'HE NEVER DIED' - STARRING GENRE FAVOURITE HENRY ROLLINS - HAS BEEN ONE OF THE SURPRISE HITS SO FAR THIS YEAR. A PERFECT MIXTURE OF GORE AND COMEDY, IT'S RECEIVED A HEAP OF GOOD REVIEWS FROM CRITICS AND AUDIENCES ALIKE. WE SPOKE TO THE MAN BEHIND IT ALL, DIRECTOR AND WRITER JASON KRAWCZYK.
First of all, congratulations on He Never Died. It's a hugely enjoyable movie and we had a blast with it. We're not the only ones who were impressed – critics and audience reaction has been very positive. Have the responses surprised you or were you always quietly confident it would be a success?
I was a bit blindsided to see the response. You work on a project for so long, you kind of lose touch to its emotional resonance. I remember Zach Hagen (Producer) and I were sitting around, before its premiere, trying to predict the Rotten Tomatoes number. We knew it had a unique tone and may not be what the audience was expecting, So yeah, I was not in the least bit confident. It’s remarkable to see the enthusiasm for the film and Henry’s performance. It’s humbling to say the least and thank you for the kind words.
You wrote the original draft of He Never Died ten years ago now.
How difficult has the process been to get it from paper to screen?
I think the worst thing I could have done was try to make it ten years ago. I needed to incrementally work my way up to He Never Died. I also think working on productions in a variety of positions was invaluable. Having a baseline know-how in what goes into gripping, gaffing, and editing generates an infinite amount of respect toward the craft and crew.
After The Briefcase, Zach and I felt competent enough to pursue He Never Died. We reached out to our casting director (Adreinne Stern) and she was open to putting out an offer to Henry Rollins. I almost died from spontaneous-head-exploding-syndrome (SHES) when he got back to us the next day. We met up with Henry, he was a treat (thank god I took my SHES medication), and he signed an LOI shortly after that.
We had a tad of money left over from The Kill Hole and The Briefcase so we put that minuscular amount into He Never Died and picked a date. That way, when we had investor meetings it was “join us as we have a lead and we’re starting production on this date” instead of “fund our movie so we can get a lead and start production.” We were inspired by the Farrelly Brothers because they did something similar for Dumb and Dumber. Thank god it worked out, because we didn’t have anywhere near enough money. I owe Dumb and Dumber my career…and Henry Rollins…it takes a village I guess is what I’m trying to say.
You’ve been quoted a few times that you always had Rollins in mind for the role of "Jack" in the film. How important was it to have him come onboard for the movie, and did he contribute to any changes in the character's portrayal?
I wrote it with him in mind, but I never thought it would actually materialize. His enthusiasm and dedication was otherworldly. He really took to the material and he put every ounce of his focus into Jack’s portrayal. The amount of notes he jotted down on his script could have been another script.
He also contributed a tonne to the project. He would play to the script on the first or second take, but on the third I asked him to incorporate any instincts he’s fighting. He also added the “But I’m also known as Cain" line. In the original script, Jack just referred to his hebrew name. So that added so much to the impact to his reveal.
We're guessing the experience of working with Jack was a lot of fun?!
Time of my life. Seriously.
The film has a wonderful sense of humour with some genuinely blunt and frequently hilarious lines. What attracted you to the idea of combining this with cannibalism and gore?!
I always found people trying to be serious and failing pretty damn hilarious. So someone being blasé to hyper violence sounded hysterical to me. He Never Died was a tough sell because it’s fairly genre-less. It’s a supernatural violent neo-noir existential comedic character study. I tried to make something I wanted to see by combining the elements I love. I think the key to balancing that is pacing the ebbs and flows of humour and drama. One feeds into the other and I think for something like He Never Died, the humour has to come from a place of sincerity.
Alongside the obvious biblical references, there are also clever nods towards "Dracula" and suchlike. Were you tempted to sneak more "historic" villains and references into the script?
Totally. There’s actually a rough sketch map somewhere of Jack’s travels since the dawn of man. From there we charted some who or what he could have been in certain areas and areas of the world. There’s a ridiculous amount of creatures in myth and lore to tap into as well as real life historical murderers and psychopaths. Jack’s had a hard go at life.
Speaking of which, you have stated your love for villains in previous interviews. In your opinion, what makes a good villain and who is your all time favourite villain from the big screen?
