An interview with Basket Case Trilogy star, and Oak Park native, Kevin Van Hentenryck
Rex Reed called Basket Case, “The sickest film he’d ever seen!” However, over the last 25 years, Basket Case has become one of the most influential cult films of all time. It’s star, Kevin Van Hentenryck, was born and raised in Oak Park, Michigan. After graduating high school he headed off to New York City to college. Recently, Kevin sat down with Detroit online cult film magazine, The Mondo Film & Video Guide and talked about growing up in Detroit, experiencing the motor city’s music scene growing up, and he also talks about his career.
Q: Kevin, growing up in Michigan you wanted to be an actor, what was the driving force behind that?
A: The driving force was…I was good at it. I enjoyed it… Most of us are trapped in our own little sphere, and acting is kinda a way to escape that, even briefly you know. What got me into acting, was this girl that I liked, that I had a crush on, and I heard she was in plays. So I said “Well, I could be in plays” so it was a way to meet her and get to know her. And I did. The play we where in together was the last play she actually did, but I was hooked.
Q: So basically you got in acting to get…girls?
A: (Laughing) To get close to the girl… And that never happened of course, so the rest is kinda history!
Q: How did you initially get involved with Frank Henenlotter and the Basket Case films?
A: Well, the girl who actually played the social worker with the glasses in Basket Case, her and I where going out, and while I was going to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City, she was the register there, and she said a couple of times, “there is this filmmaker friend of mine you should meet” so I did, and we got along really well. I did several parts in an earlier short film of his that never got any distribution, called “Slash Of The Knife.” My memory of it know is that, Frank was using friends and people he knew in his projects, like “Hey, put down that light, and come in the door and say this!” I was trained as an actor, and I guess he liked the result. So I started giving him a hard time, telling him he should use student actors, you get better results, and they’ll do it just for the experience. Shortly after that, he called me up, and said, “I’ve got this other film, and that turned out to be Basket Case.“
Q: When you got the script to Basket Case, initially how did you think you where gonna approach the Duane Bradley character?
A: Well, I’ve never asked Frank about this specifically, and I probably should, but it seems to me like it was written for me, or for someone like me. It was very close to what I was like, or part of what I was like. It seemed really easy to me. When the fit is right, it works. And you don’t have to labor it.
Q: When you read the script, how did you feel about the nude scene. And looking back, how do you feel about it now?
A: That wasn’t in the original script. We spent a long time filming, cause we had no money. So we did half days, cause we couldn’t afford to feed the crew lunch. We worked on Saturdays. We’d film some, and then Frank would put together a rough cut of the footage to show people to get more money. Then we’d do some more. And do it again. And, I’m not really sure of the timing anymore, but at one point Frank had this idea for that sequence of me running through the streets nude , and as it related to my brother and his escapades, and it seemed to me a perfectly natural thing to do. Frank, of course, was right about that, and it worked very well, and that scene wouldn’t be nearly as effective without that. We did it in February down by my loft in Tribeca, and it was cold as shit. So, I was freezing, and it was in the middle of the night. Back then Tribeca was this abandoned derelict old factory neighborhood, so it wasn’t too difficult to pull off. It was just very cold and uncomfortable.
Q: I have a fantasy that there is this secret outtake or blooper of you falling during the filming of that sequence.
A: (Laughing) Ouch…fortunately no!
Q: What overall is your favorite memory or experience of working on Basket Case?
A: You know that it continues to have life, legs, and it reaches people. That we on almost no budget on 16mm, where able to put together a film, that in spite of itself, continues to reach people, that’s the most amazing part of Basket Case!
Q: Was it difficult for you to continue on with the Duane Bradley character working on Basket Case Part 2, with all the years in between the making of each..
A: Not really, cause even though I’m not Duane, Duane is me. No, actually it was alot of fun cause we had a bigger budget on Parts 2 and 3, then we did on the first film. We where able to give it a more professional look cause we shot it on 35mm. And, you know…No, it was actually really good, that element of it.
Q: Of all three Basket Case movies, which one is your favorite? And now essentially that the story has gone full circle, would you ever consider doing a part 4 if that opportunity was available to you?
A: The first one is my all time favorite… For alot of reasons, you know one of the things that I tell people about my sculpture. Stone carving takes a long time. I often tell people, cause they ask me “Doesn’t it bug you to work on the same thing for a long time?” We did a Rip Van Winkle that took us 14 years to carve, it’s at the top of Hunter Mountain, and we did it for the summer festival here, and people would watch us. So I always tell people, the longer I work on something the better it is. Because you have more time to consider it, and you get to view it from different lights and from different emotional perspectives. The work itself teaches you how to do the work, in a funny kinda of a way. Yes, I’ve often thought, that I’d love to do a 4th one, in fact I have a treatment partially written for a 4th one. If I ever did it, it would be the twins now, my age. And how they’re kinda settled into a life, and there is a set of female twins with their own twisted story. And one of the primary elements of the 4th one, would be the fact that Belial was never really a character but a characture, and I would play Belial in the 4th one, we would fully develop his character and the interaction between the brothers.
