Rutger Hauer interview: Alien: Out Of The Shadows

Legendary actor Rutger Hauer speaks to us about his new audio book Alien: Out Of The Shadows, Blade Runner and poetry...

It goes without saying that Roy Batty in Blade Runner is one of Dutch actor Rutger Hauer’s signature roles. Yet in the audio book adaptation of author Tim Lebbon’s Alien: Out Of The Shadows, Hauer plays another synthetic human from a Ridley Scott movie – the duplicitous Ash, played with icy efficiency by Ian Holm in 1979’s Alien.

Out Of The Shadows takes place between the events of Alien and Aliens, and sees Ellen Ripley once again meet her acid-blooded nemesis on a mining ship called the Marion. But as well as the alien threat, she also has to deal with the digital ghost of Ash, who’s managed to upload himself to the Narcissus – the vessel Ripley used to escape from the exploding Nostromo years earlier.

With a story like that to promote, maybe it’s appropriate that we interviewed Rutger Hauer on a very crackly phone line, which seemed to make both of us sound like a digital ghost emerging from the ether. Nevertheless, Mr Hauer proved to be wonderful value, as his stream of thoughts meandered from the challenges of voice work (something he hasn’t undertaken before) to USB sticks and the internet and his work on Blade Runner.

The great actor even took time to read us a poem he wrote, inspired by his work on the film Drawing Home. We’ve tried to transcribe it as faithfully as we could, given the presence of some unfamiliar Native American words and the aforementioned crackles on the line, so we apologise in advance for any misspellings in this part of the interview.

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This is undoubtedly one of the most unusual interviews we’ve ever done, but it’s also one of the most fun. Here’s what Rutger Hauer had to say…

You play Ash. How do you get into the mindset of a character who’s basically a disembodied voice?

Well, let’s see. There’s two things basically. My attitude to pretending to be someone is that you study the screenplay and then, when you’re about to do it, you unzip, you know? I don’t know how else to say it. I never think I can be a character completely – it’s my craft that I’m honing. That’s my take on it. 

The other thing is, I want to tell the audience just enough so they can take it on. I don’t want to tell too much. So I’m always dancing between that, and we did a lot of work on cutting down things; Ash speaks a funny language. Of course, I’m not English, and I’m a bit of an alien myself. That gives you a freedom, I guess, when it comes into play and you have to find a form for it.

In film, I can use a lot of my voice. Not everything has to be articulated so you can hear it. It’s really different. In audio, [the voice] is all they have, and there’s no point in mumbling anything so people go, “Huh?” So that’s a very new thing for me. I had to work a tonne on that, and it felt like I was acting. And I hate it when I feel like I’m acting! [Laughs]

That was my trouble with it. But he’s a great character. He’s a pixel character. He’s a computer talking, playing Chess games. And he says he never lost, and he fails at some point, which is a disappointment – but wonderful. It ends in a very wonderful way, this whole episode. I think it’s very well written. It’s very tight. When you read a screenplay, it’s like you have a knife in your hand, and you’re trying to get between the lines. The Hitcher was like that, and this [Alien: Out Of The Shadows] was like that. It’s an intense job, to make it work. And you don’t want it to feel like [work] – you want it to feel as organic as it can be. 

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Character, to me – I have no idea. I have no idea who he is. You’re playing an illusion, and in many ways, everyone I play is an illusion. But this one, [Ash], is as close as you can get to an illusion. 

Is that part of the fun for you, though, finding the humanity or the mischief in something like that?

Yeah, it depends on the piece and what you think you can do – that [defines] what the charm can be. [Ash’s] ambition is to bring something home to his makers. But he’s an artificial intelligence – he’s a memory stick or something like that. He travels. 

You travelled yourself in your teenage years. You became a sailor and travelled the world…

I have a tonne of memory sticks, you know. I look into it with what I have. I love that. I love the whole thing, that, you know, we carry digital pieces around. A hundred-thousand [inaudible] on a memory stick. It’s incredible. It’s incredible. The internet is incredible. I mean, this is incredible because I’ve always liked radio. It’s still a very new medium, I think. I’ve never done it before, so yeah. It’s really nice. 

