a) Living up to Rutger Hauer and Ian Holm
When he Bishop role in Aliens came up, Lance had managed to take care what he called "old karma" with James Cameron about the time he was going to play the robot role in the Terminator but Orion pictures wanted 'name' star and went with Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Lance had two months before he started filming, so there was plenty of time, and he used it all.
He thought that if there was more of a story about Bishop, there would be incredible things to find about him. But when he looked at whose performances he had to lived up to, there had been Rutger Hauer playing an artificial person,
Roy Batty the replicant in Blade Runner, there was also Ian Holm playing an android in Alien, and he had to give the audience tips so that it all added up at the end.
Lance thought that was a terrible spot for an actor to be in.
But they had done wonderful jobs and he wanted to make his performance stand up for itself, he thought "How am I going to live up to this?" and then next he thought "You know what? I've got to forget that stuff" because it wasn't helping him at all.
b) Looking for Bishop's character
Jim Cameron and Lance talked for a month on the phone, Jim Cameron was already in London, and they talked to try to figure out the best way to introduce Bishop.
They had an idea about him being this lonely figure in Sulaco by himself, while everyone else was in hypersleep, tending to meters and buttons and doing a thousand, thousand push-ups, but this didn't do very much storywise.
He read a couple of books, one was Mockingbird [by Walter Tevis] which featured a scene where an android knew how to play a piano, but didn't know why.
He didn't know what music was, but he kept hearing it, however it was part of his builder's input that hadn't been completely erased.
That image stuck in Lance's mind, and what it translated to him was that there were feelings that Bishop didn't understand, like a joke.
c) Building androids
Lance would have liked to get into the whole concept of how and why androids are made. Bishop was not biological and while synthetics are very advanced, they are not organic yet and thus he wasn't built in an organic way.
The idea was that if you can imagine your own nerve synapses as being silicone — more of a plasmatic gate to conduct the electrical impulses.
Jim Cameron and Lance were talking and they realized that although Bishop would be very advanced, he wouldn't be seen as as the end-all in terms of an android.
Cameron had always been fascinated with the whole concept of androids because it was as if it were a side of him that he'd been investigating.
Lance went with the idea that if you could ever put psychology into a solid form, building a human would be it.
d) Working with the script
When he read the script, he read a long list of what the issues with the character were and what he needed to do and be and what he's like when around other people, and he made a counter list and he would be asking "When have I been in these situations in my life?"
e) Tolerance and prejudice
The actor also realized that his android character was not without problems.
Bishop would have tolerance for people's intolerance towards him.
His saddest moment was when Hudson played by Bill Paxton who Lance regarded as a friend, says "Send Bishop" and Bishop forgave him, saying "That's all right, I'll go" while nobody heard him, and as an android, he was wrestling with feeling such pain and rejection, and yet he wanted to understand it.
He also aware of the idea of prejudice associated with androids where they're saying 'Your android is bad, my android is good' because you created yours and I created mine.'
To play Bishop. he had to realise what prejudice is, how far it went, what would cause them to squash him into a little package and bring a new one - the movie didn't really deal with it, but as an actor, he had to consider it, so when he was doing what seemed to be doing a simple scene could open his character up to more levels
He had been to South Africa and thought of himself as a black man or child in South Africa, that he would have to be careful because if he made a mistake, anything could happen, one such person could make a mistake and they're out. and here the android is either replaced or destroyed. Lance used that idea throughout the whole film.
Another thing about Bishop though was that he didn't have a prejudice about living things himself. Anything alive was, to him, miraculous, whether it's human or alien.
He decided to tell Jim Cameron about this aspect of the android's personaly "Anything that's really organically alive is fascinating to Bishop. There's no good or evil — just this ultimate respect for anything living."
f) The knife trick
He didn't really try to make the android charming, but there was something delightful about his innocence and how he reacted to certain situations in unexpected ways, in a way that was compelling for Lance.
Bishop was the first role that he had where he was so aware of what he could learn and how far he could go with it.
He never had a chance to play an innocent before, he felt that he that he had a streak of that in him which he never got to play.
This would be thus the first time and he felt great about it.
This wasn't about Pollyanna naivete, but a vision of life that is innocent in a way that came out of a need to be part of something bigger than oneself.
He imagined him to be eight to ten years old mechanically, so Lance broke it down that way, and would play him in relation to his emotional life between the age of 12 and 14; the robot was very optimistic, yet he was under control of everything else, but here he was alien to anything alive.
