Eccentric Dutch actor Rutger Hauer has played all kinds of roles over the years, from Roy in Blade Runner to a tramp vigilante in Hobo With A Shotgun.
Now he’s back on our screens as blind Viking warrior Ravn in hit BBC show The Last Kingdom. Here he shares some amazing, colourful insights into his life and career, including the times he built a giant truck by hand and drove a tank in his spare time. Just don’t try and give his characters a ‘backstory’…
Hi Rutger. Did you read any Viking stories as a child?
“They were not only Viking stories. They were graphic novels. They were about Vikings in boats with swords. There was also a soccer hero at that time in the graphic novels and then there was a guy who was swinging around in the jungle like Tarzan. When you are very young, this is fun stuff and it stays with you.
“I don’t know why it makes such a big impression on you. It just does and I know that it works a long way. A lot of people achieve quite a bit because they are influenced by what they read when they were young. I have an 18-wheel truck that I built several years ago. I built it myself with a friend but the fascination with trucks came from magazines that I saw about America when I was young. They would move wooden houses on top of a truck and I went, ‘That’s amazing.’ And, of course, the idea that 40 years later you should build something like that is ridiculous. But I did it. And I still own it and am very proud of it. It is weird.
“And I have a tank driver’s licence from Hungary. These things hit you so hard when you’re young that you just have to do something about it.”
How was filming The Last Kingdom, because it seems as though you had a lot going on costume-wise with the tattoos, the facial hair etc?
“They had a stage and a set about an hour’s drive out of Budapest. It filmed in the late Fall, I think. It was pretty chilly! I would get up at 5.30am to get ready and then get picked up at 6 to be on set by 7am. Then the hair took half-an-hour and the tattoos took half-an-hour, so basically it was about an hour-and-a-half to get ready. Then we would rehearse and talk and then it was all about waiting.
“The art of waiting is a big part of our life as actors. I am really good at waiting! I can almost smell when it is my turn, when I am away from set.”
Did you enjoy playing Ravn?
“I really had a really good time playing this part and seeing if I could do what the director was hoping for, if I could give it to him. It is always the same.
“You want to give the director what they’re looking for and then you want to give it to them in your own way. If you are lucky, you will find more. It is very creative and it is wonderful if you have work. That is the key. If you don’t have work, it is terrible to be an actor.”
It sounds as though you had a lot of input into the character…
“Once we knew what scenes were important to the storyline and to the director, we talked a lot. You never know if the right thing comes out, what the director likes in the edit, if it is his thing and whether it fits with his final vision.
“Doing a series is strange. I have only done a few things in series form during the 40 years I’ve been working. With a series, you land and drop into something where it is going to be a family and the shoot is going to be six to eight months and you are only there for a couple of weeks. You want to fit. Okay, you want to make something out of it so that it doesn’t fail but you have to make it fit. To me, it’s like a sport, almost.
“But the character of Ravn is great. He can’t see anything, he has nothing to lose and he has a sense of humour and a great sense of play. It feels like he is the mother of the camp, to me, in many ways. I know he looks a tough guy but he has a very soft spirit.”
Did you know his background or his backstory?
“No. To me, it is like when you meet somebody in the street. You don’t know anything about their backstory. Maybe in a lifetime you hear some of it but I find that an audience does not need the backstory. Even if you give it to me, I’d say, ‘Shut the fuck up!’
“You can make a backstory in the sub-text, or something of the backstory, which may help you as an actor but please don’t tell me about it. I can read. The audience can read it on screen. They can feel it. You don’t have to spell it out for them. In the episode that I am in, I am basically there to help spell out what the kid goes through rather than what I go through.”
Can you quickly touch on on cult 1989 movie Blind Fury, because as with The Last Kingdom you were playing a blind guy; did you use the same techniques?
“Yes, I did. But the big thing for me was that I wanted to create a sense of peace between my son and me [in The Last Kingdom]. And yet everything is always so loud in this environment. People are always trying to kill each other and there is always someone screaming, or something happening. So I said, ‘Let me speak softly, even when it is over an open space.’ My son picks up on it. It is something that translates and it works well.
“I know it worked well for the guy who plays my son [Tobias Santelmann]. He is such a tough motherfucker! He’s way too tough for me. All these little things are like wires that lead somewhere and that is what I like. I like films where you feel wires but you don’t see them.”
THE LAST KINGDOM IS AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD ON 14TH DECEMBER, COURTESY OF UNIVERSAL PICTURES (UK)