Rutger Hauer’s seen things you people wouldn’t believe.
Storms crashing on deck as he sailed across the ocean, just 15 years old. Cascades of popping flashbulbs in red carpet ceremonies around the world. That time he played a hobo with a shotgun in Hobo With a Shotgun.
Yet in the end, all those moments will be lost in time – because despite his incredible life and busy career, Hauer will probably always be best remembered for a 50-second, 42-word mini-monologue he delivered on screen in 1982, when he was playing fugitive synthetic Replicant Roy Batty in Ridley Scott’s iconic sci-fi film Blade Runner.
Delivered in his dying moments as a stunned Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) looks on, the monologue (below) has gone down in history as one of the most moving soliloquies in cinema – all the more astonishing given that Hauer ended up writing some of it himself the night before shooting, cutting away swathes of the original script before adding the speech’s poignant final line (though not, as is often erroneously stated, improvising it on set).
I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like… tears in rain. Time to die.
Despite its many fine qualities, new sequel Blade Runner 2049 has nothing to touch the sheer poetry of this scene – but its release provides the perfect excuse to revisit Hauer’s near-legendary monologue, which I managed to discuss with the man himself some time ago when he was promoting other projects.
“The irony is that all I did in Blade Runner was… and I’m not saying it’s nothing, but it’s so little,” Hauer says of the scene that more or less made his career.
“I kept two lines, because I thought they were poetic. I thought they belonged to this character, because somewhere in his digital head he has poetry, and knows what it is. He feels it! And while his batteries are going, he comes up with the two lines.”
The lines he’s referring to are the “attack ships” and “C-beams” comments in the finished speech, which were originally part of a longer draft in the script that Hauer “took a knife to” after he decided this kind of talk was too operatic for a manufactured creature like Roy.
“You know, I think a lot of scripts are overwritten,” he says.
“The overwritten stuff comes from the writer and all the executives, but the audience can feel it, and even the best actor cannot sell me with language that is overwritten. I am f***ing allergic to that. OK?
“So, I look at the script, and I look at my part, because I don’t want to touch anybody [else]’s parts. I shave everything that I feel you don’t need.”
“[In Blade Runner] Ridley gave me all the freedom, because he wanted it to be a character-driven story. He’d never done a film character-driven,” Hauer explains.
“He said, ‘This is what I want to do – bring me anything you can come up with, and I’ll take it on if I like it.’”
It was Hauer’s final addition to the script – the “tears in rain” line – that really sealed the speech’s status; on the day of filming itself, crew members allegedly applauded and cried when the scene was completed.
“For the end line I was hoping to come up with one line where Roy, because he understands he has very little time, expresses one bit of the DNA of life that he’s felt,” Hauer says.
“How much he liked it. Only one life.”
Rutger Hauer in 2014
More than 30 years on, Hauer says it’s still the thing he’s asked the most about in interviews. While to some actors it could be irritating to be endlessly questioned about a sci-fi quote delivered decades ago, he doesn’t see it that way, perhaps because of his personal involvement in its creation.
“The reward was so long,” he says. “If people think, ‘Do you get tired of this?’ No, of course not! That’s amazing.
“All I did was write one line – I edited, and I came up with one line. That’s the poet in me – that’s my poet, I own him. Great!”
“And then for that line to have such f***ing wings – can you imagine what that feels like?”