Hauer play
The Dutch actor sets the story straight in a new memoir


Sunday, June 17, 2007
Star-Ledger Staff


Rutger Hauer is beginning to seethe.

He sits in a dark Manhattan bar, frowning. Eyes as hard and blue and cold as Delft porcelain dart around. Then he finds who he was looking for and as she approaches he begins to growl, half to himself. And pretty soon, although his voice stays soft, the anger is apparent.

"What do you think?" he says. "Where did this come from? I think this just started, yes? Is that true or that not true, that this just started?"

The bartender says she's not sure when the background music started, or even how to turn it off. She apologizes and disappears. Hauer looks at her. The giant TV screen nearby remains tuned to a cowboy film on American Movie Classics. The small speakers scattered around the bar play techno-samba, unabated.

"I didn't ask for this pollution," he says bitterly. "TV screens in elevators. Commercials everywhere. Great idea. Let's have more. More and more and more."

No, Rutger Hauer is not someone to hide his feelings, good or bad. Disappoint him, and he will tell you. Try to deceive him, and he will call you on it. He is an unadorned character, and perhaps sometimes that gets him in trouble in the world he moves in.

But it's made him, for almost 40 years, an unusual and sometimes powerfully scary actor, in films from "Blade Runner" to "Sin City." And it's made him, now, a first-time author.

The memoir, "All Those Moments," is from Harper Entertainment, and the title is a line from his speech as the uber-man "replicant" of "Blade Runner." But it's also a reference to the subject's own, wide-ranging life, from years spent with a communal group of traveling players to run-ins with Hollywood icons.

It's an unusual book for a couple of reasons. First, it actually does name names, telling stories about Hauer's most egotistical co-stars (get over yourself, Sly) and least congenial ones (cheer up, Harrison, would you?). And second, Hauer has earmarked all his royalties for his own AIDS charity, the Starfish Association.

"From the first dollar," the 63-year-old actor declares. "Usually you hear about this, it's 'a percentage,' blah blah blah, yeah, sure. But no, the first dollar I get from this goes to charity and every one after. And I enjoyed writing it, although I couldn't have done it without (co-author) Patrick Quinlan. The only craft I really know is acting."

He could say it was in his blood. Both Hauer's parents were stage actors in his native Holland; as a child he was often parked with relatives while they worked, sometimes as far abroad as Indonesia -- or looked for work at home, less successfully. Despite the lean years, he says, "they were always so possessed about the profession."

Their only son, however, was less enthused.

"I didn't have any interest," he says flatly. "I did go to see movies, yes, but that was not a career in Holland. You didn't think of yourself growing up to become a movie actor. And I didn't see myself going on stage."

Hauer did see himself as a sailor, though, and at 15, he joined the Dutch merchant marine. But his color-blindness meant he could never qualify as captain, and a year of laboring as a deckhand was enough. A required stint of service in the army was even less attractive.

"At that age, you only know what you don't want to do," he says.

Out of options, Hauer finally entered acting school -- and found a calling. After graduation he joined a troupe of players determined to bring theater to the people -- this was the '60s, after all -- and traveled around the country, bounding into remote hamlets and playing Shakespeare in barns.

"It was pretty pure," he says fondly. "But the troupe abandoned its own ideals. Instead of bringing theater to the people, no, they wanted to have a theater, and have the people dress up and come to see us. So I pretty much fired myself and chose film instead. Besides, if you're with a company, they own you. Nobody owns you in film."

He had already had a small hit in Holland as the star of "Floris," a made-for-TV swashbuckler that lit up tiny Dutch screens in 1969. Then in 1973 he heard that the director, Paul Verhoeven, was casting a film based on the steamy Dutch best seller "Turkish Delight," the honest story of a rough, unromantic love affair.

"He didn't ask me to come in," Hauer says. "But I found him somehow ... And I think from the moment I walked in he knew I was right for it, I owned that character. And when the movie came out, it was unbelievable. It out-ran 'Cabaret,' 'Last Tango in Paris,' all of them. God, I could not put my mind around it."

Still, it wasn't so inconceivable that Verhoeven and Hauer didn't want to try again. Their next collaboration, in 1977, "Soldier of Orange," was a huge hit at home as well. When it, too, began playing to foreign crowds, it became clear that sleepy little Holland now had not only a famous new director but a genuine matinee idol.

"I was suddenly a movie star in a country that didn't have movie stars," Hauer says. "Well, OK, Sylvia Kristel. She got a lot of attention (in the 'Emmanuelle' films) because the French liked her ass. Which was pathetic because she is really very bright... But you don't have a lot of say in these things. People see you in a movie, they use you, OK, fine. They use you. You keep going."

Verhoeven and Hauer enjoyed working together, but after more than a decade it was time to move on.

"The struggle we go through is always the same," Hauer says. "He would fight for the earthiness of the character, and I would try to find some of the heaven in him. He's a great filmmaker but he has very little patience. He likes to do things very quick, and that can play with the music of the scene. Emotions need time, and Paul's not so hot on that."

Neither artist was so hot in staying in Europe, and soon found separate projects in America.

