We asked the actor, 75, what his younger self would make of him today...
I suppose I was a rebellious child, although a kinder description would be curious. I just wanted to discover a world that was bigger than Amsterdam, where I grew up. My parents were very artistic people. They were both actors and our house was always full with all kinds of artistic people. It sometimes seemed to my three sisters and me that the arts were more important than we were, but looking back I don’t know if that was true.
It’s always been said that I ran away from home when I was 14 – but I wasn’t running away as much as running towards something. I wanted to see how interesting the world could be, so I took a job as a cleaner on a big freighter.
All my mother’s family were sailors and she knew someone in the shipping business who helped me find work. The first day I was sick as a dog, but it was a such an eye-opener as well. We sailed to Chicago, the Mediterranean and as far as Saigon. Arriving in the US in 1959 I heard all this live music that I’d only ever listened to on the radio. I came from a country where the houses are tiny, so to see all these huge buildings was a culture shock. In poorer countries I realised that people are different – and people are the same. Those experiences prepared me for the life I would go on to lead.
I think it is a very Dutch attitude to want to discover the world. The Netherlands is a small country and we’ve learnt that we have to negotiate with other countries and be open to influences from them. I love languages. My English was already pretty good when I went away. I was one of the few people on the ship who spoke English, and I would help my colleagues when we got to port; although most of them just wanted to go and find hookers.
I never thought I would be an actor. When I was eight years old my father performed in a Greek tragedy. He was playing a blind character and I had to lead him around the stage in this really huge theatre in front of 3,000 people. I remember thinking, “This is really insane”.
Even when I finally did go to drama school, after doing various jobs like set decorating and carpentry, I never felt comfortable on stage. It was only when I found the camera that I discovered my craft.
I got my first role as a Robin Hood character because I could fence and ride a horse. All I had to do then was say the words.
I decided early on that I didn’t want to do a British accent on film. I felt American belonged to film and I was more at home with American pronunciation. Plus, there are so many great British actors who could do it much better than I could.
I’d say I’ve got better as an actor as I’ve got older. By growing you lose your naivety, but gain in other ways. And as you age your body reminds you that you need to calm down a bit.
I stopped doing my own stunts relatively late. When we shot Blade Runner, there’s a scene at the end where my character, Roy Batty, jumps between two buildings. Two stunt people had done the big jump and both hurt themselves. So I said, “If you can move the building a foot, I can do it”. I did it twice and it was good fun. But I’ve been hurt many times, so it makes no sense for me to do those things any more.
This year marks my 50th as a film actor and it’s been the adventure I always wanted to have. No moment is ever the same; “boring” doesn’t exist in my vocabulary.
Yet I feel so lucky that I haven’t been hauled into that hall of fame where you can no longer walk the streets. People sometimes tell me they wish I’d become more famous, but I say, “You don’t know what you’re wishing for”. I consider myself lucky to still have my privacy.
I’m less arrogant than I was when I was younger and I hope I’m a little wiser. But otherwise my nature hasn’t really changed. That young boy who sailed the seas is still here with me, and he’s saying this about my life: “That was awesome.”
Rutger Hauer will appear in series two of Porters, starting on Thursday, at 10pm, on Dave