Oh jeeze, that’s tough. I know what I don’t like. I don’t like villains that are just fucking crazy because they're crazy (except for the Joker...he's the exception). I like a little bit of an incentive for their maniacal ways. Even “Johnny the Homicidal Maniac” thought he needed to keep the walls wet with blood to keep a monster at bay. Boom. There you go. I can even sympathize with that a little bit. He doesn’t think he’s a maniac, he’s compelled by a damaged psyche. The really juicy evil bastards are the jerks that harm others for personal gain, like the Patrick Bateman's or Frank Underwood's. Personally, Ralph Finennes from “In Bruge” is delightful and Ezra Miller from “We Need To Talk About Kevin” is down right cringe worthy…in a good way.
Jack is obviously an anti-hero (given his history) and alludes to some pretty awful things that he's done, and yet we like him and actually root for him to do the "right" thing. How much of a challenge was it a concern to make a quintessentially "irredeemable" person into a kind of hero?
I think Henry’s nuanced performance oozes an odd yet captivating sympathy. He doesn’t want to be an immortal cannibal and he’s not even sure why he’s an immortal cannibal, but those are the parameters of his existence. He’s a victim of circumstance and it shows in his detached performance. I think if he was enjoying eating people and partying every night (which he may have done for the first few thousand years), he would be irredeemable. We meet him at a time in his life where he's totally checked out.
Jack also despises his compulsions because it’s an example of how little control he actually has. He actively attempts to work around his predicament though. He buys blood from a hospital intern, kicks out his estranged daughter when he wants to tear into her, and at least attempts to find someone despicable to eat when he runs out of options. I think the audience can recognize his vampiric biology as a curse and that he’s attempting manage it. He knows the difference between right and wrong. You just want see if he can get his shit together enough to act on something good.
And were did you seek inspiration from "Highlander" or any other films that contain "immortal" lead characters?
I think I was more inspired by movies like As Good As It Gets or About Schmidt. I love charismatic self-destruction and am fascinated by the struggle to climb out of it. He Never Died is fantastical, but I still wanted the psychological repercussions to resemble something a stones throw away from reality.
There seems to be a slight hint that Andrea (Jack's daughter) may have inherited some of his characteristics (NB: The marks on her back). Was that ever going to be expanded upon or was that just an incidental detail?
The majority of humanity are descendants of Jack, but since Andrea is a direct descendant, she has a little more of his dust on her.
The theme of addiction is apparent in the film (Jack's source for "food" etc) and it explains some of his anti-social behaviour. Is this a subject that you have always been keen to explore?
Without a doubt. I wanted to keep it as a nebulous editorial on addiction rather than a message in addiction. I didn’t want his cannibalism to be a direct metaphor for a specific craving like alcohol or drugs. It’s more of a reflection of whatever vice you, as an audience member, struggles with. I have trouble sleeping. I can sleep through anything and I can just stay up until the morning. I hate it. It’s a goofy thing, but I can shuck away important responsibilities to sleep in for a hour. I'm still working on that.
Flashbacks can sometimes be problematic and a bit cliché but we liked the "audio" flashbacks of Jack's past, rather than visuals (e.g. Sounds of War, etc). How did that idea come to fruition?
That idea was actually Daniel Pellerin’s (Sound Designer) and I was dumbfounded by how effective it was. Daniel Pellerin is practically a wizard and an overall wonderful human. He designed American Psycho for god sake’s, so we owe him for the sounds of the business cards. He believed getting a peak into his brain would evoke just how damaged he really is. Who’s not haunted by missteps in their life?
I can’t even imagine a millennia of regret.
There has been a lot of talk about a potential prequel/sequel/tv mini series. We'll be honest, we'd love to see any new incarnation of Jack and his story. Is there any more news regarding this?
I can’t say much, but I can say you will see Henry Rollins as Jack again.
As well as writing and directing, you also find time to maintain a movie blog. Is this purely cathartic or do you find that reviewing other movies etc helps with your own creative process as a film maker?
It’s a nice reprieve from working on my own projects. I also get a haunting feeling of narcissism if I just work on my own projects. I think one helps the other as I can remain productive with writing and photography. If I try to focus on writing one thing all day, I usually get exhausted and the material suffers. If I give myself tiny breaks throughout the day to write a little bit of a movie review or answer a QandA it helps keeps the momentum…so thank you. I hear some writers use jigsaw puzzles or legos to give themselves a break. Whatever it is, the endlessly expanding void of the internet isn’t the answer.
And finally, aside from a potential continuation of the He Never Died story, do you have any other projects that you are working on that you can tell us about?
I’m lucky enough to working with Zach Hagen again for my next script; Reality Squall. We were accepted into Fantasia’s Frontieres Market in Montreal and we’re going to be pitching it there. I can not tell you how ridiculously jazzed I am for that project. There’s just not enough spooky-cosmic-horror-trucker movies out there, you know?
HE NEVER DIED
Jack, a social outcast, is thrust out of his comfort zone when the outside world bangs on his door and he can't contain his violent past.