I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Like Rutger Hauer peeling a satsuma with one hand.
The cult actor, star of Blade Runner, The Hitcher, Hobo With a Shotgun and countless others, is sat opposite me at Amazon’s London Audible office, speaking to the press about his latest leap into the realm of science fiction with a role in audiobook Alien: Out of Shadows. It’s a fitting return for the verbose Hauer, one that draws a link back to Blade Runner director Ridley Scott (behind the camera of the first harrowing Alien film), and Hauer’s own penchant for playing deranged cyborgs. But it also marks a first for the veteran actor, being Hauer’s first audio-only performance.
“It’s my first time,” says Hauer. “I knew that I had to realise that the audio has to be enough. Everything has to be there, have a presence, in that audio. I tend to (when I do films) let the picture tell a lot of stuff, as well as other people. And I fumble with my lines and cut them. Some of them have a focus, most of them don’t. Maybe that’s not so good.”
At 72, Hauer is still a magnetic presence in the flesh. Having played hard-hitting action roles like that of blind ninja Nick Parker in the insane kung-fu flick Blind Fury, the audio drama proved a unique challenge for Hauer. Recording for an audiobook is “an art, the ultimate illusion” he admits, before revealing it was only an 11th-hour character change that kept the Dutch star on the project.
“Originally I said no - he [director Dirk Maggs] told me he really wanted to work with me, but when I got deeper into the character I saw ten episodes with a tonne of work, basically. I felt if I had to do this I’d have to adapt it to my non-British voice – I thought that would be too much work and we don’t have time, so I said 'I'm sorry I don’t think I can do this.' But I said there’s another character if you feel I can fit in that I think I can do, and I can do that well enough – Ash.”
Ash, as any self-respecting sci-fi fan will recall, is the treacherous, milk-filled android (first played by Ian Holm) that turns on Sigourney Weaver’s crew in 1979’s first, classic Alien flick. Out of Shadows, set between the first two Alien films, once again sees Ash out to secure the deadly xenomorph creature for his superiors, even if at the expense of a space-faring mining freighter's human crew.
A clip from Alien: Out of Shadows
Playing a marauding artificial intelligence is starting to become something of a habit for Hauer, what with his scene-stealing turn as the Nexus replicant Roy Batty in Blade Runner. And it’s a concept that he still finds darkly fascinating.
“The whole idea that we become slaves to artificial intelligence is the bottom line,” says Hauer. “How far have we gone? It’s a threat to our own intelligence, we think it might get smarter. And boy, I don’t know if it’s smart, but we sure have interesting technology now.”
I ask Hauer if stepping into another actor’s synthetic shoes, albeit offscreen, is a help or a hindrance.
“I had the good fortune to work with [Ian Holm] twice, so that helped me,” recalls Huaer, though his take on Ash is quite different from his British forebear's.
“There was no time to find the right clip to see what Ian had done before, and the director was...I wouldn’t say reluctant, but we were just too pressed for time. But I saw the trailer and Ian is there dying for ten seconds going 'Slurp! Ree! Gurgle!'”
Not that Hauer is any stranger to a good death scene himself. “I hold the record for dying on screen. Period. For ever,” he teases. “I should be in the Guinness Book of Records.”
And it’s the iconic death scene of Blade Runner’s Roy Batty (if, indeed, an android can be said to have died), that cemented Hauer’s status as a cult hero of science fiction cinema. The infamous “Tears in Rain” speech, delivered with such gravitas at the dramatic finale of Blade Runner, would have been far different had Hauer not gotten his hands on it, completely reworking it from the clunky dialogue that appeared in the original script.
“To me Blade Runner is Fellini, it’s circus, it’s dolls, it’s like opera, a big fucking opera in a different skirt,” smiles Hauer.
