Interview with a henchman: celebrating foolish minor villains in action cinema
Henchmen are a staple of the action genre, but what’s it like to play one? We caught up with Mark Tindle, who’s beaten up by Luke Goss in Interview With A Hitman, to find out…
Let's talk about Jason Statham. We hardly ever do that here on Den Of Geek, but just think about how his star has risen in the last few years. He has become a recognisable face – a legend in some quarters – and practically a sub-genre of action cinema unto himself. Knowing all that we know about him, few of us would ever challenge him to a fight, right?
And yet his films would be boring if nobody ever took him on face-to-face, toe-to-toe. Don't they know who he is? It's a core principle of suspending your disbelief in a movie that you accept the way in which famous faces aren't recognised within the world of the story, and that their tenacity for killing, punching and battering across a popular filmography isn't immediately apparent to the poor sucker who tries to engage them.
Villains will consistently kidnap the nearest and dearest of people who happen to be played by Harrison Ford or Liam Neeson, usually because they're playing ordinary people. In the case of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who plays ordinary muscle-bound Austrians at best, your mileage may vary. But the architects of such plots will still usually have a platoon of willing footsoldiers, who will ultimately serve as little more than a minor inconvenience as our protagonist blazes a trail.
Enter the henchman, the mainstay of action cinema. We're not talking about the big-hitters, like Jaws, or Bennett, or Boddicker, but the usually nameless average Joes who are unfortunate enough to stray into the path of a rampant Jason Bourne, or Bryan Mills, or John Matrix. While the James Bond series is full of memorable big-hitters, its hero must have killed or incapacitated more of these characters than can be counted.
Bond is so infamous for this trope, it inspired one of the more memorable spoofs from the Austin Powers series, starting with International Man Of Mystery's cutaways to the bereaved families of the anonymous blue-collar workers who die in the crossfire of an international criminal's downfall. In Goldmember, Michael Caine's character cheekily judo chops a bunch of Dr Evil's henchmen, one at a time, and tells the last man to simply lie down on the floor without trying.
It still persists in Bond, and in action cinema, because it's all down to suspension of disbelief; we're not nitpicking or complaining about this, but we do like to celebrate a character type that is consistently dedicated to presenting action heroes with a challenge, however big or small. And when you stop to think about it, there's almost something poignant about their individual motivations. We know that the hero must prevail, but they don't know they're headed for death or grave injury.
Actor Mark Tindle was recently battered and slammed into a fridge over 13 times by Luke Goss in a scene for his new movie, Interview With A Hitman. I sat down with Tindle for a chat about the film, being a henchman, and his aspirations for future fridge-related dust-ups.
Hi, Mark, tell us about your character in Interview With A Hitman.
I play a henchman in the film. I believe he had a name, but I've now forgotten what the name of my henchman was, so let's call him Unnamed Henchman Number One...
What would you name him, if you could?
He felt like a Harry, to me. Definitely a Harry.
And outside of Harry's role, what is the larger plot of the film?
Luke Goss plays a hitman, who I believe is Romanian, who basically sets out to take revenge on people, for some reason, and if the trailer is anything to go by, it involves him killing everyone that he can find, particularly everyone in Newcastle. There's a very beautiful French woman [played by Caroline Tillette] involved as well.
You also see Viktor, Luke Goss' character, slamming Harry's head into a fridge, and that's you, but not your original role? How did you initially get involved, and how did you get promoted, so to speak?
I originally signed up to be a background extra in one of the crowd scenes, and a group of us had been put in contact with a casting agent, who was organising those scenes. I turned up on the day, to do the crowd shot, and found out that they'd already filmed the scene. So, I think they felt bad about myself and my friend Jeanette having come along, essentially for nothing.
Having seen us and got to know us as people as well, they tried to see which roles we could fill that hadn't already been cast, so I was upgraded to a henchman, and I just presumed I was going to be standing at the bar, looking menacing. It didn't quite pan out like that. [Laughs]
Instead, you became Fridge Head!
Yes, Fridge Head! I didn't find out about it until the night before we shot it. I got a text from the casting agent, asking me to come to the set a little bit earlier, and she said I needed to speak to the stunt coordinator. I was like “Okaaay, why?” and she said “Oh, you're in a fight scene.” “Okaaay, who with?” “With Luke.” “Riiight...”
And at this point, I think my brain must have just shut off because I sent back the reply, “Who wins the fight?” And bless her, she sent back the reply “I'm not quite sure”, but it ain't gonna be me, is it? So, I arrived on set, found out the fight scene I was in was going to take place in a kitchen, and-- well, I'm not going to give the story away. Watch the trailer! [Pause] I don't win the fight.
Spoilers! But moving on, what kind of stunt choreography did you have to undertake before the scene?
I worked with the stunt coordinator, and we paced through the fight as it would be with Luke, going through the motions of the punches, the actual location we were doing it in, and what sort of movements I would have to do. So, we did it very slowly at first, so we could get it up to speed, and do it safely while still looking convincing, then working out how it would work with the camera angles that we had.
Having done it like that, I ran through it with Luke himself a couple of times, and then we started off shooting the scene. They did also provide me with some padding. I was wearing quite a thick leather jacket, I thought that would provide a bit of padding, and that'll be alright, but I thought I'd just pad my elbows. And I didn't hit my elbow once, in any of the takes.
But were there other injuries?
Yes, I took away quite a few mementos. At the time, I didn't notice a thing, but then when I got home and took off my shirt, I realised the entire left side of my body was black and blue, from all the times I'd been hit into the fridge.
You get so caught up in the adrenaline of it. I didn't realise the amount of pain I was in. Later, it's like “Aaargh” and I fell over, slightly. Looking back, I did about 13 takes, with different amounts of fury from Luke as he slams me into this fridge.
What was the make of the fridge?
[Laughs] I think the make was engrained in my shoulder, but unfortunately, I couldn't read it in reverse. Just a big, slate-grey industrial fridge.
Looking at the long and honourable history of these seemingly small, villainous roles in the movies, is there a minor character that you wish you had played, or a favourite action scene?
I'd have loved to be that one guy in Indiana Jones, who does all of the sword-waving, and then gets shot by Indy. He is the source of so many memes, and he's become something of an icon.
And again, a happy accident - that moment was completely unscripted.
Yeah, and it's absolutely perfect. As a scene, it feels like anything else just wouldn't sit. I think I'd also liked to have been an extra in Star Wars; look at the guy who was Wedge Antilles. After five minutes of screen time, split over three films, he's had fan fic written about him, and he pops up in the authorised books... it's incredible.
Along those lines, looking ahead at your own career as an actor, is there an action star you would love to have slam you into a fridge in the future?
[Laughs] Yeah, I would love to work with Viggo Mortensen. One of my friends absolutely loves him, and I know she would turn up on set and stalk him in a slightly embarrassed way. Plus, I could tell her I'd been man-handled by him.
Viggo would be awesome, and it would have been good to work with one of the sort of classic action heroes. To be roundhouse-kicked by Chuck Norris would be a fantastic experience. Bang it on the wishlist: “get roundhouse-kicked, into a fridge, by Chuck Norris.
Mark Tindle, thank you very much.
Do you have a favourite minor henchman? Is there a villainous and anonymous character who has proven particularly memorable to you, for reasons relating to the scenes in which they appear? If you have thoughts on this article, or if you've been affected in any way by this discussion of Luke Goss and fridges, leave a comment below!
Interview With A Hitman is released on DVD and Blu-ray on August 27th 2012.
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