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Q&A: Writer/Director Jason Krawczyk on Wrangling Rollins for “HE NEVER DIED”

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Henry Rollins offers one of the year’s strongest horror turns in HE NEVER DIED, and writer/director Jason Krawczyk is the man who guided him through the part. He talks about the film and its star in this exclusive chat.

Opening tomorrow, December 18 in select theaters and on VOD from Vertical Entertainment, HE NEVER DIED stars Rollins as Jack, an ageless being who must consume human blood to survive. Tormented by a violent past, he tries to find alternate sources to feed on and shuts himself off from humanity, but begins a tentative relationship with a diner waitress (THE DARK HOURS’ Kate Greenhouse), and the appearance of the teenage daughter (Jordan Todosey) he never knew he had plunges him into conflict with the criminal underworld (see review here). With this film, Krawczyk and Rollins (who discussed it here) have added a fresh, frightening antihero to the genre pantheon…

FANGORIA: How did you come up with this unique character and his story?

JASON KRAWCZYK: I was always fascinated by villains. The origins of evil is a wondrous discussion: Is it something innate in your subconscious, a product of your environment and upbringing or a messy concoction of both? The character was spawned with those questions in mind. That, and I also like gritty guys punching things.

Around this time, there were a lot of suave vampires running around in TWILIGHT, TRUE BLOOD and VAMPIRE DIARIES. I wouldn’t call Jack a vampire, but he’s pretty vampiric in nature. Would you really be confident with yourself if you lived a few lives past your expiration date and had to eat people? I’m assuming it would make you detached, lonely and clinically depressed. Starting there is an interesting place to tell Jack’s story. He’s lived thousands of lives, riddled with astonishing and horrid sights. I wanted to explore the results of that on his psyche, and see if he could inch his way out of the abyss.

FANG: Was it difficult finding backing for such an unusual project?

KRAWCZYK: Yep. Producer Zach Hagen and I were inspired by how the Farrelly brothers funded DUMB AND DUMBER. We had a tiny bit of money from the last few films we made, and decided to funnel it into HE NEVER DIED, pick a date and make the movie. That way, financiers were becoming a part of a project and not starting one. We knew it was going to be a difficult sell from the get-go, but when Henry became attached, things got a little bit easier.

A depressed, immortal cannibal is a hard elevator pitch; characters like Jack are seen more as side roles and not the lead. It was Zach’s idea to create a “look book” to try and emphasis the tone of the story. I think my response was, “What’s a look book?” and then a year later we were filming. Materials beyond the script are pretty essential. It’s hard to convey character development, atmosphere and style through words alone—especially if you’re a mumbly introvert who easily gets anxious in crowds.

HENEVERDIEDKRAWCZYK

FANG: Was anyone else even in the running for the lead besides Rollins?

KRAWCZYK: Nope. Adrienne Stern, our casting director, was gung-ho to take on the task—which, in retrospect, was fairly smooth sailing. Henry and Heidi May, his assistant, were enthusiastic, cordial and quick to respond. We had some actors in the queue if Henry turned us down. Cara, on the other hand? Landing that character was an arduous endeavor that ended with the remarkable Kate Greenhouse.

FANG: How was the experience of collaborating with Rollins?

KRAWCZYK: Oh Jesus, that man’s worth his weight in platinum-plated gold with a fist-sized diamond in the center. His professionalism was humbling to be around. First of all, he’s a treat to collaborate with. The guy’s hilarious, and almost supernatural in his creative prowess. He didn’t complain once while walking around wet in the dead of winter in Toronto. He set a comfortable tone on set where people were excited to work. He’s kind of a walking culmination of human potential.

FANG: How did you approach the film’s balance of horror, dark humor and character study?

KRAWCZYK: I believe character depth is one of the keys to blending genres. If the story has a sense of vulnerability, it frees the arc for the full range of emotions. Also, never diving too deep in any one direction helps the balance…I think; I’m never really sure what the hell I’m doing. Anyway, if you’re walking through an incredibly dark scenario, there should be some sort of levity to follow it. Tat allows the jokes to have more of an impact and the stakes of the drama to be more authentic.

FANG: Any memorable experiences during the production?

KRAWCZYK: Any shoot could be its own movie. The amount of introverts collaborating with extroverts, along with the range of artistic talent having to be in the same space, is amazing. I would say filming the finale was probably the most memorable. We pretty much ran out of time, so the last 10 minutes of the movie were rehearsed like one big stage play. I don’t know how Henry remembered that much dialogue, but watching the scenes play out in such a way was fascinating. It was then shot in segments, but seeing the range of emotions, with multiple characters interweaving, was awe-inspiring. I also think that was the time my nerves cooled down, and I was comfortable directing people smarter than me.

FANG: What has been the most gratifying part of the response to the movie?

KRAWCZYK: It’s such a narrow genre that I had no idea what the reaction was going to be like. The fact that people generally seem to like it is astonishing to me. I feel the tears well up in the back of my eyes when people laugh or clap in the theater. Also, the support has been outstanding. Comment threads are usually bursting with vitriol, but so far the vitriol has been pretty manageable, or attacked back. I like that the movie seems to promote a bit of discussion.

FANG: What is the current status of follow-up films/the TV series?

KRAWCZYK: We had some pretty stellar pitches to a few networks, with more to come. It’s been my first experience pitching for TV—well, that’s not a closed-circuit commercial—so it’s all new to me. I couldn’t be more excited by the potential of what the show could be. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t salivate at the prospect. It’s also a hell of a package: The movie introduces the character and vibe, the first season’s written or at least outlined and Henry’s attached. I’d saw an arm off to get a chance to get this thing going. You only need one arm to use Final Draft!

FANG: Do you have any other genre movies in the works?

KRAWCZYK: I have a couple of scripts in the lineup that I’m more than willing to jump into production for. The script MY DEMON’S DEMONS always haunts me to be made one day. It’s about a botched possession that leaves a guy sharing his body with a creature from hell, and would be very much in the same tone as HE NEVER DIED. I also just finished a cosmic-horror/trucker script that would be ridiculously fun to produce.

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About the author
Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold has been a member of the FANGORIA team for the past three decades. After starting as a writer for the magazine in 1988, he came aboard as associate editor in 1990 and two years later moved up to managing editor. He now serves as editor-in-chief of the magazine while continuing to contribute numerous articles and reviews, as well as a contributing editor/writer for this website.
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