'The Third Reich' Interview


Dutch actor Rutger Hauer constantly battled his director on how to portray Hitler's Architect, Albert Speer

By Bill Davidson

(TV Guide - May 8, 1982)

When Dutch actor Rutger Hauer first showed up in Munich to play the lead role, Nazi bigwig Albert Speer, in ABC's "Inside the Third Reich" (scheduled to be shown in two parts on Sunday, May 9, and Monday, May 10), the rest of the cast immediately knew there was something different about him. Hauer arrived with his lady friend, artist Sientje Ten Cate, in his own gold and white-painted house ("the colors of my Cartier watch") mounted on DAF'S 40-foot flatbed, one of Europe's largest. Hauer had built the house and had driven the truck all the way from his home in Rottevalle, the Netherlands. He parked his personal living quarters, for the duration, next to the main gate of Bavaria Studios and proceeded to do his laundry in his built-in washer and dryer - while the rest of the film company had to drive home to the Munich Hilton, some 30 minutes away.

That was only the first symptom of the unorthodoxy of the 6-foot-2-inch, 38-year-old Hauer, who had run away to sea at the age of 15, became a Dutch beatnik motorcycling through the Alps, finally settled down to study drama in his homeland, and burst onto the international film scene with a stunning performance as a Dutch World War II resistance fighter in the critically acclaimed movie "Soldier of Orange." Hauer next won praise in his American film debut as a terrorist in Sylvester Stallone's "Nighthawks."

It is not surprising that during the three months of filming "Inside the Third Reich" in Germany, Hauer remained an enigma to his co-workers - among whom were Sir John Gielgud, Robert Vaughn, Trevor Howard, Blythe Danner and Derek Jacobi (playing Hitler). He was most friendly with the septuagenarian Gielgud, who impishly kept correcting his English from American to British pronunciations.

He puzzled the Americans, who could not figure out his attitudes toward Nazism. Hauer says, "The United States is much more obsessed with the Hitler period than people in Europe are. The Nazis killed a lot of people in gas chambers; I don't have to look at photos of Auschwitz to remember that. But today, we could be killing the entire earth." He is a strong environmentalist.

Hauer researched Nazi armaments minister Speer with a fervor that amazed his co-workers. Not only had he read Speer's best-selling memoirs (on which the five-hour movie is based) but he had pored painstakingly through hours of Nazi film assembled for a documentary by a Dutch friend. An architecture buff, he also had studied the massive and ugly public buildings erected by Speer, an architect, and pronounced them "among the most terrible designs I've ever seen." He came up with the interesting nugget that the 6-foot-4-inch Speer, in civilian clothes, slouched in the background of the other Nazi leaders, who were mostly lower-class thugs with whom he had little in common. "On the other hand," says Hauer, "Speer, when he got into the Nazi uniform, stood up straight and tall and in the foreground, as if the uniform put him in the same class with the others. I tried to play him that way."

Hauer had incessant arguments with director Marvin Chomsky (who previously had done Holocaust) about how to play Speer. He accused Chomsky of wanting him to portray Speer as a victim; Chomsky accused Hauer of wanting to portray Speer as a victim. Hauer wanted to know why Speer's wife (Blythe Danner), who is barely mentioned in Speer's book, was brought into the teleplay fictionally, to act as a sort of conscience and questioner of what Speer and the other Nazis were doing. Says Hauer, "Frau Speer remained loyal to her husband and his policies for life - e4ven through the 20 years he spent in Spandau prison as a convicted war criminal. Does one take such historical liberties, even though it is called 'docudrama'?

When the German magazine Der Spiegel ran a four-page article criticizing the production while it was in progress, Chomsky was very upset at charges that he was "glorifying" Speer. Hauer, who is fluent in German as well as in English and Dutch, said, "You got a bad translation. To see how the Germans really feel, just look at the faces of the people here in Munich when we parade around in our Nazi uniforms. They're all smiling with pride."

The arguments continued. In one scene, Hauer - as Speer - sees an old friend being hustled off to a concentration camp. Chomsky says, "Act as if you recognize him." Hauer says, "No. I should ignore him. Speer drew a curtain in his mind about such things." The scene was shot both ways, although only one will appear on screen. Chomsky and Hauer even disagree about the key eight-minute sequence of the picture in which Speer is interviewed by a Jewish psychiatrist in prison when the war is over. To Chomsky, the essence of the entire movie is when the doctor asks, "When did you first know about the death camps?" and Speer lies, "Not until the testimony at the Nuremberg trials."

More important to Hauer in this sequence is when the doctor asks, "Why did you do it?" and Speer replies simply, "Adolf Hitler."

Despite his philosophical differences with Hauer, Chomsky grew to admire him. He says, "Hauer is one of the most intense actors I've ever directed. He's always working and has a marvelous sense of reaction. We got along fine after I realized that the war that had concerned him the most was Vietnam."

The Chomsky-Hauer imbroglios were unknown or academic to the other members of the cast. Vaughn, Gielgud, Jacobi and Maria Schnell fundamentally agree that Hauer is an exceptionally fine actor - albeit with a curious life style and outlook on history - who should go far in his many upcoming American big-screen films (such as "Blade Runner" and "Eureka").

They wonder, however, how could he have been born in occupied Holland in 1944 and profess to know so little about those dark days, even though his parents and three sisters (all in the Dutch theater) were left alone by the Gestapo and SS.

Hauer answers, "That was the past. This is the present. Besides, I never went to school long enough to study the subject."

Robert Vaughn, a Ph.D., believes that Hauer is a lot more educated than he's willing to admit - "a put-on from his social-protest days." Vaughn also so greatly admires Hauer's house-on-a-truck that he has offered to let him park it on his property in Connecticut for whenever he wants it available to him in the United STates.

Recently, Hauer met with Chomsky in Hollywood to complete some technical work on "Inside the Third Reich." At that time, Chomsky said, "Rutger and I finally agree that what we have done is to demonstrate how the use and abuse of power can pervert a moderate human being into a virulent Nazi. It's a powerful political piece."

We'll see.