Rutger Hauer doesn’t look comfortable in his hotel
room chair. It looks a little small for him, made for smaller boned
people than him, and he’s restless, lighting cigarettes and hunching
forward to drop pellets of sugar substitute into his coffee and
to think out loud. A couple of inches over six feet, his
head looks to be cut from wood, his hands from polar bears.
At 50, Rutger Hauer has a star’s aura,
but he is a little unsettled and you get the impression that it
is not just the chair. Known 10 years ago as a gruff interview (he
would give one word answers like "yes" or "no"
to most questions), he is now positively garrulous, though still
guarded, struggling a little at times with what he wants to say.
Rutger Hauer was first introduced to American
film audiences through two Paul Verhoeven films in the late 1970s, Turkish Delight and Soldier of Orange. Lean and muscular,
with northern European handsomeness, he quickly became an international
He followed up his Dutch successes in America
with chilling performances as the replicant in Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner (1982), and as the low plains drifter in Robert Harmon’s The
Hitcher (1986); but he also revealed a skill with lighter roles,
as in Richard Donner’s Ladyhawke (1985) in which he played
a storybook hero. More recently, in films like Blind Side (1992)
and Blind Fury (1993) Hauer has seemed to be coasting with
two dimensional material.
With this year’s The Beans of Egypt,
Maine, a small-budget film directed by Jennifer Warren about
a poor, scandal-plagued family, Hauer is slowing down. He plays
Reuben Bean, the patriarch of the Bean family, who is absent for
most of the film, in jail for a vicious assault.
It is Hauer’s 52nd film and, at mid-century,
Hauer still plays the heavy pretty convincingly. But with his hair
darkened, his face hidden by a shaggy moustache, and carrying 30
or 40 extra pounds, he is, for the first time in memory, not larger
In Seattle to promote the film during its
appearance at Seattle’s International Film Festival, Hauer talked
about how he prepares for his roles, his own ambitions as a director
and his despair about American ignorance of other cultures and languages.
|Hauer as Bean: Heavier and older, but still "the kid
from behind the dike."
He begins to talk about directing. He says
he is an actor who has "never needed a director" because
"I am the director, I have a director inside of me who’s always
with me and who’s always talking."
He has been developing a film for seven
years entitled Paradise Pages which he describes as a "psychological
Western." When asked to clarify he explains that there are
no guns: "It’s a Western in the way they think, like John Wayne."
For that, he says, "I need secure actors who don’t go crazy
when something different happens in a scene."
The "something different" is
his own presence in scenes, and his plan is to direct himself in
the lead. Hauer has a vivid gravitational force, both in person
and on screen. When in The Hitcher his nameless sunken-eyed
drifter first gets in C. Thomas Howell’s car and asks for a light,
he utterly redirects the scene and the film.
If a significant part of directing is knowing
the weight of character and the destiny of each as issues/09/images in the
larger action, there is plenty of evidence in Hauer’s career to
suggest that he has an intuitive understanding of directing. "I
think I understand certain things, what to do, what not to do. To
me, film is about movement."
It’s an idea he may have learned from Paul
Verhoeven, with whom he has worked on four movies and whose density
of action he clearly admires. What people love about Paul, he suggests,
is that "he puts it all on the screen… what he wants to tell
he puts in his movement, in his action more than anything else.
He says, ‘I don’t know what you mean, but show me."’
Turning to the film he is in town to promote,
I ask him what it was about Jennifer Warren’s low-budget, rainy, The Beans of Egypt, Maine that appealed to him. He replies
that it is two things, the first being that it gave him a new challenge
to create a character largely out of "bits and pieces."
The second was that he wanted to play Reuben
Bean after he returns from prison, "as a, liar," but to
put in something else he tentatively calls the whole "tone"
of the story.
"That’s the Guy de Maupassant element
in Carolyn Chute’s novel: everything is so light like that, like
‘nothing matters.’ I think that’s amazing, since these people are
kind of helpless. In essence it’s a tragedy… about loggers. It’s
about a dying craft, and about isolation." He plays the patriarch
as a sort of feral liar, appearing in the film for ten or twelve
minutes in the beginning and five or seven at the end.
I suggest that Ruby Bean is also the one
character who, with a trace of an accent and a Lech Walesa moustache,
seems out of place in a story so bound to the specificities of Maine
logging families. Does Ruby Bean’s out-of-placeness, like the replicant’s,
like the hitcher’s, draw on some of Hauer’s own experiences in America?
He quickly says, "Well, I’m not homeless." Then, after
a pause, he says more seriously, "I’m still the kid from behind
His is a spectator’s place, and he clearly
relishes an opportunity to speak heatedly about the American reluctance
to engage foreign ideas, films, even subtitles. "Don’t think
of foreigners as idiots," he says excitedly. "Language
comes from a place in the gut, from a place in the human fucking
Americans ought to "read the goddamn
language … get a feel for the language," meaning even their
own. "But people are lazy … they’re trained to be lazy and
they fucking allow themselves to be lazy. It’s sad."
With our time up, he is still pushing his
hair back, focusing his thoughts, crossing and uncrossing his legs,
contested, getting himself ready to direct.