“I felt in the end that we really have to draw a gasp, blow minds. Don’t start talking about hi-tech stuff. ‘We’re not binary machinery,’ blah blah blah! That’s like a doctor talking before he dies. Shut the fuck up! So I cut all the lines – but still, this is a studio movie, we’re over budget by $8 million. People were very nervous. It was the last day of shooting, it was raining all night. We were only halfway in, but we were so tired. I’d done 25 hours of work so I walked off the set, which you don’t do with a studio movie. You just don’t do it. ‘You’ll never work in this town again!’ But I just said, ‘I’m doing it, call me tomorrow’.
“There was an actor’s strike that would take effect the same day. So it was a very, very, very nervous moment. But I had the guts to walk off the set, and we had the luck the strike didn’t happen. Because then I would have fucked myself forever!”
But that much-needed time away from the set, away from the pressures of big studio demands, was well spent – Hauer returned with a final monologue so poetic, so evocative, that it would go on to define the film itself.
“I didn’t sleep, but I wrote. I basically cut all the lines but I kept the opening, you know ‘I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe’. And then I had the line ‘All those moments will be lost in time like tears in rain’. In my mind, I wrote the silence for the scene. I wrote a ‘good’ ending. It feels right – he gives Harrison Ford’s character Deckard the life Batty can’t have. And Deckard doesn’t get it. It’s a very generous move.
“I was happy, and I was finding myself, my acting abilities. I didn’t really know that at the time, but that was what I was doing. I can see that now – I was getting my feathers. I felt I got my ground, all the things that were mine became half of the character, the things that came to me.”
But it’s a character that Hauer very nearly turned down, in part because of a “stupid” role that his long-time collaborator Paul Verhoeven had offered him: RoboCop. Can you imagine?
“I was the last one to be cast, everyone else in Blade Runner had been screen tested and they said ‘you’re gonna do this.’ And I said, ‘well, let’s talk about it, let’s see what it is’ because I had been offered RoboCop by Paul Verhoeven. I didn’t feel like playing a robot, that was stupid. But Scott said of Blade Runner ‘give it anything you can think of. This is a character driven piece. They call me a technical director but I don’t think I am, I love what actors do.’ And he really, really gives them all the room - not everybody can handle it.”
Luckily for us, Hauer took the role and elevated it to one of the most fondly remembered in science fiction history. But Hauer has mixed feelings about the forthcoming Blade Runner sequel, now slated for an October 2017 release.
“I don’t understand why they’re calling it Blade Runner if they have a new project,” he says.
“There’s something with the name I guess that pleases them, but is it the same?
“They’ve been rebooting things that I’ve made before and it’s a very strange compliment in ways. There’s like a musical made of a film that I did, a very sexy film that I did that was remade with new sex. That was the first one I ever did and it was after a great book. And then if you remake it and you do it after a bad book, it’s like...why would you want to do that?”
With part of the magic of Blade Runner laying in the ambiguity of its ending, I ask Hauer if he thinks the original should be left to stand alone without a sequel.
“What are you going to say, it’s just a matter of ‘go ahead, make my day,’” he replies before miming blowing his brains out with a gun. “So I think yeah, absolutely, yeah.”
That’s not to say he’d turn his nose up at the script if it landed on his doorstep.
“I’d take a look at it of course as I’m interested to see what it is. But you’re like fishing in a pond where you have no idea what is in it. I’m curious what Ridley [Scott, now the sequel’s producer] will do. The director [Denis Villeneuve] is a very interesting director so...Let’s put it this way – I hope it’s better!”
It’s definitely an unenviable task that Villeneuve has before him, trying to bring something new to one of science fiction’s most analysed films, without ruining the original’s mystique. However good it is, it’s likely that hardcore fans will be up in arms come Blade Runner 2’s release. But Hauer is philosophical in the face of similar criticism.
“There’s a whole thing about my circus – I’ve always realised that you can't please everybody. If you want to please everybody you’re losing your soul,” says Hauer.
“Heroes have to be heroes, they can’t be flawed. My heroes are always flawed.”
Alien: Out of Shadows – an Audible Original audio drama - is available now. Pick it up at www.audible.co.uk/scream.