Bishop would be thinking "I'm going to outlive everyone I'm talking to, " and there was his whole life around him as if he was a twelve year old surrounded by adults.
The robot that was optimistic, yet under the control of everything else, and vulnerable to the powers that be, but upon that there was the issue of "and they're all alive and I'm not. Therefore I'm a self aware creation." and for him this worked.
h) Double pupil-lenses
Lance spent a thousand dollars of his own money on a special pair of contact lenses that would cover his entire eye and each eye had two pupils.
He had his doubts that they would work but he wanted to try it out.
He liked them because they were startling, and he wasn't quite sure where the role of Bishop was going to go, so if there was a villainous side to the character, he wanted something to convey that without having to be menacing all the time, and it would be boring to if Bishop was dangrous all through the movie.
Jim Cameron being good about it, filmed it but the pupil-lenses didn't work.
The money involved in the preparation didn't matter do him and Lance didn't regret discarding the idea of using the contact lenses from the film.
Afterwards he might just as well have been using them as tiddly-winks
- Lance Henriksen: I had to develop something that was special to me, and not try to compete with or top what other people who played artificial people had done like Rutger Hauer who was great in Blade Runner, and Ian Holm in the first Alien." (Aliens, Vol 2, Number 22, "Regarding Henriks" by David Hughes, p48)
- Lance Henriksen: I wanted Bishop to have this tolerance for people's intolerance towards him. My saddest moment was when my friend [Hudson played by Bill Paxton] says 'Send Bishop," and I forgave him - I said 'That's all right, I'll go," and nobody heard me. I was wrestling with feeling such pain and rejection, and yet I wanted to understand it. (Aliens, Vol 2, Number 22, "Regarding Henriks" by David Hughes, p48)
- Alison: I wanted to go back to Bishop’s character. Bishop’s character throughout the Alien
series has been seen as a comment about xenophobia, in the form of a
hi-tech racism and technophobia—similar to themes in this year’s film District 9. Have you seen the movie? Do you think the comparison works?
Lance: Yes I did. I’ve been to South Africa before apartheid and after apartheid. I have memory on both sides of that. The first time was very upsetting to me. There was a youth movement there that did a lot of plays while I was in Johannesburg. I was all around Johannesburg in the balance of filming, but whenever I had a chance I would go see a play. They tore your heart out because people were so sweet and wonderful. What I’m trying to get at by talking about that is, that movie is really about apartheid and that whole metaphor.
It was ok that movie for me. I thought it was all right. I enjoyed it, but to me it was based on all of that and that’s the eyes I was seeing it through. It confirms something that I’ve always felt–that science fiction like all westerns are morality plays.
When I did Bishop—one of the things I did…I was using the fact that I was 12-years-old. I was using my 12-year-old emotional life and thought of myself as a black kid in South Africa. That if I made a mistake anything could happen. So, that’s what I was using through that whole role. There was a certain innocence about Bishop that I created that way. And of course when you’re 12 you forgive adults because you know you’re going to outlive them.
Alison: That’s very interesting. Now, in turn, the film series itself has been viewed as a commentary on post-Vietnam anxiety and a kind of hyper-patriotism. Is Bishop’s character the real hero of the series because of his pacifist tendencies?
Lance: Yeah he would never hurt anybody. There’s even a scene about that where I’m saying this other creation was skittish and screwed up, but that would never happen with me because I’m so advanced. I also remember Jim saying to me, if we ever did another one that what he would have done is probably had that character realize that somebody had fooled around with his brain and make him constantly worried that he was going to do something dangerous. And so I thought, well, what a nice piece of conflict that is. You know what’s really interesting? All of these thoughts around that pacifist issue probably came about…and I never mentioned to anyone what I had done after I did the movie…but what I had used to play that character was coming through. It was a critical movie for me because up until that time I had really always been trying to serve the film, serve the movie, serve the script. One of the things I didn’t do, which I did do with Bishop was personalize everything, like I should have been doing my whole career before that. Really personalizing it, so I was a living entity of some personalization that I did. And that’s what makes good acting as far as I’m concerned. Ever since then, I have done that. It was a critical movie for me because my idea was that if I saw the movie, and the work that I was doing wasn’t there that I would not be acting anymore.
Lance: Well, luckily it was there. And I really mean that.
Alison: I don’t doubt you’re a man of your word.
- Interviewer: You would ultimately play Bishop in Aliens, who
would also become a very ironic android character. What's the key to
playing a convincing android?
