Let’s get the monologue on the table, first thing, because he wrote it himself, and it’s brilliant:
I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I’ve watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.
That’s Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner, playing the artificial person Roy Batty in his death scene. After running from and also trying to kill Rick Deckard, played by Harrison Ford—an LAPD detective whose job is to extrajudicially assassinate “replicants” like Roy—Hauer finally faces the running-down of his lifeclock. A movie that has been all about the eye and the I, about what a window to the soul looks like if you might not have a soul to begin with, ends with a genetically engineered supersoldier meditating on memory, death, and the rain. It was a galvanizing moment in a movie already full of them, and it turned Hauer—who died this week at the age of 75—into a go-to actor for lending gravitas to genre, from shlock to sublime, for the next four decades.
In an oral history of the movie that ran in Los Angeles magazine in 2007—I can’t find a link, but I saved a copy of the story because I am like that—Blade Runner’s director Ridley Scott recounts that by the time they were ready to shoot the nighttime scene, they’d been working for 30 hours straight and the studio was about to pull the plug on him. That’s when Hauer insisted on speaking with him about the long monologue in the script.
I said to Ridley that after all these extreme visual deaths, I should die quickly. It shouldn’t be like an opera. I saved just two lines from the script, added a line about not having enough time, and then I came up with “All those moments will be lost in time like tears in rain.” And Ridley liked it and used it.
It wasn’t enough to make Blade Runner a hit, but it was an indelible, profound moment. No surprise that the charismatic dude with white-blond hair could pull that one off. Hauer had been famous for 15 years in his home country of the Netherlands by the time he did Blade Runner, working for the up-and-coming director Paul Verhoeven (who’d go on to make Robocop and Basic Instinct).
Hauer could have made nothing but crap after that and he’d still be iconic. To be clear, he made a lot of crap. There was direct-to-video horror, exploitation, fantasy. I myself have some affection for 1991’s Wedlock, in which he plays an escaped convict linked to another convict, played by Mimi Rogers, by collars they both wear that will explode if they get too far away from each other. This is a guy who released 11 movies in one year—2011—including Hobo with a Shotgun, which is about … eh, you get it. Hauer played the eponymous hobo.
But I want to point to one role that might mean more to GenXers than anyone, and that I’d argue did more to solidify Hauer’s future playing kings, mighty sorcerers, vampire overlords, and other big men in sumptuous robes who tell people that they either must or will never possess some magic crystal or sword of power or whatever. It’s Navarre in Ladyhawke.
Maybe you’ve never seen Ladyhawke, or maybe the medieval fantasy’s tacked-on synth-pop score pulls you out of the story. Don’t let it. Directed by Richard Donner and released in 1985, Ladyhawke manages to do fantasy with almost no special effects—Hauer plays a knight cursed to live as a wolf at, er, night, while Michelle Pfeiffer plays the woman he loves, cursed to live as a hawk during the day. See the problem? (Also, if you are wondering why you love Michelle Pfeiffer, the answer is not Grease 2. It’s her two 1985 films—Ladyhawke and Into the Night.)
Hauer’s black-armored knight, riding a horse so big it’s name is Goliath (a Dutch breed called a Friesian, which Hauer himself had owned; the movie apparently made them popular in the US), wields a short sword, a giant Zweihander, and a crossbow with two over-and-under bows. His big entrance is a fight against multiple enemies while trying to both rescue and kidnap Matthew Broderick—just go with it—and he’s a badass. But then he can also act. As much as the movie seems to slow down and stare at Pfeiffer whenever she’s on screen, Hauer holds the camera, too. He’s like a mountain who sometimes fights.
Hauer brought that apparent heft, literal and metaphoric, to every movie he made. When they were silly, he’d deliver lines with a twinkling eye. When he was supposed to be serious, you could tell he knew why he was there—to make his boat payments, sure, but also to calm the faithful. Hey, we’d say, if Hauer’s up there, maybe someone’s gonna remember Tannhauser Gates later. And you could tell he knew we thought so. He always seemed like he understood the joke. If anyone could appreciate the irony of a journeyman actor’s off-the-cuff monologue about fleeting memory making a larger-than-life character unforgettable, it was Rutger Hauer.