Names didn’t always stick with me when I watched movies as a kid. But faces did. The face of an actor in a movie would implant itself in my brain for years to come, especially if that face was a little scary. One such face was that of this huge blond guy with piercing blue eyes in one of my mom’s favorite movies, the historical fantasy Ladyhawke. The image of that man, astride a horse, sword on his hip and hawk on his arm, was one I never forgot. He was the hero of that movie and I was still a little scared, not least because he’s kind of a werewolf. I later learned that actor was Rutger Hauer, and the more movies I watched, the more Rutger Hauer’s face and name stayed with me.
Variety reports that Hauer, the Dutch actor of over 170 movies and TV shows, has passed away at the age of 75.
After working for over a decade in European films and television, Hauer made his first big American splash as the terrifying villain in the Sylvester Stallone cop-actioner Nighthawks. His next big role after that was the one we’re still talking about. In a movie all about blurring the line between real and artificial, Hauer’s Roy Batty in Blade Runner is the most human. It’s his journey toward self-discovery and meeting his maker that creates all of the drama; his cat-and-mouse game with Harrison Ford’s Deckard is the movie’s best sequence, ending in one of the great monologues of cinema.
Hauer played a lot of amazing villains, from the psychopathic John Ryder in The Hitcher to the icy vampire lord Lothos in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But I always loved it when he played the hero. Ladyhawke made Hauer the tragic Romantic hero. In the film, he and Michelle Pfeiffer are lovers cursed by an evil wizard. During the day, he is a man and she is a hawk; at night she’s a woman but he’s a wolf. The most they ever get are fleeting moments of twilight in between transformations. It’s truly lovely.
He played a modern, comedic version of the blind Japanese swordsman Zatoichi in Blind Fury. He plays the sort of Obi-Wan figure in the otherwise forgettable cable sci-fi movie Crossworlds. And he even got to play Van Helsing in Dario Argento’s Dracula 3D. In later years, he got to play the title hero in the supremely ridiculous Grindhouse spin-off, Hobo with a Shotgun, where he gives that movie more gravitas than it has any right to have.
Batman Begins, True Blood, The 10th Kingdom, Sin City, Channel Zero, Kingdom Hearts III; Hauer’s résumé is as stacked with great performances and oddball titles as any character actor could hope for. He always brought an elegance, a danger, and a mystique to every role he played, and at 75 he had seven more projects in various states of production.
Rutger Hauer is a rare kind of actor, and one whose performances won’t be lost to time like tears in rain.
Images: Warner Bros