Lance Henriksen: I thought, "How am I going to live up to this?" You had Rutger Hauer and Ian Holm, who both did wonderful jobs, and I wanted to live up to something, so I thought, "You know what? I've got to forget all of that stuff." It wasn't going to help me at all. When I read the script I read a long list of what the issues with the character were and what he needs to do and be and what he's like around other people. The I made a counter list; when have I been in these situations in my life?
I think there's great innocence in Bishop. I was playing him in relation to my emotional life between the age of 12 and 14; it was a very optimistic, yet I was under control of everything else. So I broke it down that way, and there was a feeling of, "I'm going to outlive everyone I'm talking to, and they're all alive and I'm not. Therefore I'm a self aware creation." It just worked (SFX #115, p115)
- Lance Henriksen: I had two months before I started filming, so there was plenty of time, I used it all, believe me. If there was more to Bishop, more of a story about him, you would find out incredible things.
- Lance Henriksen: My biggest problem was having to follow two exceptional performances of androids. Rutger Hauer [as Replicant Roy Batty] in Blade Runner was excellent, and I loved Ian Holm's work as Ash in ALIEN. We didn't have the same problems. Holm had to give the audience tips so that it all added up at the end. That's a terrible spot for an actor to be in.
- Lance Henriksen: Jim [Cameron, writer /director] and I talked for a month on the phone — he was already in London — to try to figure out the best way to introduce Bishop. We had an idea about him being alone, while everyone else was in hypersleep, tending to meters and buttons
and doing a thousand, thousand push-ups. You see this lonely figure in this ship by himself. We realized that doesn't do much storywise, and then we came up with the knife. (Starlog 121, Lance Henriksen, Call Him Chameleon, p52).
- Lance Henriksen: I practiced that quite a bit. Then, when we got onto the set and finally were ready to shoot the scene, I dragged one of the other guys into it [Bill Paxton]. I said, 'Jim, this is about his character,. (Starlog 121, Lance Henriksen, Call Him Chameleon, p52).
- Lance Henriksen: I told Jim, 'Anything that's really organically alive is fascinating to Bishop. There's no good or evil — just this ultimate respect for anything living.' (Starlog 121, Lance Henriksen, Call Him Chameleon, p52).
- Lance Henriksen: I read a couple of books, One was Mockingbird [by Walter Tevis]. There's a bit in it where the android knew how to play a piano, but didn't know why. He didn't know what music was, but he kept hearing it. It was part of his builder's input that hadn't been completely erased. That image stuck in my mind, and what it translated to me was that there were feelings that Bishop didn't understand, like a joke.(Starlog 121, Lance Henriksen, Call Him Chameleon, p52).
- Lance Henriksen: The actor also realized that his android character was not without problems. "For him, the world is xenophobic. He's an alien to anything alive. He must be as careful as, say, a black man in South Africa, where you make a mistake and you're out. You're either replaced or you're destroyed.(Starlog 121, Lance Henriksen, Call Him Chameleon, p52).
- Lance Henriksen: I felt that he was only eight to 10 years old, mechanically, so I gave him the emotional life of a 14-year-old, I was basically playing myself at that age. There's the knowledge that you have your whole life ahead of you to learn, yet there's always that vulnerability to the powers that be. (Starlog 121, Lance Henriksen, Call Him Chameleon, p52).
- Lance Henriksen: I would like to get into the whole concept of how and why androids are made. Bishop is not biological, he wasn't built in an organic way. If you can imagine your own nerve synapses as being silicone — more of a plasmatic gate to conduct the electrical impulses. The synthetics are very advanced, but they aren't organic yet. Jim and I were talking and we realized that although Bishop is very advanced, we don't see him as the end-all in terms of an android. Jim loves the whole concept of androids. If you could ever put psychology into a solid form, building a human would be it. (Starlog 121, Lance Henriksen, Call Him Chameleon, p52).
