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.
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.
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.
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?
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?