Interview: Rutger Hauer

Interview first published 8th March 2012 20 June 2013

TCS Exclusive: Rutger Hauer talks to Nicholas Tufnell about Blade Runner, Hobo With a Shotgun, The Hitcher and Hollywood

It’s 9.55am LA time. Rutger Hauer is still finishing his breakfast. “Are you sure you don’t want me to wait?” I ask, “might be a little hard to answer the questions whilst eating”. “No.” Is his immediate response, “I can think whilst chewing.”

Rutger is a stage, television and film actor, originally from the Netherlands. He quickly made a name for himself in Hollywood, staring in Blade Runner, The Hitcher, Nighthawks, Hobo with a Shotgun and with appearances in Batman Begins, Sin City and over 100 other films and television dramas starring alongside the likes of Harrison Ford, George Clooney, Sylvester Stalone and Christian Bale.

“I was convinced that acting was for fools.” He begins, “I was on the stage when I was 8 with my father, he was playing one of those Greek blind guys that sees things and warns people, whilst I was in a blue skirt. I think there were 5000 people in the theatre, it was ridiculous.”

All of this was announced excitedly whilst eating what looked like sausages, spaghetti and bread. The notoriously unconventional actor even appears to have an unconventional breakfast.

“It took me a long time to find out that I was born to be an actor. It was the last thing on my list, although my list was very small. I didn’t know what to do. But kids weren’t supposed to know what to do back then, we were all cute and we’d find out what we’d do later in life.”

When Rutger was 15 he ran away, having decided to become a sailor. For a year he sailed around the world aboard a freighter – it gave him the chance to see other countries and cultures in a way most 15 year olds never could. The poverty disturbed him, but likewise he encountered the “beauty of life and the ocean.” I asked him what he learned from his time travelling, “By not going to school I learned that the world is a beautiful place and needs to be discovered.”

In light of this, I wondered if he viewed his acting career as an accident “Yes. When I came back my parents told me to try acting school. It was great fun but I didn’t really feel like it was my cup of tea. The acting felt so fake to me, I didn’t really feel in my spot until the moment I got in front of the camera. It was quite a big trip before I discovered what I should do in life.”

In 1982 Rutger starred as Roy Batty, a bioengineered robot hunted down by Rick Deckard (played by Harrison Ford) in the critically acclaimed Blade Runner.

“That film was a dance for me. It was a creative dance with Ridley in mind. I got Ridley and I gave him more than he could even imagine. I cherish that film, it gave me so much hope; it was really something I thought should be made. Also, I can’t tell you how wonderful it is for that film to have such a long life – it was my real first international dance with my talent and my imagination.

“One of the big things that I fought for was the ending. I wanted the last scenes with Deckard and Batty to be a dance and a game. The big macho fight, I don’t care for. It doesn’t really tell a story, we’ve all seen those fights so many times, we know what’s going to happen. If a battery dies, it dies pretty quickly; you don’t have time to sing a song about how wonderful life is. If you have to start doing a monologue about the things you miss, it’s going to hold up the ending and it’s going to be untrue. So Ridley in general sort of went with it.”

Blade Runner, however, was not an immediate success. It took many years for the film to find its audience, with low ticket sales and a largely negative critical reception on release. Today it’s frequently voted as one of the best (or indeed the best) science fiction film ever made, and a ‘must see’ film irrespective of its genre. “To me, the story, the script, the book and the fight of man against artificial intelligence; all these things I found very interesting – the film has its own truth. If anything at all, it’s like a dream, all films are like dreams to me.

“The fact that the public weren’t ready for it didn’t bother me. I just think it’s nice if a film gets the audience it deserves, which after 30 years it eventually did. That’s part of the uniqueness of Blade Runner, it wasn’t released in the right way but there was always a bunch of people who kept it alive. There are so many interesting things about Blade Runner that it’s really hard to put it into words.”

The Hitcher, released in 1986, was similarly dismissed by critics, only barely making a profit at the box office. I asked Rutger if he felt the film was ahead of its time, whether or not he thought it was the precursor to the ‘torture porn’ films of the early 2000s?

“Out of all the films I did, I never quite understood why I liked it so much. The Hitcher for me was another dance, like Blade Runner. It felt like a haunting dustbowl in the desert. The games played were like a tap dance on a drum. I sort of created a little bit of a vague back-story for myself; there should be some sort of mad, strange magic to this guy who always shows up in weird places; he’s a real ghost I think. You can only do that with film, in a book it’s harder, in film you can be a phantom.”

Looking over Rutger’s filmography, I was surprised by the variety of movies he’s appeared in. I wondered if his constant switching from one genre to the next was a conscious decision or something that evolved naturally: “I think it’s important to have a variety of material. I don’t think you can just gamble on one film a year, I think that would kill you. There’s not a whole lot of choice, there’s no plan for this, so I’ve been incredibly lucky that people want to work with me.

“For instance, Hobo with a Shotgun came out of the blue on Skype. The initial decision was made in 30 seconds. I’m not Hollywood. I’m very far removed from Hollywood. I don’t even think it really exists, what people mean by Hollywood is plastic tits and a lot of hype created by models or something. It’s not for me.”

Was Hobo with a Shotgun a gamble for you? “Of course it was a gamble. I think almost everything I do is a gamble by nature because, OK, good scripts are fine, that’s promising, but that doesn’t mean you can’t screw it up. Making a good film is really hard.”

It sounds like Hobo with a Shotgun was a fun film to shoot “Yeah it was. The director and I were like right and left hands. It was really creative; it was people making movies with friends. Nobody was making a ton of money; we were just doing it because we thought it could be interesting. The fact that it would be a success did not dawn on me. I thought it was so bad, we were doing everything you’re not supposed to do in a movie.”

Finally, are you happy? “Yes. It’s really hard to put into words what you get back when you put so much time into the movies… their smile is enough for me. They smile when they’ve seen The Hitcher, that’s pretty tough! If you find your place in life and then can run with it – that will make you happy. The work makes me happy. In the last year I saw my wife a couple of weeks here and there, that’s not so easy and I had very little time off, but I love it. She seems to be able to love me enough to hold me, you know? So, yeah. It’s amazing… it’s amazing.”

Nicholas Tufnell

Interview first published 8th March 2012