Walking to meet Henry Rollins, I was worried that he might snap me in half. He's a well-muscled rocker covered in tattoos and mad at the world; I'm a slight, bubbly blonde. But as I walked into the conference room at the IFC offices, he stood up from his chair, smiled and shook my hand. He politely asked if it would be all right if he continued eating his veggie sandwich while we talked and told me to take anything I wanted from the spread the staff had provided him. The salt-and-pepper-capped renegade might just leave me intact after all.
Rollins was in town from his home in Los Angeles promoting the start of the second season of The Henry Rollins Show, his IFC talk show that premiered in mid-April. Surrounded by piles of newspapers and magazines, Rollins seems to inhale the news with the same verocity with which he's known for criticizing it. His weekly show opens with a segment called "Teeing Off" in which he gives his two cents on hard-hitting issues such as Iraq, AIDS and gay marriage. The half hour show also features one celebrity guest with whom Rollins banters back and forth. It's like a Daily Show with a DIY, punk-rock edge.
The former Black Flag singer/screamer, lead singer of the Henry Rollins band, author, lover of the spoken word and hater of all things Bush-related is a self-proclaimed "angry man in the cage." So when IFC approached him about doing a talk show, he told the IFC execs, "I want you to understand who I am," adding that most people who hire him don't seem to grasp how angry and controversial he can be, and are shocked when they realize who they've hired. "If we are putting my name on it and I have to hold back, all of my fans go 'sell out,' and I don't want to be contractually bound to selling out," he warned. IFC obliged.
Rollins first teamed up with IFC in 2004 with a show called
Henry's Film Corner which morphed into the show's current
incarnation in 2005. Of the fact that IFC keeps coming back for more,
Rollins says, "It's one of the major shots in the arm of my lifeâ¦
basically I've never been given the come on with other people's money."
Which is why he decided to start his own company called 2.13.61 (his
birthday) that he uses to publish his own books, make his own records
and film his own DVDs. "I love that freedom of saying, 'You don't like
what's on the cover then don't put it out because I'm not changing it. I
own the cover. I own that photo session. I'm off the cotton farm and I
don't chop cotton for nobody.'" But working for IFC is a different
story, he explains, "This is their money and their world, the fact that
I get asked back to it every year is stunning to me."
But he has little to be stunned about. Since the show's start, he's been able to attract a heavy following and a consistently impressive roster of celebrity guests. The first season featured such luminaries as Chuck D, Johnny Knoxville, John C. Reilly, Werner Herzog and Penelope Cruz, who, Rollins recalled, was very nervous to meet him. "I reassured her by saying, 'I don't bite.'" He says his show's deviation from the late-night-talk show norm of telling air-filled stories about the first time a celebrity met Tom Cruise coupled with IFC's freedom from sponsorship and hovering publicists, offer a nice break for the stars, particularly for an A-list actress like Cruz. She came on Rollins's show to promote her movie Sahara with Matthew McConaughy and Rollins recalls telling her before the interview, "I have never seen Sahara, I'll probably never see that movie. I would like to talk to you about your work with Pedro Almodovar and your work with Sergio Castellitto." According to Rollins, she instantly relaxed. "And as a result, we got this great interview from her."
Rollins likes to stick to the engaging, intelligent conversation, because he himself has a low threshold for boredom -- and assumes the same of his audience. "They have a remote in their hand. If they get bored they go away. I know I do. And I know the audience isn't stupid and they don't like their intelligence insulted. I surely don't want mine insulted. That's why I don't want dull guests. I don't want a dull band and I don't want dull topics to talk about." Starting off his second season with guests like Peaches, Marilyn Manson, Ben Stiller and Ryan Adams should no doubt accomplish this mission.
Will his small L.A. studio, dubbed "The Bombshelter, " ever serve as a boxing ring to battle one of Bush's cronies or a right-wing FOX News anchor? He says right now he's mainly interested in people he admires -- but that's not to say he wouldn't welcome a good political debate if given the chance. "I'd like to get on a FOX newsperson and just say, 'OK, you're not going to be able to cut to a commercial break. And if you do your stupid presidential daily briefing talking points I'm going to dismantle you.'" The angry man in the cage is begging to be let out.
The Henry Rollins Show airs tonight on IFC at 11 p.m., with celebrity guest Iggy Pop and musical guest Iggy Pop and the Stooges.