Nerd History (with Tom Elmore): TEARS IN RAIN: Remembering Rutger Hauer

“All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.”

Recently the world lost an actor who created two of the most famous characters in modern science fiction and fantasy, Rutger Hauer.

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Hauer was born on January 23, 1944 in Breukelen, Holland, while it was under German occupation. Both of his parents were drama teachers. He grew up in Amsterdam, but at age fifteen Hauer ran away from home to spend a year on a freighter. Upon his return, Hauer worked as an electrician and attended night school. Upon finishing his degree he attended the Academy for Theatre and Dance in Amsterdam, except for a short stint in the Dutch Army as a medic.

After completing his studies at the academy, Hauer joined an experimental acting troop. His big break came in 1969 when Paul Verhoeven cast him as the lead role in the Dutch television production Floris, a medieval action drama. Four years later, Verhoeven cast Hauer in the romance film Turkish Delight. The film received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film and is considered the best Dutch film of the 20th century. In 1975, Hauer appeared in his first English-language film The Wilby Conspiracy. However, Hauer found himself returning to Dutch films, most notably the 1977 World War II drama Soldier of Orange.

Hauer made his American film debut in 1981’s Nighthawks starring Sylvester Stallone. Hauer played Wulger, a cold-hearted psychopathic terrorist. The Dutchman’s introduction to American filmmaking was not ideal. The original director was fired after one week. The credited director, Bruce Malmuth, best known as the ring announcer in the Karate Kid movies, was very inexperienced and missed the first day of shooting due to travel problems. Furthermore, both Stallone and Universal Studios interfered so much in the film’s post-production that its release was held up for a year.

Hauer was injured twice during his first scenes and reportedly had several on-set disagreements with Stallone. To make a bad situation worse, both Hauer’s mother and his best friend died during production and he had to fly back to the Netherlands for their funerals. A decade later Stallone had praise for his co-star, saying “Hauer’s performance held [the film] together — he was an excellent villain.”

Hauer gained film immortality in his next film playing the sympathetic replicant anti-hero Roy Batty in Ridley Scott’s (Alien, Thelma & Louise, Gladiator) 1982 science fiction/ film noir homage Blade Runner. The film was based on Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? However, the title came from Alan E. Nourse’s novel The Bladerunner. Scott liked the term “Blade runner” so much that he acquired the rights to use it.

Through most of the film Batty is hunted down by Rick Deckard, played by Harrison Ford in a role intended for Robert Mitchum. Deckard is a “blade runner” a special agent of the Los Angeles Police Department in 2019, (yes, you read that right) whose job is to track down and “retire” (i.e. kill) replicants. The bio-engineered androids are almost identical to humans, but have superior strength, speed, agility, resilience and intelligence. Consequently, many replicants are used for menial labor, dangerous jobs or as soldiers. Though some have a failsafe of a four year life cycle, the best way to test if a person is a replicant is a series of verbal questions called the Voight-Kampff test. Because of an off-world replicant mutiny, replicants are banned from Earth and Deckard’s job is to chase down those who arrived on the planet illegally.

One of them is Batty, a military model with a genius level intellect, superhuman physical strength, and exceptional combat skills. When we meet him he is three years and ten months old and wants to extend his life somehow.

Without giving away too much of the film, when Deckard and Batty meet, Batty delivers what has been called “The Tears in Rain Speech”:

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.

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The speech was originally written by scriptwriter David Peoples and was re-written by Hauer the night before and presented to Scott on the set just prior to shooting. It is now regarded as one of the greatest speeches in film history with one critic calling it “perhaps the most moving death soliloquy in cinematic history.”

Scott was a fan of Hauer’s Dutch film work and cast him for the role without ever meeting him. Philip K. Dick considered Hauer “the perfect Batty-cold, Aryan, flawless.” Hauer considered it his favorite film he worked on. In a 2001 interview he said “Blade Runner needs no explanation…There is nothing like it. To be part of a real masterpiece which changed the world’s thinking. It’s awesome.” The same could not be said for Ford whose battles with Scott during the film’s shooting are the stuff of Hollywood legend.

Nonetheless, test screenings for Blade Runner went so badly that Warner Bros., over the objections of both Scott and Ford, added a narrative voice over by Ford. They also added a “happy ending” without Scott’s input. The film was released on June 25, 1982 and had a decent opening weekend of $6.1 million. However, the film ultimately became a box office disappointment taking in only $33.8 million against a budget of $28 million.

Part of this was due to the film receiving mixed reviews. Critics hailed the look of the film, which was inspired, in part, by the silent film classic Metropolis, and the special effects by Douglas Trumbull (2001-A Space Odyssey). However, many critics found the film slow and low on action. Still, Blade Runner received Oscar nominations for production design and special effects, with Hauer receiving a well-earned Saturn Award nomination for best supporting actor in a science-fiction movie.

Thanks to cable television showings and VHS sales and rentals, the Blade Runner developed a large cult following and is now regarded as one of the most influential science fiction films of all time. It has appeared on numerous “all-time greatest films” lists, including the American Film Institute’s all-time top 100 movies list and top ten all-time science fiction films. In 1993 it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.

Since 1982 several different “edits” of Blade Runner have been released, resulting in a total of seven different versions of the film having been seen by the public (Eight, if you count a four hour version Scott showed studio executives). The last one, 2007’s “Final Cut” is the only one in which Scott had full artistic control over. This version received a limited theatrical release and was included with four other versions of the film in a multi-box set.

