Hollywood has a long history of great character actors, the guys who steal scenes from the bigger-named performers to much less fanfare. Unfortunately, many of these go-to actors never get their chance to shine in leading parts; some, however, come across that one project that finally allows them to run the show. For 40-year acting veteran Rutger Hauer, that project is Hobo With A Shotgun, a gory and hilarious nod to the trashy exploitation movies of the ’70s and ’80s. And as a pissed-off and fed up homeless man who takes justice into his own hands, Hauer kills it.
The Dutch actor first earned the love of genre heads in the 1982 sci-fi classic Blade Runner, in which he played the villain alongside heroic Harrison Ford and basically swiped the movie from Indiana Jones’ A-list clutches. By 1990, Hauer had similarly dominated the cult fantasy favorite Ladyhawke, scared the crap out of audiences in the brutal horror flick The Hitcher, and then kicked excessive amounts of ass as a sightless man with a sword in the dark action romp Blind Fury. Since then, though, he's languished as a minor player in huge movies, such as Sin City and Batman Begins.
In Hobo With A Shotgun, Hauer is gloriously back in Blind Fury mode. The movie is the brainchild of first-time feature director Jason Eisener, who shot a fake Hobo With A Shotgun trailer back in 2007 for a contest sponsored by Robert Rodriguez to promote Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse.
Eisener won the contest, which led him to expand the trailer’s core idea into a full-length movie that accomplishes what Rodriguez and Tarantino could only partially achieve with Grindhouse: It’s the rare reverential throwback to old-school filmmaking that doesn’t feel contrived. And a large part of that is due to Hauer’s admirably serious performance in a movie that features everything from bumper cars crushing people’s heads to a hooker armed with a baseball bat covered in razorblades.
Hauer recently hopped on the phone with Complex to discuss the movie, the difficulties of humanizing a murderous homeless person, and why he’d categorize one of the most violent films in years as “lovely.”
Complex: Hobo With A Shotgun doesn’t seem like a project that many actors would voluntarily sign on to. How’d you get involved with it?
Rutger Hauer: Well, basically, my agent called me from London, saying there was a script that he wouldn’t advise me to do. [Laughs.] Then he said, “And they can’t pay you.” So I said, “Well, ask them if they will pay me, and then we’ll see what happens.” At that point, I read the script, and I remember thinking, “Wow, now this is very unusual.”
I was shooting a film in Cape Town, so I asked if I could Skype with the director. We hit it off in a good hour of skyping, and that’s basically why I made the decision to just go for it. It’s very nice to see that it has turned out this way. It could have been something else entirely. [Laughs.]
When you first read the script, did you expect it to go as far as it does? The movie basically defecates all over good taste from the opening scene to the bloody finale.
Rutger Hauer: Yeah, that part I understood. I was prepared for the craziness. I thought the script was basically polluted, as far as I could tell, with an incredible amount of “Fuck you, fuck this, fuck that!” And once I figured out the tone they were going for, I started to appreciate all of that.
But I also felt that script was a bit flat. Very one-dimensional. So much profanity and extreme violence but not enough there to ground all of it. I mentioned that to the director, and he said, “Yeah, I know that—that’s why we’re asking you to come over and help us out.” [Laughs.] That wasn’t a clever remark; he was being honest. So we decided together how we could get other layers into the script. The fake trailer that Jason initially made was one thing, but a feature film does need more than just the things that will make audiences jump out of their seats and go crazy.
There’s only so much you can do in a movie as simple as this one, but you still have to surprise people, anyway. No matter what the film is, you have to give the audience something they can hold on to, and I think we’ve got that. But yeah, from the first time I read it, I thought it was a very naughty film, but, for that reason, also lovely and crazy and mad and wonderful. I just seemed like too much fun to pass up.
So how were you personally able to give the script more depth?
Rutger Hauer: I didn’t know how we were going to do it, but it needed a real base, to make the character a real man and not just a noisy man who goes crazy when he opens the door and gets into the street. We found little moments for you, as an audience, to get a feel for the other man who is behind all of this craziness. It comes because of this hooker who comes and saves him, and they sort of connect on a much deeper level. It’s a very simple but very sweet string of hope that they hold onto. The story itself has always been very simple, but we were able to give it a heart, so to speak.
From the first time I read it, I thought it was a very naughty film, but, for that reason, also lovely.
Rutger Hauer: Yeah, the funny thing is that one of the first things we talked about, Jason and I, was how the hobo might be an asshole at times and he’s definitely crazy, but we need to play it straight. You can’t go for jokes; he needs to be dead serious. So, I’m the only one in the entire film who plays it completely straight, and that’s because we both felt that we should. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have any shred of realism at all.
To me, I started to realize that the world is like an infection for the hobo, and all he can do is either scream or get frustrated, so the only places he can hide are these little corners of the world where there’s any space left, like how he randomly walks into the town at the beginning of the movie.
Happy Town, where the movies takes place, is literally one of the worst places ever put to film. It’s just an awful place to be, and it gets progressively more despicable with every scene.
