“I have to tell you the minute we were wrapped and we finished the movie, I said, ‘Viggo, I’m going to disappear for a while. I got to get myself back,’” Henriksen explains. “I was a little afraid to do it. I got so deep into some of it that I got a little afraid that I’m going to get a form of Alzheimer’s of some kind–I won’t be able to shake it. But I was able to shake it. But anyway, it was intense. It really was, the stakes were very high. And we had a short time to do it. We shot it in five weeks.”
Henriksen’s relationship with Mortensen–best known to genre fans as Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings–stretches back to the 2008 Western Appaloosa, in which both men starred alongside Ed Harris. “We both love Westerns and we all enjoyed it,” says Henriksen of his first collaboration with Mortensen. “All three of us: Ed loves Westerns. He knows how to ride, he knows how to do it. It was nice to meet Viggo. He’s as good a guy as I’ve ever met. I liked him right away, really good guy.”
Nevertheless, Henriksen–a graduate of the Actors Studio and a practitioner of method acting–still wasn’t sure he wanted to play Willis when Mortensen sent him the Falling script. “It scared me,” he admits. “He said, ‘Would you do it?’ I said, ‘Sure, I’m scared, but I’ll do it.’ And then we lost the original backing and it took two years to finally get new backing, and he said, ‘You still want to do it?’ And I went, ‘Yeah.’ And he goes, ‘That didn’t sound very enthusiastic, Lance.’ I said to him, ‘The truth is, I’m going to have to visit some real dark places from my youth, my childhood, all of that, and I’m nervous.’”
In Falling, John brings Willis home to Los Angeles with him to stay with his family, including husband Eric (Terry Chen) and their adopted daughter Monica (Gabby Velis) while they look for a new home for Willis closer to John and his sister Sarah (Laura Linney). But Willis is resolutely against leaving his rural farm in heartland America, determined to stick to his sheltered lifestyle even as the onset of dementia begins to blur the past and the present in his mind.
Despite his anxiety about delving into Willis’ tortured, embittered psyche, Henriksen now imparts that participating in the film became an instant highlight of his career. “It was the best experience I’ve ever had as an actor,” he says. “The support to do it and [Mortensen’s] appreciation level and all of those things were everything that I hoped for… I have nothing but gratitude. This is maybe the best role I’ve gotten in my lifetime. I really think that.”
Those are strong words coming from an actor who has appeared in many of the definitive films of the last five decades, but Falling may well feature some of the most emotionally raw work he’s done during his lifetime in the business. “I’m grateful to be an actor,” Lance Henriksen says with sincerity. “I’m an apprentice to every new subject. It’s been my education. I’m a lucky guy, I really am.”
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