Childhood & Early Life
Lance Henriksen was born on May 5, 1940, in New York City to Margueritte Werner and James Marin. His mother was a model and a dance instructor. His father, a Norwegian immigrant, was a boxer and merchant sailor.
Henriksen’s parents divorced when he was two years old. Raised by a single mother who struggled to find work, his boyhood was spent in penury. He was often in orphanages and foster homes facing abuse and neglect. There were times when he lived on the streets.
As a child, Henriksen was always getting into trouble. He studied only up to the first grade. It was only when he was thirty years old that he taught himself to read and write.
During his youth, he worked as a shoeshine in New York. He gave half the money that he earned to his mother and the other half he spent on watching movies.
For someone who had such a dark childhood, Henriksen was not bitter about life. He has always had an interest in fine arts, and he says he always felt that “there was poetry in the world.” He never got a formal art education but taught himself painting and ceramic work.
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At the start of his professional life, Lance Henriksen worked as a laborer on ships and as a muralist. He sailed with the navy and merchant marines and traveled all over Europe painting murals.
He also built sets for theatre productions. He got his first break in acting because he had built a set for a production.
Pursuing his love of the arts, he enrolled at the Actors Studio. Graduating from there in his early thirties, he started acting in Broadway productions.
His debut was Eugene O’Neill’s ‘Three Plays of the Sea’. As he could not read, he had his friend record the entire play so that he could listen and learn. He ended up memorizing everyone’s lines. Other Broadway plays soon followed.
In 1961, Henriksen appeared on screen for the first time as a US Marine in ‘The Outsider’. However, this was an uncredited role. It wasn’t until 1972 that he received his first film credit as Randy in ‘It Ain’t Easy’.
In 1977, Henriksen acted in director Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi fantasy film ’Close Encounters of the Third Kind’. Famous French director Francois Truffaut was his co-actor in the film.
In 1981, he worked with director James Cameron in ‘Piranha II: The Spawning’. Following this, James Cameron wanted to cast Lance Henriksen in the lead role in the 1984 hit ‘The Terminator’. The role ultimately went to Arnold Schwarzenegger but Henriksen did act in the movie as Sergeant Hal Vukovich.
He played another major role in the 1983 classic ‘The Right Stuff,’ a film about the Mercury 7 astronauts. Henriksen portrayed the role of astronaut Wally Schirra in this movie.
Henriksen landed a major role in yet another James Cameron movie, the 1986 film ‘Aliens’. His portrayal of the artificial human ‘Bishop’ is considered one of the best performances in the film. Henriksen spent two months preparing for the role that required him to breathe life into an android.
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He played the lead role of Ed Harley in the 1988 horror film ‘Pumpkinhead’. Like many of his other films, this too went on to gather a cult following. The original was followed by numerous sequels in the form of TV films.
He also worked in the ‘Aliens’ movie series that spawned numerous video games. In 1987, he was seen in Kathryn Bigelow’s cult classic, the horror film ‘Near Dark’. The part of Jesse Hooker was initially offered to Michael Biehn but he found it too confusing. His loss was Henriksen’s gain.
Henriksen counts the 1993 film ‘Hard Target’ among his favorites. He says director John Woo let him do some serious acting work in this movie. The film has a scene of Henriksen accidentally getting engulfed in flames.
One of his most famous roles was of an FBI agent Frank Black in the television series ‘Millennium’. Henriksen starred in this for three seasons from 1996 to 1999. This role was specially created for him by the producer Chris Carter. Henriksen won many awards for this role.
The 2004 film ‘Paranoia 1.0’ is one of the numerous sci-fi and horror films that Henriksen has done. Talking of why he has done so many horror films, Henriksen states matter-of-factly that they are easily available and he has bills to pay.
In the late 1990s, Lance Henriksen started working as a voice actor. Known for his deep and gravelly voice, he had been the voice of Lockdown in the TV series ‘Transformers: Animated’ from 2008 to 2009.
Henriksen has also voiced numerous characters in video games. In the 2010 video game ‘Aliens Vs. Predators,’ he gave his voice to Karl Bishop Weyland. The character was in fact created in Henriksen’s likeness.
In the 2011 multiplayer online role-playing game ‘Star Wars: The Old Republic,’ Henriksen lent his voice to the character of Jedi Master Gnost-Dural.
Henriksen continues to remain prolific in films with new releases each year. He has many releases lined up for 2020, including the science fiction ‘Being’, ‘Why?’, ’Falling’ and ‘Bring Me the Head of Lance Henriksen’ in which he plays himself.
When he is not acting, Henriksen makes pottery. He has a permanent collection in the ‘American Museum of Ceramic Art’.