[Editor’s note: The following interview contains some spoilers for Dreamland.]
From director Bruce McDonald (Pontypool), the fantasy crime flick Dreamland follows a hitman (played by Stephen McHattie) who’s been ordered to cut off the finger of a drug-addicted jazz trumpeter (also played by McHattie) before his gig at a wedding for a vampire (Tómas Lemarquis) and his child bride that’s being held at the palace of local crime queen The Countess (Juliette Lewis). When you throw in a frustrated gang boss named Hercules (Henry Rollins), a ballroom and machine fun fire, the chaos seems inevitable for this eclectic group.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, Rollins talked about why he wanted to sign on for Dreamland, what he enjoys about working with McDonald, playing a character with no redeeming qualities, developing his own backstory for Hercules, and the experience of playing someone that’s nothing like you. He also talked about how he got involved with the Masters of the Universe animated series for Netflix and how much of the voice work he’s already done.
COLLIDER: This is quite an unusual and wild film. What appealed to you about this project?
HENRY ROLLINS: Well, there were two reasons why I signed on. First off, our dear director, Bruce [McDonald], I have known for 23 years. He’s just a really good guy and he’s super fun to work with. This was my third project with him. I’ve spent weeks with him in my life, and I just really enjoy being around him and working with him. I really enjoy where he puts actors, mood wise. I’ve been in films where the director had everyone on pins and needles, with this hyper tense environment where you’re like, “Wow, shouldn’t we be enjoying this, a little bit more,” and all of the actors commiserate at the hotel over dinner and go, “I really want this to end.” Bruce puts everyone in a much different space.
He sent me the script and I read it. Hercules, my character, who has no redeeming qualities, whatsoever, is just awful. I can find nothing good about this guy, except that he dies. I liked the idea of playing someone so hyper pathetic and dangerous, not even in an aimed way. He kills everything near him. He’s so inept, and yet he thinks he’s so on top of it. I read it and there was a vampire, and I was like, “Okay, it’s Bruce, so it’ll all make sense when I get to Luxembourg.” I just went along for the ride. Parts of the film, I really don’t understand, like when Juliette [Lewis] turns into a bat. Sometimes you just have to let it be and work with it. I remember when that scene got shot, they just said, “We’ve got these bats.” And everyone went, “Yeah, man.” We’d been there for a month, and it just all started making sense.
You have to be able to have fun and be real in those moments. It isn’t the real world, necessarily, ‘cause you’ve just done the scene five times, so nothing about it is real, except when you’re doing it, and he’s really this awful person who’s doing awful things to people that don’t deserve it. Not to get too actor guy, I based the whole idea of the character on the name Hercules. I pretended that some woman or somebody was making a joke like, “Hey, Hercules.” He’s not. He’s weak, on every level, but he took that and said, “The ladies call me Hercules,” and everyone rolled their eyes like, “Yeah, that’s right, Hercules. Okay, Hercules.” Everyone laughs into their sleeve, but he buys into it.
He’s the son of a guy who was a bad guy. It’s the sons that are worse.
It’s often the knock-off that’s the true monster. That was my premise. I did not improvise. There are no words not in the script that I employed. I went by the strip to the semicolon. But all of the rest, I brought with me. I said to Bruce, “Here’s what I’ve got. Here’s who he is.” And he loved it. He said, “That’s great. That’s as cool as anything I had. Let’s just go with that, until it falls over, and then we’ll do something else.” So, I lived with this miserable reality in bad disco clothes for three and a half or four weeks in beautiful, snowy Luxembourg.
I dug how his wardrobe and his flashy style was in contrast and didn’t quite line up with his personality.
ROLLINS: Yeah, well, he thinks he’s worth a million in prizes, to quote Iggy Pop, and he’s just awful. If you notice, in the film, he has no friends. The only thing worse than a pedophile is one who feeds a pedophile prey, like Jeffrey Epstein. He was awful, but that woman who helped him, good grief, there’s no place for that person. They’re both awful, but look at what she did. The women who work for him, everyone fears him and hates his guts. He sets up adversarial relationships where everyone wants him gone, and mercifully, eventually the character is annihilated.
What’s it like to shoot a scene like that? Do you just have fun with it?
