Many actors would kill to get just one iconic, memorable role in their career. Fortunately, the Netherlands-born Rutger Hauer had a career filled with them starting all the way back in 1969 through his death at the age of seventy-five on July 19th, 2019. It’s a filmography so dense, so packed that if you were to recite it, you’d end up breathless. He forged a great partnership with fellow Dutch talent Paul Verhoven in films like SOLDIER OF ORANGE, SPETTERS, and FLESH + BLOOD. He worked with Ridley Scott on what would be his inarguably iconic role as replicant Roy Batty in BLADE RUNNER, a role Mr. Hauer considers his favorite, going so far as to put his memorable stamp on the role by rewriting his unforgettable “tears in rain” speech himself. He balanced his film presence with DTV grindhouse trappings like SPLIT SECOND (a VHS staple for many folks my age), the Dan O’Bannon scripted BLEEDERS and the grindhouse treat HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN.
He struck roles in fan-favorite movies like SURVIVING THE GAME (one of the best ’90s action-thrillers and baby, you know I’m right) and BLIND FURY.
He even left his imprint on the comic world with turns in SIN CITY and BATMAN BEGINS. He twice played a villainous vampire, once in the maligned-but-not-so-bad 1992 horror-comedy BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and in the made-for-television remake of SALEM’S LOT. Hell, he even played a vampire slayer himself in Dario Argento’s wild DRACULA 3-D. Mr. Hauer also put his individual stamp of kindness on the world, forming the AIDS awareness organization, Rutger Hauer Starfish Association, even donating proceeds from his autobiography – All Those Moments: Stories of Heroes, Villains, Replicants, and Blade Runners. Mr. Hauer’s latest role of note before his passing was a much-lauded turn on the third season of Syfy’s CHANNEL ZERO: BUTCHER’S BLOCK.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my personal favorite role of Mr. Hauer’s: that of the phantom killer John Ryder in Robert Harmon and Eric Red’s 1986 hitchhiker horror western, THE HITCHER (criminally unavailable on home video in the US). Most actors would have, to put it bluntly, fucked up the take on this mythic maniac. Mr. Hauer’s approach was to let the desperate, sweaty psychopathy loose in gusts of quiet ferocity. He imbued this cold-blooded nomad with a deft chameleonic chemical imbalance. You couldn’t tell if he was going to slit your throat or strike a smile. Mr. Hauer’s million dollar poker face helped create a sense of unease, particularly in the shocking centerpiece of the film, a scene that chills my spine endlessly, where Ryder menaces his victim, played by a game C. Thomas Howell even as his love interest’s life literally hangs in the balance, tethered between two howling diesel trucks. Mr. Hauer played John Ryder as a monster whose only purpose is to have no purpose. It’s a gutting, horrific performance.
Though life has tragically taken your talent away from us, cinema has made your soul immortal.
Rest in Peace, Mr. Hauer, wherever you are…