At first glance, He Never Died may seem like another addition to the world of stories about immortal people and how they cope with a life that never ends, but after speaking to lead actor Henry Rollins, one starts to understand just how different the film and the role are from every other incarnation. The film follows Jack (Rollins), an immortal who has all but given up on those around him. He had little time for anybody else and prefers to spend his days sleeping. His only reason for leaving the house is the fact that he needs human blood to live, and he must buy it from an intern at the local hospital. One day there’s a knock on his door and it turns out to be his daughter Andrea (Jordan Todosey). Andrea, along with Cara (Kate Greenhouse), a waitress at the one diner Jack will eat at, start to bring a bit of humanity out of Jack. Things get even worse when Andrea is kidnapped by some men that Jack has inadvertently angered.
Perhaps best known for his music career in bands Black Flag and Rollins Band, the very humble Rollins opened up over the phone about his role in He Never Died as well as his previous work as an actor.
Rollins is quick to point out that his impressive body of work doesn’t come from some sort of innate ability, but from the simple act of doing it. “For me, the reason I do a lot of stuff is, I know where I come from. I’m nobody. I come from the minimum wage working world. I come from wearing silly shirts and an apron and a cap and tearing movie theatre tickets and guarding parking lots and scooping up animal droppings. That’s where I come from and I lucked out. I got to be in a cool band and from there, writing, voiceover, spoken word, directors started coming to me ‘Hey, you’re a wild guy. You wanna be in a movie?’ I’m like, yeah, what do I have to lose because I know what I go back to; punching time clocks and that life. I’m not putting it down, I’m just saying I don’t think I’m anything and so when someone says ‘Hey, you wanna try this?’ I’m like yeah, damn man I’ll try almost anything.”
That attitude has always worked out for Rollins, who puts preparation above anything else when he begins working on something, and his role in He Never Died wasn’t any different. “When he [producer Zach Hagen] said this is really happening, I went into very hardcore preparation mode. Reading the script over and over again, making notes on my notes, contacting [director] Jason [Krawczyk] about every twitch and nuance about Jack because I wanted to do really well and Jason, thankfully, is very interactive. By the time we got to the set, I was ready.”
“I come from the minimum wage working world. I come from wearing silly shirts and an apron and a cap and tearing movie theatre tickets and guarding parking lots and scooping up animal droppings. That’s where I come from and I lucked out.”
There’s no doubt that Rollins knows his character inside and out. Viewers meet Jack at the end of thousands of years of life, sick and tired of everybody and everything around him, but it was important for Rollins to understand what had happened to Jack before we ever lay eyes on him. The research he undertook is immense and the real tragedy is that we don’t really get to hear any of it in the film. It’s something we sense in his actions and reactions, but the stories that Rollins shares about the character that we don’t know make the film even more fascinating.
Jack hasn’t always been Jack, as Rollins speaks about some of the lives he’s lived and some of the legends he has inspired as well. “He’s responsible for so much human misery. There’s so many unsolved murders in the world. That was Jack. We have him as Vlad the Impaler. Jason’s idea was he invented the werewolf lore, where two men were deer hunting one day in the Carpathian mountains or whatever and Jack sees some guy on his own, rips into him, his buddy sees some man size thing on two legs eating his friend. The sun is setting, it’s dark. I don’t know. It’s a wolfman thing and the legend of the werewolf is born. Jason told me this. He’s like ‘He invented the werewolf. That was just Jack.’ I’m like damn, this is so cool!”
The entire performance has a great subtlety to it but it can initially seem odd. Jack is almost emotionless and disinterested in his never ending life. That’s not exactly what we’re used to seeing from characters who are immortal. They always seem to have this fascination with life or finding the beauty in the little things. Jack, as strange as it may sound, is a more realistic version of what living forever would be like. “He’s over humanity 3000 years ago,” Rollins says of the character “now they’re just an annoyance. He needs the blood, or the guts and the meat, and he hates that because he’s really done with humans.”
“He’s responsible for so much human misery. There’s so many unsolved murders in the world. That was Jack.”
I mention that it goes against what we may be used to, with the best example of immortals in cinema being the vampire. “They always wanna show off how smart they are.” Rollins comments before mockingly adding “I’m a vampire. Shakespeare was my friend. Aw fuck off! [laughs] I like the fact that Jack’s so screwed up. He’s broken. There’s nothing enviable about him and it goes against the handsome vampire with perfect hair. Look at Jack. This guy in his boxers scratching his nuts. [laughs]”
That image of Jack is one of the first things we see, with the film starting on a bit of a lighter note. Humour is sprinkled throughout the movie, but it’s always very dry and can actually be missed if you’re not prepared for it. Jack is a character that you’re either on board with from the beginning, so the small moments of humour, humanity and history shine through, or he’s a character that you just don’t quite get. Realizing that every movement and emotion was carefully considered by Rollins and director Jason Krawczyk explains a lot about the way the film moves and helps to bring the audience into the story. It also makes the film even more entertaining and exciting than one may first assume.
With Rollins hinting (without ever really giving anything away) that we may see more of Jack in the future, fans of indie cinema should make sure to include a screening of He Never Died into their plans now. The overall tale may be familiar, but the approach is something new and this will hopefully bring Rollins bigger roles in the future.