Very few actors are distinctive and really stand out against the sea of Hollywood pretty boys. Very few actors posses that ‘something’ that you can’t quite explain what it is, but you know it’s there when you see it. Very few actors can play a villain and yet, you enjoy them for it. The great Alan Rickman was one of those very few who we sadly lost a handful of years back. And more recently, we lost another one of those very few.
Rutger Hauer sadly died a few days ago, though his passing was only made public recently. It’s pretty hard to know where to start when remembering an actor as diverse and varied as Hauer, but I do know I want to save the best for last. I guess the best thing to do is start with a brief profile.
Rutger Oelsen Hauer was born on the 23rd of January, 1944 in Breukelen, Netherlands during World War II. In fact, the Netherlands was under German occupation at the time of his birth. Aged 15, Hauer left school and joined the the Dutch Merchant Navy where he spent a year travelling the world. He returned home and signed up at the Academy for Theatre and Dance in Amsterdam for acting classes but soon left to join the Royal Netherlands Army where he trained as a combat medic. Hauer decided to give the whole acting thing another go and and graduated from acting school in 1967.
Rutger Hauer landed a few small roles in his early acting career, but it was in the Paul Verhoeven directed flick, Turkish Delight from 1973 where he really got noticed. He began to take on more roles in his homeland but struggled to breakthrough in America. His American film debut was in 1981 where Hauer acted alongside Hollywood heavyweight Sylvester Stallone in the flick Nighthawks. It’s a rather bland and dull action/thriller but I have to say that Rutger Hauer’s performance is brilliant as the main villain, but most of his scenes were cut out of the released film because (supposedly) Stallone felt he was being upstaged and so requested that Hauer’s part be cut. There’s said to be two versions of the film shown to test audiences at the time. The one with all of Hauer’s scenes, which test audiences loved. Then there is the one with a lot of his scenes removed that was not as popular… yet it was the latter one that was released to the public.
Then the following year in 1983, Hauer appeared in a film that many people consider his very best performance, Blade Runner. Here, Hauer played Roy Batty a replicant (kind of an android thing created by man) who was in search of his creator to ask for more life before he dies. Out hunting these replicants is Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) who has been ordered to ‘retire’ any replicants he comes across. Well there’s a lot more to the film than that, but if I were to go into detail, I’d be here all day attempting to explain it. Basically, just go watch Blade Runner (any of the numerous versions), it’s amazing.
Philip K. Dick who wrote the novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? on which the film is based had this to say about Hauer’s performance in the flick:
“The perfect Batty, cold, Aryan, flawless”
– Philip K. Dick
The man himself had this to say in a 2001 interview:
“Blade Runner needs no explanation. It just is. All of the best. There is nothing like it. To be part of a real masterpiece which changed the world’s thinking. It’s awesome.”
– Rutger Hauer
The infamous “Tears in the rain” speech delivered by Hauer’s Batty at the end of the flick was rewritten from the original by Hauer. He then presented it to director Ridley Scott who loved it and included it in the final cut of the film.
After Blade Runner, Hauer finally began to be noticed in Hollywood as the roles started to flood in and he had a steady and respected career through the 80s in flicks such as Flesh & Blood, Eureka and Ladyhawke to name a few. In 1987 he starred in the action picture Wanted: Dead or Alive which is a strange reboot/remake/sequel of the T.V. series of the same name. In this one, Hauer plays Nick Randall an ex-CIA operative turned bounty hunter. Anyway, the character he plays is said to be a descendant of Josh Randall who was played by Steve McQueen in the 1958 T.V. show… which itself was a spin-off of another T.V. show called Trackdown.
Oh and there was the still brilliantly entertaining Blind Fury from 1989 where Hauer plays a blind Vietnam War veteran who is highly skilled with a sword. He sets out to find one of his missing ex-veteran friends. Blind Fury is actually a remake of a Japanese flick called Zatoichi Challenged from 1967. I love this film, it’s a bit silly but it’s meant to be. Blind Fury is an action/comedy/samurai film that’s a lot of fun.
The 90s is where Rutger Hauer’s career really took off as he began to appear in more and more films. Wedlock, Nostradamus, Surviving the Game (love this one), Split Second and of course the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer before the T.V. show even existed. Through the 90s, Hauer was hugely prolific and did a lot of sci-fi and action flicks. But for me, the main thing from the 90s I’ll always remember him for was the Guinness (Pure Genius) ads here in the U.K. The ads were bizarre, strange, obscure and yet they just worked, they were very ‘Rutgery’. You can check them out here.
As the 2000s began, Hauer’s career began to dry up a little, he was still working but you didn’t see him all that often until the awesome 2005 comic book bought to life flick Sin City where he played Cardinal Roark. After Sin City, Rutger’s career took off once more and he continued with his very successful career all though the 2000s. He appeared in the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy with Batman Begins. But my favourite film of his from the 2000s was the overlooked, black comedy, exploitation flick Hobo with a Shotgun. This one is so ridiculously over the top and stupid that it’s genius. The title tells you the whole plot, Hauer plays a hobo who get a shotgun and cleans up the neighbourhood. It’s a stylised, 70s exploitation flick and it’s glorious.
As well as film work, Hauer had a successful T.V. career too appearing in shows like Alias, Smallville, True Blood, Porters and many more. He even featured in a couple of video games with Observer and Kingdom Hearts III.
Of course Rutger Hauer fans reading this would’ve noticed a glaring omission from his acting credits I’ve not yet covered. As I said earlier, I’ve saved the best for last…
Many people including Hauer himself say that Blade Runner’s Roy Batty was his best performance. But for me it was John Ryder from the 1986 psychological horror picture The Hitcher. This is Rutger at his most ‘Rutgerist’. He’s cold, manipulative, dark, murderous, twisted… and yet utterly charming and endearing too. This is that ‘something’ I alluded to before when an actor had that thing that just works and is perfect casting. There is a great mystery surrounding the character, one that film fans have theorised over for years and I aim to offer my own view soon-ish.
The Hitcher is a tense and suspenseful horror flick that really lacks things like blood and gore. It’s more about cerebral horror. The film was pretty much a commercial flop when released and slated by many respected critic at the time.
“This movie is diseased and corrupt. I would have admired it more if it had found the courage to acknowledge the real relationship it was portraying between Howell and Rutger, but no: It prefers to disguise itself as a violent thriller, and on that level it is reprehensible.”
– Roger Ebert
It’s really quite hard to find a positive review of the film at the time. But all that proves to me is that these critics have no idea what they are talking about. The Hitcher is perhaps too subtle for some people to grasp. It’s not an out and out gore-fest, it’s not overtly violent compared to other horror films of the day. It’s just more indirect with it’s message and has a lot more layers to it than you first realise. As I say, I aim on doing a a much deeper look at Hauer’s John Ryder at some point to highlight what I mean. But The Hitcher is brilliant and by far my favourite Rutger Hauer performance.
As of writing and even though he is now gone, Hauer still has a handful of films currently going through post-production to be released later down the line. So we’ve still not seen the last of the great actor yet.
Rutger Hauer died on the 19th of July, 2019 following an as of yet unspecified illness. He was 75 years old.
“I hate guns, I think they’re the worst thing ever invented.”
– Rutger Hauer