In the ‘80s, Rutger Hauer was a big deal. From Roy Batty in Blade Runner to Ladyhawke and The Hitcher, he was an action hero, a villain, a romantic leading man. He’d come from the Paul Verhoeven crossover Soldier of Orange, and he also did a lot of weird underground movies like The Blood of Heroes and Blind Fury.

For the past two decades, it’s seemed like Hauer fell into obscurity, though his IMDB page lists tons of constant credits we haven’t heard of. He’d pop up on “Alias” or in Batman Begins, but the recent phenomenon of Hobo with a Shotgun seems like his comeback. In a roundtable with the press at Sundance, Hauer explained the plan he’s had for his career all along.

We discovered Rutger Hauer in the late ‘70s

The international release of Soldier of Orange led to Hauer’s Hollywood career. “I had a career in Holland and I had a career in Germany that was sort of short.” Hauer said. “I did five films and a television series in Germany. Then I went to America because I had the Soldier of Orange film that took me over there. That was in the ‘80s, Nighthawks.”

The first version of Blade Runner

We all know the newer director’s cuts, but Hauer remembers the people who stand by the 1982 theatrical version, with voiceover. “Fans were upset about the director’s cut the first time,” he said. “Don’t get precious. You don’t know shit. Remind yourself you never know the whole story. The edits that Ridley released, the way it came out into the press is that people thought there was a conflict. There was not a conflict. Basically they didn’t know how to release the movie at the time and they decided together that it was better to have the cut where Harrison just keeps whining away with ‘I feel so depressed today and I’m a detective and blah blah blah blah blah.’ The first time you see the movie is also when it hits you the hardest so many people are really fond of that version because you’re not clean for the next version or the other one. But they’re all good.”

Lost in the ‘80s

The ‘80s movies were about Rutger Hauer trying to find himself, with some lofty aspirations. “I did my thesis in school about Beckett and got lost,” Hauer said. “Beckett is always saying who the fuck am I, who the fuck am I? I had no clue but even when I got lost I was still there. Then I think for a long time, as an actor I was trying to look for myself in the acting. Let’s see, I started films in ’71 and in the ‘80s, the year that I did Legend of the Holy Drinker, that’s when I came back. Legend of the Holy Drinker is one of my favorite movies because I felt I landed. After all these years, I landed in my talent. I think the core of my talent is that you can see my soul if it’s the right character. You can read my soul as the character and there are not many people who have it. I didn’t earn it. I was born that way so I’m not saying go to that school.”

The Hitcher was the pinnacle of Hauer’s weirdness

The dates are a little iffy. Holy Drinker came out in 1988 but he might have shot it first. Anyway, 1986’s The Hitcher seems to be where Hauer hit his personal stride, and it was his last theatrical hit.

“On the set of The Hitcher, I decided to work in a different way because basically I was fighting everything. I was fighting script and directors and sets and everything. I was like a war zone trying to get to the right performance. You’re not doing this on purpose but it’s so hard on everybody. Then I got tired of it and I thought I’m going to let go I am an actor. It’s working so relax. That’s sort of my attitude. I was watching myself on the set of The Hitcher and then I had this young, excited hot kid, C. Thomas Howell, and he said, ‘I’m an actor. It’s my first serious role. I’m so happy to work with you. Anything, do anything you want.’ He created the basis for the relationship between the two. Had it been any other guy who had any macho feelings, I wouldn’t have been able to do this. You know how actors are, ‘That doesn’t work for me. I wouldn’t let you do that.’ He was my puppy this kid, and that’s the story of the movie. Let me teach this puppy pretty much about fear. Get over it and then we’ll talk.”

Highbrow ideas about Blood of Heroes

The Blood of Heroes is a post-apocalyptic sports movie where Hauer plays an athlete called a jugger, playing a sport with the skull of a dog. “I thought it was Beckett a little bit. There was Beckett in there for me. People didn’t know how to talk to each other. It was all about how do you fuck, how do you eat and how do you drink and when do we fight again? The language was hopeless. The thing about David [Webb Peoples] as a director, David was one of the most sensitive guys. I just didn’t understand how that [violence] would come out of him. Halfway through I said, ‘David, what is all this pride and Olympic game and macho shit?’ He said, ‘I don't know, what do you think?’ I didn’t know. There are directors who direct but they don’t really know how to tell you. David was like that so I had to read it in a different way but it was a great adventure. And it’s a weird movie. I love the movie. There are some parts of the movie I just eat it up because I think it’s brilliant. And the music is brilliant too.”

No more Action

1989’s Blind Fury was Hauer’s last action hero role until now. “I just had to stop after that because I had a knee problem and I had to stop it. I always work out pretty much unless I’m doing fucking Sundance. I had 10 years when the hormones were all over the place. I don't know exactly what it was but I was working my ass off. I never eat much and I was gaining wait. I looked like a fat pussy. I say it roughly but I just decided you can only be so old and do action movies and I know America is a little bit more forgiving, but I don't know. I wanted to try and see if I could move into different characters and it’s not easy but I did it anyway. That’s the really strange part. A lot of things aren’t easy but I did it anyway and I don't know how I did it. The work seems to come at me all the time.”

Even Rutger Hauer forgets a decade or so.

“So I did all kinds of movies I guess. I’d have to look it up. Let’s say between ’87 and ’97 I did a bunch of crap movies. I would have to Google myself to see what the fuck I did because there’s always one of them is interesting in between. I have no shame. I love it. I think you need to do a lot of bad things in order to get any good at all but maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s just me.”

Blade Runner: The Final Cut

Oh yeah, back to Blade Runner. Hauer stuck with it through The Final Cut and continued to join Ridley Scott for Q&As. “The final cut basically says everybody’s a replicant. Then the story’s told through this whole battle is going on through a variety of replicants. That’s just so weird. I think that all three versions play fine because somehow the story keeps coming through. In the replicant version, that everybody’s a replicant, is just another version but I like that cut because it’s warmer and has more compassion, especially with Harrison Ford’s character who’s like a cold fish in the other two. Here you kind of get a feel for him because I know he spends a little more time on him in that whole story. Everybody has a little more time in terms of character. I don't think it’s longer but it’s just a different cut.”

Hobo with a Shotgun

For all the weird, obscure movies that distracted Rutger Hauer since his glory days, Hobo with a Shotgun was a tough sell. He wasn’t originally into the violence and profanity, but he liked director Jason Eisener. Together they found the right tone.

“You don’t know what he went through to become a hobo but he’s not sane. He’s not quite sane but he has a purity to it and a simplicity as a character where he goes I want to hold onto this because I know that’s right and I’m going to hold onto this and may be killed for it because I don’t really know what else to do. It’s really simple but nice. It’s not stupid but it’s simple. Stupid, that’s like you’re going to the Oscars.”