ROLLINS: I would like to think that I’m nothing like Hercules, but you just invent the person and think about what someone with no morals do, who doesn’t even understand that he’s amoral. He can’t even intellectually get to that idea. He’s not even worth his weight in salt. And then, you go from there. His physicality and everything had to be completely awful. I invented him and just worked through physical moves. I’m not an actor, so I do all of this, just going with my analog gut. One thing that does help me is that I’ve done a lot of travel in the world and I’ve seen a lot go down you. I’m old. I’m almost 60. In my time, living a good part of my life out in the streets of the world, literally in about a hundred countries, I’ve seen a lot of really less than good things happen, so I have a lot of pathetic human examples to draw from, and I just kind of went there. Hopefully, I’m nothing like the guy. It was similar to when I spent almost half a year being a Neo Nazi on Sons of Anarchy. I’m just not that guy, but every day, you show up and you do what that guy does. After several hours in that frame, you just stop thinking about it and you live it. And then, thankfully, as soon as you go back to the hotel or home, or whatever, your rational brain takes over, and you take a trip to Trader Joe’s and call it a tonight.
You’re also voicing a character for the Masters of the Universe animated series reboot playing a villain alongside Mark Hamill. What made you want to do that project? Were you a fan of that world?
ROLLINS: One of the people who’s running the thing, Kevin [Smith], I’ve known for I don’t know how many million years, and he contacted me to audition for a different character, so I did that. They said, “Okay, we like it, but try it a different way.” I did, and they went, “Okay, that’s not what we want. Try this guy, Tri-Klops.” That one, I was able to get in on. Tri-Klops is a true believer in the motherboard. He will not be swayed. He’s no one that you can negotiate with. So, I just played the best villain that I could. Anytime you get involved with any of those big animation jobs, it’s fun ‘cause you’re around blinding talent. Those people get those jobs because they’re really great, and I’m the ham who sneaks in. I have no training in anything, except for sleeping late and procrastinating. I’m real good at that. But I’ve done a ton of TV and film and voice-over. I’m just working off of my 1979 high school graduation paradigm of, “Oh, no, I’ve got no plan.” That’s what I’ve been doing for the last 40-some years. And so, when these things come up and I think I can do justice by them, I go for the audition.
When I look at it and go, “Nope, I can do nothing, but slow these people down, I don’t even show up for the audition.” It’s not even a thing of being embarrassed. I’m used to that. It’s just that, if there’s nothing I can add, why slow down people with your worthless audition. That’s seven minutes that we’ll never get back. When I think I can do something, I go for it, but what you see me get is nothing compared to what I don’t get. I get one job, in 500 auditions. It’s like finding the lost tooth of your uncle in the ocean. You have to be prepared to spend a lot of time in the ocean. Someone like Mark Hamill gets calls like, “Hey, we really want you to do this.” I don’t get those calls, except maybe every other year, like with Dreamland. That was an offer. I didn’t audition. Bruce said, “Tell me what you think of this guy.” We got on the phone and I said, “Here’s what I think.” He said, “I like that. You want this?” And I went, “Yes.” That kind of thing happens to me so infrequently. I cannot overemphasize how little that happens to me. Otherwise, I go in and I get in that long line of handsome with big biceps, and I go in and audition, and it’s over in a minute and a half, and I get my parking ticket validated and get back on the 101.
A lot of my employment comes from things like, “I’m writing a book.” “You’re a writer?” “No, I’m just writing a book.” “How are you gonna get it published?” “I own the publishing company.” I invent my own opportunities. I wanted to do a radio show, so I went to do a radio show. I wanted to do a photo book, so I took the photos and I did the writing, and it came out. For the most part, my employment is that I came up with an idea and I executed it, and then I brought it to market. All of the other stuff, like acting and voice-over, that I don’t invent myself, are offers that come in, and I do them with great intensity and interest, and I take it all very seriously, but it’s between tours, or I don’t have half of my body in the mouth of a whale, on a project of my own invention.
Right now, I’m finishing a book. It’s year five and it should be finished by now, but it’ll be out in December, on my company ‘cause I run it. I’m not getting a rejection slip from anyone because I’m not going to reject myself, at this stage of my life. So, the acting stuff is this whole other thing for me. It’s not a big part of my life. It just comes up. If I had my way, people was really super duper love me and I could do 300 shows a year. I’d much rather be living on a tour bus, with about 30 shows a month. For me, I’d have no need to come home, except to listen to records that came in from eBay while I was gone.
Have you already done any of the voice work on Masters of the Universe?
ROLLINS: I have, yeah. I’ve done two sessions and, as you can imagine, in those big deal shows, they’re not telling me anything, so I have no idea when it goes on, or if the character ever appears again. I don’t ask, and they don’t tell. You don’t want to have to embarrass them and make them say, “We’re not gonna tell you anything. Go away.” So, I don’t ask. I do what I’m told, and they say, “Okay, thanks.” I say, “Thank you,” and I drive home. I don’t know if maybe those sessions were it. I don’t know if the character makes another appearance. I just wait to take instruction.
Dreamland is available on VOD and digital.
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