After Blade Runner, Hauer appeared in a succession of American films, none of which made an impact on his career. Then came his most notable post-Blade Runner performance in yet another cult classic, 1985’s Ladyhawke.

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Directed by Richard Donner (Superman, Lethal Weapon 1-4) Ladyhawke marked a change for Hauer who got to play the hero and the romantic lead. However he was not the first choice for the male lead, Kurt Russell was, but he quit before filming began, allegedly due to scheduling conflicts. Ironically, Hauer had been offered the role of the film’s villain but turned it down out of fear of typecasting, but, because he liked the script, Hauer let it be known he would play the hero if the role opened up.

Though Warner Bros. claimed the film was based on a medieval tale, it was actually based on a story by Edward Khmara, who filed a complaint against the studio with the Screen Writers Guild and won. That was one of many problems facing the film’s production which consequently resulted in Ladyhawke taking four years to make.

In the film Hauer plays Etienne of Navarre, the former Captain of the Guard of Aquila, Etienne secretly married Isabeau of Anjou (Michelle Pfeiffer). When the Archbishop of Aquila, who had wanted Isabeau for himself, finds this out, he places a curse on them. By day Etienne maintains his human form, but by night he is a wolf. Isabeau is a hawk by day, but human at night. They can only see each other in human form for a brief instant at sunset and dawn. They are always together, yet always apart.

The film opens with Etienne rescuing a young thief named Phillipe Gaston, a.k.a “The Mouse” (Matthew Broderick). The Mouse has just escaped from the Dungeons of Aquila and wants Etienne wants to use the thief’s knowledge as a way to get into the city and kill the bishop in the hope of lifting the curse.

The film was shot in Italy and was not an easy shoot. For the climactic scene, inside a chapel, a church had to be built from scratch, a process that took two months. Broderick spent days filming in freezing water. While they put the actor in insulated wet suits for long shots, the suits could not be used in the close-ups.

Hauer claims to have lost twenty pounds wearing his heavy armor and sword. The sword, which was one of the biggest ever seen in a movie up to that point, was a replica of a Zweihander, a two-handed German sword that was popular in the later 1400s to early 1500s. They were often four feet, seven inches long and weighed 8-9 pounds.

Hauer made himself comfortable when not on call by staying in a fifty-five foot long, eighteen-wheel custom motor home trailer that he personally built. Hauer, himself, drove it 2000 miles from Holland to Rome (Donner was not pleased when he saw it.)

Though this was just Broderick’s fourth film, (At the time Wargames was his only major screen credit) he received top billing and the largest salary, $750,000 or $1.75 million today, even though Hauer and Pfeiffer had more impressive film resumes. This is even more surprising when one considers that Broderick was the third choice to play “The Mouse” after Dustin Hoffman and Sean Penn turned the part down. (Broderick’s next project involved playing a guy named Bueller.)

Upon its release, Ladyhawke was a commercial and critical disappointment. It made only $18.4 million against a $20 million budget, though it received Oscar nominations for Best Sound and Best Sound editing. Like Blade Runner, cable t.v. and VHS eventually turned Ladyhawke into a cult classic.

Ladyhawke was a turning point in Hauer’s career. Though he enjoyed making the film it led him to decided that he did not want to play the leading man anymore and chose to accept smaller parts, out of fear that producers, fans and mangers would try to take over his career. “It may be money, but then your life’s… I’m not going to say ‘over,’ but there’s no…privacy.”

The one exception to this rule was Robocop. Hauer was the first choice for the title character, but the film’s director felt that Hauer’s 6-1 frame would have problems in the character’s armor.

For the rest of his American film career he generally played small roles in big films, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sin City and Batman Begins, or big roles in small films. He also appeared in a number of television shows and mini-series, including Smallville, Salem’s Lot, and True Blood, as well as some television commercials.

In his native Holland, Hauer remained the biggest star in the Dutch film industry. In 1999 he was voted by his countrymen as the Best Dutch Actor of the 20th Century. In his career Hauer received 19 nominations from international film festivals and societies, winning 15, including a Golden Globe in 1988 for the made-for-television movie Escape From Sobibor.

In his private life Hauer was married twice, and had a daughter by his first wife. An environmentalist, Hauer was a member of the board of advisors of the Sear Shepherd Conservation Society. He also established the Rutger Hauer Starfish Association, an AIDS awareness organization. In 2007 Hauer published his autobiography, co-written by American author/activist Patrick Quinlan, All Those Moments: Stories of Heroes, Villains, Replicants, and Blade Runner, with the proceeds going to his AIDS foundation.

Hauer died on July 19, 2019 at this home in Beetsterzwaag, Holland of an undisclosed illness. He was 71. Fittingly, Hauer’s character in Blade Runner dies in 2019.

Evaluating Hauer’s career is not easy. Right at the height of his career he decided not to seek stardom, yet he was a working actor for five decades with 173 acting credits. On one hand, it is easy to wonder how big a star he would have been and what roles he might have played had Hauer chosen to be more aggressive in pursuing his career. Yet on the other hand, one has to admire an actor to takes on the industry on his own terms.

One thing is certain, Hauer created two of the most memorable characters in genre history, Blade Runner’s Roy Batty and Ladyhawke’s Etienne of Navarre, and that is something that most actors can only dream of.

-Tom Elmore
Staff Writer/Resident Historian
Nerd Nation Magazine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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