Rutger Hauer: As we were shooting the film, we were laughing a lot, because every scene is an opera of some sort—an opera of such ridiculousness. It’s so over the top that we were just giggling uncontrollably, and we’d have to stop ourselves and get back into character. We raced through scenes like hell, so you never quite knew what would happen, and every scene was like that. Everybody was so on; everybody was so with it. Everybody was there for the fun of it, and worked for very little money. It’s a real labor of love.
It’s so wonderful to see the film bloom, and hit an audience so straight in the heart. I had such a ball when we screened it at Sundance. That was unbelievable. Prior to this, there was only one screening in my entire career where I saw this happen: a midnight screening of The Hitcher in 1985, or sometime around then, in Dallas, Texas. They were on their chairs there, too, and I couldn’t believe it. And then the next time was at Sundance. I have never had such a great time while watching movie.
What’s great about Hobo With A Shotgun is that it doesn’t waste any time—within about two minutes, you see a guy’s head get ripped off and the blood shoot out like a geyser onto a hot chick as she’s dancing.
Rutger Hauer: Oh, yeah! That’s so great, right? It sets the tone pretty damn well.
Was there ever a time where you were filming a particularly insane scene and you thought to yourself, “Wow, this is almost too crazy for me”?
Rutger Hauer: Well, for me, most of what was too crazy was that we were trying to find peace within the character as all of the insanity and depravity was happening. Things are so beyond control in the character’s world that, as we were working on the story, we would often run too fast and be too loud, so to speak. Scenes would go from crazy to completely insane and then we’d already be on to the next crazy scene and would catch ourselves focusing too much on how we could top what we just came with. [Laughs]
It became obvious that we needed to provide some quieter moments and you have to really try to bring yourself down and go, “Wait a minute, let’s think for a second here,” and just take your time with it. And that’s difficult, because you’re trying to do that in a movie where a guy’s head gets ripped off within the first two minutes. [Laughs.] A movie like this seems so simple, and to some degree it is, but it’s actually trickier to pull off then you might think.
It’s interesting, because when you start a movie off with a guy’s head getting ripped off, you say to yourself, “Wow, so what’s next?” And, “Can you top this?" And, "How many times can you top this?” That’s one of the things I said to Jason, as well: “You really have to be very creative and inventive with what you’re going to give them.” So then you have the scene where the bus full of kids gets burnt up with a flamethrower. That was the last straw before all hell breaks loose. I know he received a lot of comments and criticism over that scene, and I applaud him for not bending for people saying, “Oh, that’s too much!” Because you have to go that far in a movie like this. You just have to. [Laughs.]
Yeah, that’s a pretty rough scene, but moments like that are off-set by some pretty hilarious and unexpected monologues from your character, like the one about the bears. How’d you come up with those strange yet spot-on speeches?
Rutger Hauer: Yeah, well that came straight from the source. That’s one of the first things Jason sent me while I was in Cape Town. He said, “Tell me what you think of this story.” He recorded it straight from the mouth of Dave, and Dave is the guy who inspired the whole movie. He was on the set most of the time, so I could work with him and talk to him. He was a great resource. He was my compass, basically, to see if I could get closer to the character. And he loves nature, so that was the first story he told to Jason. It’s so nice for such a poor man to have such a heart, and love nature so much to say, “God damn it! We need to protect the world!”
You’re trying to [make a character sympathetic] in a movie where a guy’s head gets ripped off within the first two minutes.
Rutger Hauer: Dave is somebody who lives in Halifax on some sort of care, in a tiny place. Basically, a truck hit him when he was 17 and was on his way back from fishing for his father. I think they gave him $20,000 to get a life, and his head was never the same, so he could never work, and he ultimately became the kind of man you see in the movie. So, from a very young start, people gave up on him, basically. He’s such a decent man.
It’s just amazing that we actually made a movie about this guy. The movie is basically saying that we need to look at the world with some pride and do whatever we can to fix it. Well, not with a shotgun, though. [Laughs.] But the hobo is tired of watching the world go to hell and not doing anything about it. It’s a simple movie, but it has all of that in it. I love it, and it’s so nice that audiences are picking it up.
With Hobo With A Shotgun, Jason Eisener has done something that many filmmakers have tried but haven’t been as successful at, and that’s making a throwback to exploitation movies that doesn’t feel totally hokey and forced. Why do you think he was able to pull that off so well?
Rutger Hauer: I’m not sure, actually, because I don’t know the genre very well. But I think he’s a very good director. He has a very straight line that he walks, and it’s not because he wants it that way—it’s because he feels it that way. As people tried to talk him out of some of the movie’s wilder stuff, he held his ground, and I think that’s probably the key.
Like I said earlier, we were laughing a lot as we were shooting the movie, but what he found when he edited it was that he had to not play it for the laughs as much, and concentrate on the story. In doing that, the story became stronger, but also darker in a way. Really, he’s not trying to please anybody, and it’s so nice to not have to please anybody. It’s just this sort of freedom that you don’t experience very often while making a movie.