You often rewrite the dialogue in your films. Do you think it’s your love of poetry that sets you apart as an actor? 

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Well, poetry is in my heart, and in some of the roles I do it comes out if I feel it can. I compose things – I never improvise. I wish I had that confidence – I come from Europe. We don’t go to school and improvise, we do fucking Shakespeare which is terrible, you know, for film. You have to understand, I’m a film actor – I was an actor on stage and it feels very, very uncomfortable. Although acting is great, I never felt i belonged on the stage. I felt shy, intimidated, frustrated. I figured out what I was missing – I don’t want to go too far into it, but I worked out the reason not to be on stage. I decided to be a film actor if I could, you know?

Why am I saying this? Jeez. I forget. [Laughs] Where’s my memory stick? 

There’s a literary quality to your acting that makes it interesting. For a character like Roy Batty, he’s like a fallen angel from Paradise Lost, for example…

Uhh… can you make that a little simpler for me?

Yeah, sorry. I wonder if the way you played Roy Batty came from your interest in poetry as well.

I think I understand your question. Your voice is a little bit like Ash now! [inaudible] Ryan, do you want me to read a poem for you? [Laughs] I have one ready. I wrote it this morning. 

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I’d love to hear your poem.

Keep it in mind. I have a poem I want to read to you if we have time. But the question about Batty – you were asking about poetry.  And you wanted to know where it came from?

That’s right. I think it’s that quality that makes him so interesting. He’s not a typical sci-fi synthetic – he’s more like a fallen angel from Paradise Lost or something. 

Well, Paradise Lost is lost on me – I never read it. I saw a play with the title in a theatre but it was a long time ago. The poetry was inside the character. Ridley said to me, “If there’s anything you can think of that is more human than human, I want it, and I’ll use it if I think it fits.” There was a poem of about four lines – I forget, I think it was [William] Blake or something. So in his makeup, in his program, there was a sense of poetry. A sense of soul. There’s, like, 20 ingredients that make no sense. He has a conscience. I mean come on, you know? That’s so nice. So that’s where the idea came from. 

And in the last speech, that he had in the script, there were some poetic lines, and I kept two of them. Then I basically took the freedom of basically cutting, I think there were about 20 lines, and I felt after all these deaths of my colleague Replicants who were so opera in their size and in their style… I said to Ridley [Scott], “In the end, when batteries go, you don’t have time to say what you never said before. So can we do it fast?”

And he kind of agreed on that, but at the last day of shooting, I still had this page in front of me with so many lines that I didn’t like. So that night I didn’t sleep, I got up and I wrote. The only line I came up with was, “All those moments will be lost in time like tears in rain.”

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That’s all. That came from my fuckin’ heart and my soul and my frustration. And I didn’t know if Ridley would like it. In many ways, looking back, what I did, or what I feel I did, was I created the silence for this scene, and of course the speed. So you don’t see it coming, and if I did my job right, which I wasn’t sure about, you would share a little bit with this character. “Oh my God! He just went!” You know?

I had the pigeon in my hand, so I didn’t have to play dead. I just let the pigeon go, and the pigeon would be my electric soul, let’s say. It’s the spirit. There’s a lot of irony in all this. The electric dove, and all these programs that are better than human beings. I think it’s fascinating. As we all know now, the first cut wasn’t the best cut, and the whole happy ending of Harrison Ford’s character with the living doll going into space while mumbling philosophical mumbo-jumbo… that was such a bummer. I was so happy that Ridley got a chance after 25 years to release his version. His preferred Final Cut. When I saw that movie I finally understood it, you know?

I always thought it was man and machine. But it’s even more funny – it’s machine and machine. I think that is so sexy, so brilliant. There’s such dark humour in there that I love. And the whole film, the whole Blade Runner film, is full of it. That film turned around over 30 years, and now I get all the credit. I mean, how amazing can it get? I was ahead of my time. And I’ve seen it before. Ridley was ahead of his time. My character was ahead of his time. And it’s weird and beautiful to see time catch up with you. It’s a mixed feeling, but it’s really interesting.  

