Heavy Hitter

UPDATED 12/09/1996 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 12/09/1996 at 01:00 AM EST

FOR THE FOURTH TIME IN 15 MINUTES, Lance Henriksen is about to be blown off his feet—and he couldn't be happier. On Fox TV's new series Millennium, Henriksen plays a brooding retired FBI agent named Frank Black, who uses his near-psychic skills to help cops track down serial killers including, in this episode, a mad bomber who has suddenly targeted Black himself. Now on the third level of a parking garage in Vancouver, B.C., where the series is shot, the actor makes yet another dash toward an exit door. Then...ka-BOOM!

After kissing the concrete, Henriksen, 56, slowly rises, a smile bisecting his creased face. "How was that?" he asks. "Do we need to go again?" Yes, they do, and Henriksen adjusts his knee pads, eagerly awaiting the next explosion. Childlike enthusiasm? You bet. "Lance," laughs actor Kevin J. O'Connor, his pal, "is always like a 21-year-old working on his first movie."

At first, though, Henriksen wasn't so sure about Millennium, TV's fourth-ranked show among 18-to-34-year olds. "I just wasn't interested in doing television," says the actor, a veteran screen tough with more than 40 films to his credit. "But it was so dark and well-written." Chris Carter, Millennium's executive producer and creator of The X-Files, says he knew from the beginning that Henriksen would be perfect as the taciturn Black. "Lance is not a small-talker," Carter says. "He's confident around everyone, but he's also a very private person." That's not to say that he doesn't need the occasional break from Millennium's grisly plotlines, which have included immolated bodies and victims whose eyes have been sewn shut. "You sometimes have to take yourself out of it," says Megan Gallagher, who plays Black's wife, Catherine, "and Lance is very good at that. One day we were waiting for a shot to be set up, and he started to do this impression of Elvis. He cracked me up."

Yet lightheartedness wasn't always Henriksen's forte. Born in Manhattan to a merchant seaman and his wife, a waitress, he was 2 when his parents split up. Traveling with his mother while she looked for work, he was more into movies than school. "I'd watch Kirk Douglas going upriver in The Big Sky," he says, "and would buy camping equipment just to put under my seat during the show. That's how real the movies were to me." His own reality was less captivating. Constantly switching schools, he barely learned to read. In eighth grade he dropped out and ran away from home. "By the time I was in my 20s, I'd hitchhiked across America maybe 15 times," says Henriksen. After a brief stint in the Navy, he took on odd jobs—as a shrimper, a fruit picker—but his minimal reading skill was never a handicap, he says, "until I got into acting."

He was 29 then and back in New York City when the marquee for an off-Broadway production of Eugene O'Neill's Sea Plays drew him inside. Regaling the producers with tales of his father's seafaring days, he won a chance to audition. Henriksen convinced a friend to recite the script into a tape recorder, memorized his lines and landed the lead. Later, while attending acting classes, he taught himself to read by tirelessly poring over scripts. "It was rough," he says. "I could make out words, but there was no way I could put a sentence together."

About four years later, Henriksen won his first major film role in 1975's Dog Day Afternoon and soon found steady work as a heavy. "I was always the No. 2 bad guy," he says, laughing. Eventually he graduated into "the good guy that everybody [at first] thinks is a bad guy"—like the android in Aliens and Andy Garcia's cop partner in Jennifer 8. Offscreen he managed to reunite his father, a retiree then in ill health and living in a Florida trailer park, with his mother, a fraternity-house cook at Mills College in Oakland. They remarried in 1982.

Otherwise, though, his life was in turmoil. He and his first wife, Mary Jane, a waitress, divorced in 1987, six months after the birth of their daughter, Alcamy, now 9. Wary of commitment, he spent five years in therapy before he began dating Jane Pollack, a makeup artist, in 1992, when he was working on Super Mario Bros. "It was a gentle romance," says Jane, now an aspiring writer. "We'd date, have lunch, that sort of thing." The couple wed last year and remain inseparable, sharing a two-bedroom rental in Vancouver. (He and his ex-wife share custody of Alcamy.) "It's still a romance," Henriksen says, "not a fantasy."

Millennium, of course, is a dark departure from that happy home life, but Henriksen can barely hide his enthusiasm. He even designed gift jackets for his coworkers that feature the show's name down the sleeve. "That's not the way it's usually done," says a crew member as the star shows off his design on the set. Henriksen grins slyly. "You know," he says, "I don't do anything the usual way."

MICHAEL A. LIPTON
CRAIG TOMASHOFF in Vancouver

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