Rutger Hauer - Knight Wolf to a "Ladyhawke"

The actor who battered a "Blade Runner" assumes a new role, battling to break a sorcerous curse as hero of a spellbinding romantic fantasy.

By Lee Goldberg

Starlog Magazine - Issue 95 - June 1985

Director Richard Donner was looking for "the personification of the pure hero," an actor who could ride into a scene on a valiant steed and, without saying a word, be instantly accepted by the audience as Ladyhawke's heroic knight.

Sean Connery was the first choice. Problem was, his license to kill had been renewed and he was in the Bahamas, chasing SPECTRE agents in Never Say Never Again. He was also too old.

Two weeks before shooting, Donner settled on Kurt Russell - a strong actor, but not your knight-in-shining-armour type. And Donner knew it.

So, he called Rutger Hauer.

"Earlier, Dick had offered me the role of a bad guy, the Captain of the guards," Hauer recalls. "I said, 'Forget it. I want to play the hero.' He wanted someone younger. So, I asked why would you consider young people for this role? There is more to this than just a teen picture. If you want to tell a story about someone who is about strength, endurance and love, you need an actor with balls. I act from my guts and I know I have the balls. I know I can do it. Dick wasn't convinced."

"I always considered Rutger as a heavy son-of-a-bitch," Donner explains. "I couldn't see him as a real macho hero, the whole make-my-day kind of thing."

Hauer grins, "So, a year later, Dick Donner calls me up in Holland. He asked me to come to Italy in one week. I asked for what role? And he said, 'Navarre.' I was there in 24 hours."

Why was Hauer so enthusiastic about portraying Navarre? Because he sees in this role a strong shot at stardom.

"I think Ladyhawke will do a lot of good for me in America," Hauer says. "I loved the script and I felt it was a film that could attract a huge audience. It never hurts to succeed, you know."

But it's going to be a hard film to sell. Ladyhawke doesn't fit easily into any of the genres it tries to encompass: romance, comedy and medieval fantasy.

"Ladyhawke is very hard to pin down. It's a tale of love, I guess. It starts out as a tale of vengeance and, half-way through, it shifts into a lighter level," Hauer says. "It's daring to put this story on the screen. But once you get into it, it's fun and I think it will be a hit for me."

He was once Holland's cinematic prince, the lead in such popular international hits as director Paul Verhoeven's Turkish Delight and Spetters. When Hauer tried to translate his appeal to American films, however, he failed. His noble efforts - Nighthawks with Sylvester Stallone; The Osterman Weekend, an adaptation of a Robert Ludlum bestseller directed by Sam Peckinpah; Nicholas Roeg's Eureka and Ridley Scott's SF adventure Blade Runner, starring Harrison Ford - all were commercial disasters.

"I'm not sure why they all did poorly. Maybe I didn't make the right films. I don't know a lot about what makes a film go. I do know that I am very happy with Ladyhawke because I feel confident about my performance. I want to be in a good film, not because it will be box office, but because it's good," Hauer explains. "I'm not out to be Mr. Uno and stand out. I understand the allure of being a big shot, it pleases your ego, but I don't need it."

"I want to do a couple of good films and so far have done a couple really nice tries. I feel Ladyhawke is the one. If I am wrong, I will admit it, but, for me, I think this movie will score."

He also thought that he was the perfect choice for Navarre, the knight who is cursed by an evil bishop to become a wolf at night while his lover (Michelle Pfeiffer), who is a hawk by day, reverts to her true female form.

"I feel very comfortable with larger-than-life stuff because I think I know what it is," Hauer says. "If you can bring it off, it feels great. It's the best hero you can play. There's a lot of substance I thought I could bring to it. I know there are very few actors who can do what I have done with Navarre, and that feels good."

But it wasn't easy.

"What screws you up is you've got a sword poking you in the ass, there are these saddlebags and crossbows sticking the horse in the ass, and there's this hawk sitting on your arm. So, you're out of control," he relates. "You just have to hope the horse is feeling OK."

Not to mention the hawks.

"Their claws are very sharp," Hauer states. "I noticed that right away. Their egos became very important, too. There were four hawks, actually. One was very sweet, two were so-so and the fourth was, ah, aggressive. None of them would hurt me, but when we first started shooting, the trainers warned me that if you stare at the hawks, they get uncomfortable and might go crazy. So, for the first couple of days, I was really worried every time I caught the bird looking at me."

"They see everything all the time. They sit there with this amazing concentration. You can't ignore them. Besides, he was my co-star - I had to watch him. If they stare at you while you're playing a scene, you have to relate to it, otherwise you are denying the presence of the bird, and the bird is an integral character in the story. I think there were maybe 10 times where I would have loved for the bird to look at me so we could have a moment. Once the bird did, and it worked. We had a marvellous moment."