Q: In Basket Case 2 and 3, your face is featured in the Belial character. Was that a difficult process to undergo?
A: They always took casts of my face. And they would use those to produce the different Belial’s, the stunt Belial, the hero Belial ect.. That’s a cool process, watching the guys who create that stuff.
Q: My idea for the 4th one is alot of fun.. I envision Duane and Belial going west. Like a story about the brothers in the old west. Can’t you just see them with cowboy hats on, and riding on horseback up the trail into the sunset? Belial trying to lasso a calf! Basketcase 4: Giddy Up! (2011)
A: (Laughing) Oh my god..You’re a sick man!
Q: You’re a full time self taught sculptor. In a previous conversation you told me that you ready had your mind set at becoming a sculptor, before you even started work on Basket Case. Also, you’ve mentioned your inspiration for becoming a sculptor was when you initially saw the Ken Russell film, Savage Messiah (1972). What was it about that movie that inspired you to become a sculptor?
A: It wasn’t so much that film, but during the course of that film, they had that actor who played “Henri Gaudier” and in one scene he has to produce this piece of sculpture to show someone in the morning, so they steal a gravestone, and they work all night, and in the scene they show a close up of actual carvers hands working a block of stone. I was so turned on to and by the idea of a rock as a plastic medium, for the next several weeks I…the school I went to was right around the corner from Sculpture House, a sculpture supply place. So I spent a couple weeks, just walking by and looking in the window, then I worked up my nerve, to walk in, and look around, and walk out. Finally I got some money together, walked in, and actually spoke to a sales girl, and I started asking her every question I could think of about the tools, stones, and how you do it, blah blah.. I bought a basic set of three chisels and a hammer, and I found a rock on the street somewhere and I just started banging on it! What really has propelled me since that moment, is the first time I touched steel to stone.. epiphany is too light of a word for it.. I had this incredible experience, that this was what I was meant to do, like I had angels swirling around my head. And it’s a absolute certainty of something, that’s really rare in life, and that’s driven me forward since.
Q: You’re also a musician as well. Have you always been interested in music?
A: I’ve been playing guitar for a long time. I’m a singer and performer, but I could never find someone to play guitar like I wanted, so I just ended playing the guitar as well. For years I did the club scene in lower Manhattan, never really got anywhere with it, put together a lot of bands that never really went very far. I’m actually doing a thing up here, where I’ll be playing on the local radio station in the not too distant future. I still do some small local gigs occasionally.
Q: Growing up in Detroit, where you influenced by any of the famous Detroit musicians / groups that where around, before you left for New York City?
A: You know, I had a couple experiences early on, that I’m sure affected me. When I was very young, I went to the Michigan State Fairgrounds. I went to meet girls. But there was a triple bill under the tent this one night, and the first act was Bob Seger, but not the Silver Bullet Band, it was before. Then it was Alice Cooper’s band, but they where just awful, and everyone left. And then Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels came on, and everyone came back and the tent was jumping. Another time, I was dating this girl, and we went to see Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes at this VFW hall in west Detroit, and the stairs had these ramps on them, so we walked in, and the whole place was filled with members of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang, and their motorcycles. We where the only non bikers there. They gave us a hard time, but after a few minutes, they left us alone. It was a good time. So I musta be influenced by Detroit.
Q: When you moved to New York City, did you get into the music that was being produced there at the time?
A: I wasn’t too serious about my music when I was in Detroit. It wasn’t until I got to New York City, that I got really interested in music. I started to go back and examine my early influences. What I do know, what I tell people, is that my music is a cross between early Patti Smith, a hint of AC/DC with a pinch of Gordon Lightfoot to season… This should convince people that I’m outta my mind! (Laughing)
Q: You’ve got a CD of your music, that you self produced, that’s available on your website. Are there any plans to do another?
A: You know if it worked out, I’d love to do music too. As you get more into things, you discover how much time they take up. I used to try to do the acting, the music, the sculpting, but I had two kids, and that was a wonderful detour. Now that my kids are older, maybe I can return to that. My oldest daughter is away at college, studying acting. She’s a natural. I had to work at acting, but she’s a natural..
Q: Kevin, what’s in the basket?
A: (Laughing) Well, perspective is everything. Some would say, the other self, alter ego, the dark half. One of the things that makes Basket Case work is that it has these archetypes in it, that everyone has another side to themselves. There is a public side, that’s socially acceptable, but we all have that other side, that we aren’t comfortable with. Or that others aren’t comfortable with. That’s what’s in the basket! The parts of us that we keep hidden, that we feel that others won’t understand or accept!
For more information on Kevin, or to buy his CD’s or purchase sculpture from him directly please visit his official website at www.kevinvanhentenryck.com.