"We just don't have enough Dutch people to have our own movie industry," Hauer says. "The country is so small, and the language is a barrier (to export) -- what they need to do is start shooting their movies in English, like (Denmark's) Lars Von Trier. This is nothing new -- ever since our nation came out of the water, we've had to make accommodations with Europe. But these changes take a long time."

Hauer soon discovered, though, that American moviemaking had its own drawbacks.

"'Nighthawks,' the director had made one and a half commercials, and suddenly he's directing a movie?" Hauer asks. "Why? He was a nice man, nothing wrong with the guy, but he is not the real director, you can tell that from a mile away. The star is directing that movie, Sylvester Stallone. So this is America, and there are unions and all kinds of work rules, and now I'm on a set where all these rules are bending? And I go, well, I am not bending, even if it will kill me. And I don't mind telling them this, but this is ..."

And Hauer's eyes flash again.

"Do you hear that?" he says. "Do you hear it? This music is ridiculous. We are trying to do an interview here and this music is absurd."

He turns around to glare at the bartender. She has disappeared. He cranes his neck, trying to find a waiter in the room. Nobody. Suddenly exasperated, Hauer bolts up and stalks off. The tape recorder rolls on. Moments pass. There are voices from the lobby. Finally he comes back after a few minutes, flushed.

"And no one knows how to turn the music off," he declares. "No one. Of course. Wonderful. Yes, keep playing and playing music we don't want to hear. This is marvelous."

A happier moment in his life was Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner." A commercial flop when it was first released, over the years it's been revealed as one of science-fiction's most influential films; continually revived and re-appreciated (and even occasionally revised) it's due for a brief theatrical run this fall in what's being billed as the "final" director's cut before a deluxe DVD release from Warner Home Video.

"It's the most unique film I've been part of," Hauer says proudly. "Every day you saw the little pieces of the puzzle coming together into not even what you thought it would be, but something better. When I saw it for the first time, wow, I just thought, what a great piece. What a great piece. And then to have the audience give it such a long life -- that's like icing on a big cake."

If there's any small irritant in all of this -- and there is, for Hauer, there is -- it's that star Harrison Ford has seemed to disavow the film ever since its initial disappointing release.

"That's what makes his day, how much money something makes, fine," Hauer says. "To me, the motives of an actor don't mean anything -- it's the result, and if you do well, great. But Harrison was never part of the team. There was always a little bit of a whining contest on that set, a lot of complaints... A lot of people, I guess, didn't have a good time -- it was a tough shoot. Well, OK, it was a tough shoot, but so? So what?"

The early '80s were anything but tough for Hauer. He reteamed with Verhoeven for another medieval story, "Flesh + Blood." He fought -- and won -- the right to play the romantic lead in the chivalrous adventure "Ladyhawke." He played the slickly psychopathic bad guy in the original "The Hitcher." And, quite by surprise, he began to grow into the career he'd stumbled into two decades before.

"It was only around then that I came to grips with who I was as an actor, and that was pretty late," he admits. "I was so reluctant in the beginning to take it seriously, to take myself as an actor seriously. I don't mean bloody seriously, but to give any of it some thought, to trust my feelings. But, you know, I didn't trust anybody. We'll always find a reason not to trust people."

"Hitcher" was a hit, but it was also an albatross. The actor who has first been typed as a handsome swashbuckler was now typecast as a generic Euro-villain. Hauer slid permanently from exotic leading man to evil foreigner, and eventually became the Klaus Kinski of the movies even Klaus Kinski wouldn't do. The titles -- "Omega Doom," "Bleeders"-- tell as much of the story as you need to hear.

"All of it is a gamble, and you just have to go with it," he says of his choices. "'Mentor,' which I did recently, was actually a very beautiful story, and they got me for about $1.99 because I liked the script. And then they took it away from the director. And I asked him, 'What the hell is going on here? I'm on your side, why are you letting these people interfere?' But he was just too kind or modest or weak or something. So it happens, even with the best of projects."

Hauer doesn't waste time waiting around for the best projects, though. He likes to work -- 50 movies and TV series in the last 10 years -- and lately has had some small parts in better pictures, like "Sin City" and "Batman Begins." He keeps homes in Holland and Los Angeles (and his own Web page, www.rutgerhauer.org, to keep in touch with fans). And in between jobs, he and his wife of 22 years, Ineke, get in their 25-year-old tractor-trailer and just drive.

"The secret is very simple: Love someone to death," he says of their union. "Being married as an actor is very difficult. We are constantly negotiating geography and priorities to be with each other, and that's not easy. There are quite a few things which are not easy and you just have to try to cope. But first you have to find the right person. I had been a bit hurt before, but I met her, and it changed my life. So, yes... she is my bonny."

And so the formidable '80s bad guy goes happily into his 60s, still fighting, still filming and still happy to tell people exactly what he thinks.

"Sometimes the work is exciting and sometimes you just have to save your ass," he says. "But whatever it is, you always have to defend your own work. If this is yours, then people should not touch it, out of respect. And if they do, you have to stand up and say, 'Look, I don't like that. Will you stop it? Will you stop it now? Or do you have intentions to go on? Because if you do, I will have to kick your ass.' I don't know, I think people should express themselves. Don't you?"

The still perfect jaw is set. The porcelain-blue eyes are flashing. And it is perhaps not a coincidence that, very unobtrusively, someone has finally, quietly, turned down the music at last.