How much of Blade Runner was down to serendipity, do you think?

As you know, the film ran into a thousand problems that were not anticipated. We didn’t even have a finished script when we started shooting. The writer’s strike was at hand and that stopped us, so we couldn’t really write. Tonnes of things. But that’s what it takes, you know? That’s what it takes. Not always, but to make something beautiful, as beautiful as this, you need somebody like Ridley. You need a lot of money and a lot of luck, and, oh man, you need so many things to make a really good film, you know? People forget that. I’ve made crap. And it’s very difficult to make crap, too! [Laughs]

What’s it like to create a world in your head as your playing a character in an audio book? You’re sitting in a recording booth, I assume, playing Ash. There’s no set, you don’t necessarily have other actors. So you have to create this sci-fi world in your mind, I’m guessing?

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I have no idea. It was well-written, and we cut it down as much as we could. It doesn’t really sound like me, but it’s close! [Laughs] How can you be a method actor in a piece like this, you know? Though I’d love to try. It’s the ultimate illusion to not have the visuals and just reading the audio, trying to create this structure of words so [the listeners] will understand you’re in space. There’s a line in this, of course it’s not new, but there’s a line where Ash says “When I imagine looking at the Earth from this far away, I feel something.”

As you probably know, he thinks there’s something happening with him while he’s on this long trip. He’s a mind made by some doll maker. Then he evolves in a way, and he feels loneliness, which makes no sense. He’s a program. “Why do I feel this?” In a way, I feel there’s a link to Harrison Ford’s narration [in Blade Runner] where he says, “What’s wrong with me? I feel something!” Mind you, that voice over sucked. [Laughs] And that was a lot of work for him. Jeez. 

Were you familiar with the Alien films before doing this book? 

Yeah, they’re great films. I loved Alien. He [Ridley Scott] is a maestro. I’d be very interested to see what the hell he’s doing now [with Blade Runner 2]. I don’t think he’s directing. We’ll have to wait and see. If you make jewellery, it stands on its own. I never really understand why people want to make number two. It has to go to China or something. But we’ll see, you know? I love him. I love him. I was a virgin when I started dancing for him in many ways. 

Shall I read you my poem?

Yes please. That would be fantastic.

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I worked on a film that I hope is coming out this year. It’s a beautiful, two-and-a-half-hour, classic film about two landscape painters. At some point, I felt it might be nice to get into the spirit of the lead characters. I read it this morning while I was looking over stuff, and I went, “Yeah, that’s good.” There’s a funny thing about this, but I’ll read it to you. It’s called Wacho Chappa. And it means Spirit of the Wolf. 

The fire is dancing tonightThe winds are talkingDancers from past lives lead me backTo the history I know

Spirits dancing to the heartbeat long agoLike the winds whispering my sweet love dreamsI see Šung’manitu-tanka, my guiding wolfWacho Ci Chappa

I have no idea what I wrote, but it ended up in the film!

Oh wow!

Yeah. I love things like that. And because you started talking about poetry I thought, “Maybe you want to hear this”. 

It’s beautiful.

We’re inspired by all different elements. I was looking for an American Indian poem. I found one, and I wrote an email saying, “Can I use this poem” and I never got anything back. Then I thought, “Okay, I’m an American Indian, I can write this.” But in a way it’s my – what’s the word – it’s my respect to American Indian thinking, if I can say that. It belongs to the spirit of the man I play in the film. It’s called Drawing Home.

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It’s a German director, a first-time filmmaker [Markus Rupprecht] who’s made a beautiful two-and-a-half hour film. It’s gonna show up in the film festivals, I think. I hope. But yeah. Poetry is good, man! I’m making a case for poetry, because… on my website, I have about 300 poems written by fans. I say, “You write a poem. If I like it, I’ll read it back to you.” And I give it back to them sometimes.

The internet’s such a great place, you know? We live there now. And I really hope nobody fucks it up. 

Rutger Hauer, thank you very much. 

Alien: Out of the Shadows – an Audible Original audio drama – is available from 26 April, free with a 30-day trial at Audible.