it.  He's a little gay, but he's the deadliest of them all.  It would have been great, and I would have played all the roles; I would have been all the brothers."

On Ace's death:

HENRIKSEN: "That's the only part I didn't like.  I had to play it.  I had to do it, but going down that way wasn't the way I saw Ace Hanlon getting done in.  Putting bullets through both hands and turning me into a dancing idiot.  But you know what, there's a lot of things you do as an actor.  Who wants to get killed?  I didn't want that [movie] to be over.  Ever.  I really didn't."

On the mood on set:

HENRIKSEN: Leonardo [Di Caprio] was just a kid in that, but he was thrilled to be playing that kid.  I remember Sharon Stone -- and even without make-up she's radiant -- the first thing she said to me was "you know, this is just my spacesuit."  And the whole thing was like that.  It was as if everybody was there to absolutely do this thing.  We were ready.  We were all very excited about it.

On his first day working with Gene Hackman:

HENRIKSEN: There were some very funny moments on that set.  I believed that I was this guy so much that when Gene Hackman and I did our first scene together, Sam put the camera on the ground and said to Gene, "you step up in front of the lens like this, with your legs spread."  Through his legs, you see Ace Hanlon standing there, taking a bow for what he just did. 

And Hackman said, "What is that?  What's that mean?  That's just a camera shot, right?"  He says, "I'm going to walk to him."

And I said, "Gene, wait a minute."

I'd never worked with Hackman before, and I waited twenty years to work with him, and I said, "Gene, don't walk to me.  Let me walk to you.  It makes you stronger.  If you walk to me, you're weaker, so let me walk to you."   And then I did that little turn where I said "I'm the best you'll ever see." 

But I remember after the day was over, I said, "what the fuck did I just do?  You don't tell Gene Hackman where to walk!"  But he held his ground.  It was that kind of environment where I was so much "the guy" that there was no ego involved.  If he'd told me to fuck off, it would have been all right.

On Westerns:

HENRIKSEN: There are a couple of things about Westerns.  Westerns and science fiction are both morality plays.  That's what they boil down to.  I've done a lot of genre films too.  In a sense the western is the American epitaph.  [Making one] is almost like building a statue. 

When you're doing a Western you're slowly building this image, this statue: this man alone (or woman alone) who is larger than life

Mostly because, when you think about a Western, it was such a terribly rough era that just to survive made you a kind of hero.  People were living in mud houses and giving birth on a mud floor.

Sam made it [the movie] accessible by putting his style into it. He had all the elements there: the brutality, the man who is forced out of his faith, etc..  It went on and on.  I remember those kind of things, where there was a necessary air of authenticity that needed to be there for the comic-book thing to work.  Without that authenticity, you can't build that statue..."


  1. This is one my favorite interviews from your THE UNSEEN FORCE book, John! Thanks.

  2. Le0pard13:

    My pleasure, my friend. I always get a kick out of reading Henriksen's realization that he gave Gene Hackman direction...


  3. Excellent interview! I really dig this film so reading about Henriksen's experiences working on it are a real treat. Man, I'd love to find out what he thought about working with Jarmusch on DEAD MAN. Such a strange film but he was so good in it.

  4. Jane Considine11:50 AM

    One of my absolute favorite westerns also. The editing of the fight scenes, the contest - are brilliant. I didn't want to see Ace go that way either, (or Captain Barbosa, or Hans Gruber from some other little films you might have seen;) They are just too juicy and good. Or Emil Fouchon...he was pure evil, but too smart and slick to go like he did.

  5. Wow. Very cool interview! And we are treated to additional quotes from the great Lance Henriksen.

    The Quick And The Dead is sitting in my Blu-Ray player. I have yet to watch it. My plans to contribute had to be refined and more focused and The Quick And The Dead tok a backseat.

    I had no idea it was your favorite.

    I'd be curious if you [or others] had an opinion on Dead Man. Jarmush is a strange bird but I am interested.

    I see J.D. has a similar opinion on Jarmusch. I'd like to hear his thoughts on Dead Man as well.

    By gosh John, Henriksen sound slike a smart actor and it sounds like he brings an awful lot to the table. These Directors must enjoy that kind of intelligence.

    That Hackman bit is fascinating. He's so right. What a self-less performer. He's the total support package giving the star the power. That's pretty unselfish.

    Thanks so much for sharing this John.


  6. Lance definitely has a lot to say about DEAD MAN. In fact, he wanted to include it on his list of ten favorite westerns, but thought it would seem a little too self-congratulatory. He talks about the film at length in his biography. I also had the good fortune of interviewing Jim Jarmusch for the book... An amazingly talented filmmaker and an amazingly gracious person.

  7. Excellent! Thanks Joe.... Look forward to reading more and if Lance praises it as a Top 10 that's good enough for me.

  8. Hi everyone,

    J.D. I loved Quick and the Dead, and also Dead Man. One of these days I'd really like to write a Films of Jim Jarmusch book.

    Hi Jane! The editing of the fight contests in Quick and the Dead is amazing. Raimi took a great script (by Simon Moore) and then shot the hell out of it with his audacious, trademark visual style. Just a great, great western, in my opinion.

    SFF: I think you will get a real kick out of The Quick and the Dead. The cast is top notch (Gene Hackman, Lance Henriksen, Sharon Stone, Leonardo Di Caprio, Kevin Conway, Russell Crowe, and on and on...), the script is really strong, and the visual approach to the story is downright revolutionary. You've never seen a western done like this before. For a formalist film fan like me, this movie is nirvana.

    Great comments, all!


  9. DEAD MAN = perfection!

    thanks for sharing this, John!


25 Years Ago: Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994)

Twenty five years ago, Wes Craven celebrated the tenth anniversary of the creation of his most popular boogeyman: Fred Krueger. The...