Doesn't he feel strange explaining he had "a marvellous moment" with a bird?

"Well, it's a strange film, right?" he counters.

Besides relating to animals, Hauer had to brush up on his medieval combat skills.

"I lost 20 pounds doing the final fight scene in the church," he remembers. "We shot it at the beginning. It's the final act and, once you've done that, it tells you what the film is. It helps when you do the rest of it."

"I've been fencing since I was 14 and I'm very good at it, but the floor of the church was cobblestone and one day I threw my ankle out. It's the hardest floor you can think of to fight on because each stone sits in a different position. My boots were not the kind that give support. They looked great, but, boy, are they lousy when you fight."

Hauer is a seasoned veteran at knight work. The 41-year-old actor was the star of the Dutch TV series Floris, the 23 episode black-and-white story of a "Dutch Ivanhoe" which was directed by Paul Verhoeven, who would later give Hauer the screen roles that caught Hollywood's attention. Now, Hauer has re-teamed with Verhoeven on yet another knightly adventure, Flesh and Blood.

"Flesh and Blood was shot in Spain and it's the other side of Ladyhawke. This is in the air and that film is all in the mud," Hauer says. "Flesh and Blood deals with the day-to-day problems of medieval man. Death was the big thing, and not from hacking each other up with swords, but from all these crazy diseases. The Black Plague was killing everyone off. I loved doing the movie after Ladyhawke. It breaks up the image a little bit."

Another image-breaker came in 1982 with Hauer's role as the replicant Roy Batty in Blade Runner (which he discussed in depth in Starlog #63) (Note from Candy: I will be adding this article later.). "With Blade Runner I thought, what am I going to do with a robot?" he relates. "I wasn't really sure what to do with that role. When you do SF, you have no idea what it will look like. It can look great or tacky. I got into LA and into Ridley's office and I saw the art and it blew me away. I had one talk with Ridley and the deal was made. I had a lot of fun making that film."

"The heavy in Blade Runner, if you think twice about it, who is it? Harrison Ford. he kills washing machines that look like people and somehow the washing machines behave better than your average human being. That's really weird and I liked that touch."

It's unlikely that Hauer will be doing further Dutch films.

"I'm getting into this market, why would I go back?" he asks. "Once you get into a certain level, it is very hard to go back. Level doesn't only mean money, it also means quality. Holland is not a very big country and the movie industry is not very big. I decided to make myself available to this market and this market is picking up for me. You know as well as I do that you have to shape your career a little bit."

He tried hard once to make sure his career wouldn't be acting. Both his parents were actors but he thought "it would be better to be more down-to-earth, have some fun and get on with it," he says. "Finally, after trying a number of jobs, I still didn't know what to do. I wasn't very good in school, I was much happier with the girls."

At age 15, he decided to follow in the footsteps of his great-grandfather, who was the captain of a tea schooner in the Caribbean. hauer lied about his age and became a merchant seaman on a freighter.

"I worked very hard, I was the 'maid' of the ship, I had to clean everything. I loved it. I sailed for a year. I saw New York, Chicago, lots of places. It was wonderful," he recalls. "Travelling is so nice because, first of all, it's new. You've never seen these places before and you meet people who are totally different. You see that there's more to life than your horizon. After that, I went back to Holland and tried high school at night. It was really hard for me."

So hard that he shrugged off education for the army. He did well in the military and was even offered a commission, which he turned down in order to try mountain climbing in the Alps. Later, he toiled as a stagehand and heating engineer at a Swiss theatre before returning to Amsterdam and, at 23, enrolling in drama school. For the next five years, he worked in theatre before nabbing his TV role in Floris. His first movie, Turkish Delight, was nominated for an Oscar as Best Foreign Language film. Six years later, he starred in Soldier of Orange.

His career seems to be picking up momentum. Some people say he's one of a handful of actors tagged as a possible replacement for Roger Moore as 007.

"I heard those rumours, too," Hauer admits. "I don't know about Bond, but they asked me three times to play Bond's bad guy. At one point, I said I think it would be interesting if you really threaten Bond and what is the way to do that? Have a bad guy who has the same spirit, the same sense of humour and the same skill and let Bond face this guy and really be endangered," Hauer says. "But the villains are sidekicks, they aren't really strong. They wouldn't change it for me."

And hw wont' take on a role unless he can change it. "When I play a character, I will do something different with it. I like to tease my audience," Rutger Hauer explains. "I like to surprise them a little bit every time I do a film. And, I think, I do."