- Lance Henriksen: When talking about androids, one deals with prejudice - 'Your android is bad, my android is good' because you created yours and I created mine.' (Officiel Aliens movie book)
- Lance Henriksen: To play Bishop. I had to realise what prejudice is, how far it goes, what would cause them to squash me into a little package and bring a new one - the movie doesn't really deal with it, but as an actor, I had to consider it. Working on a part like this gets me into more levels just to do a simple scene.(Official Aliens movie book)
- Lance Henriksen: Originally I was going to play the robot in that film (Terminator), but Orion pictures wanted a 'name' star and went with Arnold Schwarzenegger. (Official Aliens movie book)
- Lance Henriksen: When the android role came up in Aliens, Jim and I had taken care of old karma, and I really wanted to play Bishop. (Official Aliens movie book)
- Lance Henriksen: Bishop is the first role I've had where I was so aware of what I could learn, and how far I could go with it. I've never had a chance to play an innocent before and I have a streak of that in me which I never get to play. This is the first time, and I feel great about it. I don't mean a Pollyanna naivete, I'm talking about a vision of life that is innocent. (Official Aliens movie book)
- Lance Henriksen: I discovered some very specific things which make Bishop innocent and compelling in his charm. I don't really try to make him charming, but there is something delightful about his innocence - how it reacts to certain situations in unexpected ways. That's what's compelling about it. Innocence comes out of need to be a part of something bigger than oneself.(Official Aliens movie book)
- Lance Henriksen: The one very clear thing about Bishop is that he doesn't have a prejudice about living things. Anything alive is, to him, miraculous, whether it's human or alien. (Official Aliens movie book)
- Lance Henriksen: Jim has always been fascinated with droids because it's a side of him that he's been investigating.(Official Aliens movie book)
- Lance Henriksen: I spent a thousand dollars of my own money on contact lenses. I had a pair of them made that would cover my entire eye, and each eye had two pupils. And I knew that they probably wouldn't work. (Official Aliens movie book)
- Lance Henriksen: I liked them because they were startling. I was worried that if I had to play the villainous side of this character, I wanted something that would convey that without having to be menacing all the time. It would be too boring to be dangerous all through the movie. (Official Aliens movie book)
- Lance Henriksen: Jim was good about it, he filmed it but the double-pupil lenses didn't work. The money involved in the preparation of a role doesn't matter to me, and I don't regret discarding the contacts. Now I use them for tiddly-winks. (Official Aliens movie book).
- Whereas Bishop's imitators have hours, days and weeks to sharpen
their knife skills, Henriksen says that he and Paxton — who died in 2017
— were only given two takes. Cameron had been shooting the sequel in
England, where Ridley Scott and returning star Sigourney Weaver made the
original Alien eight years earlier, and both actors were
nearing the end of their tour of duty. "We were ready to fly back from
London to L.A., and we had to go to the studio the morning of the
flight," Henriksen recalls, adding that they perhaps weren't in fighting
shape that day. "We had partied that night saying goodbye to England!"
That may account for what happened next. While the duo's first take of the knife trick went near-flawlessly, Cameron asked for another round — and that's when it was game over, man for Paxton. "I gave Bill a blood blister; he moved his pinkie into the line of fire, and I pinched it, " Henriksen admits now. "I didn't even cut a hole in [his finger], and he was acting like I stabbed him with an ice pick! It was pretty funny actually. ... I felt bad about it ... but not really." ( Yahoo Movies: 'Aliens' at 35: Lance Henriksen reveals how he injured Bill Paxton while making the classic sequel, July 16, 2021)
- Biehn: Is this the scene where you guys do the thing with the knife
Henriksen: the knife, yeah yeah
Biehn: I never understood, you guys can tell me, I remember saying that at the time, "well Jim, what about you know?" "just like shut up michael, I know what I'm doing", why he put
Henriksen: my hand
Biehn: your hand on top of his!
Henriksen : okay, right, the reason, the reason, the rea... what happed was, Jim had wanted me to do it like a demonstration right, and we got right to the moment and I said "Jim, you know, this is going to be really boring man, because there's nothing to see me do that and I said what if I put my hand on Billy's hand and since I wont hurt anybody, I would never hurt him, then it would make it more interesting"
Biehn: I never understood what Bill was so scared of because his hand was all
Paxton: was underneath
Goldstein: His hand was underneath, It should be on top
Henriksen : I know,
Goldstein: It should be on top
Henriksen : You know, you know what happened with this bit, after the movie was done, we all went out and partied right and drank a lot of beer and I remember a voice in the middle of the night saying "You've got to come back because when they sped up the film, it looked phoney"
Paxton: Yes, we had to do this twice
Henriksen : Yeah, we had to come back
Paxton: That's right, that's right
Henriksen: and that's when I caught your pinky by accident,
Paxton: oh man
Henriksen : just barely touched it, he almost, he almost died
Paxton: I had had cuticle reconstructive, cuticle surgery on that
Henriksen: but anyway,
Biehn: This is where Bill got the idea
Henriksen : it was much more interesting with the... on his hand (Aliens DVD commentary )