Veteran Dutch star Rutger Hauer appears in two diverse film festival films. He talks about them to Helen Barlow.

With his brilliant blue eyes, tall muscular physique and full head of snowy blond hair, at 67 Rutger Hauer is extremely well-preserved.

His career would appear to be in good shape too. The Dutch actor, still remembered for his scene-stealing turn as a replicant in Blade Runner, has had supporting roles in the likes of Batman Begins and Sin City in past years. Now he has two very diverse leads - he's playing Flemish Renaissance artist Pieter Bruegel The Elder in the painterly The Mill and The Cross and the deranged tramp of the title in the madly violent Hobo with a Shotgun.

Like Machete before it, Hobo With a Shotgun started out as a faux trailer, created for Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's Grindhouse.

It was directed by Canadian Jason Eisener, and was such a hit (particularly on YouTube and Harry Knowles' Ain't It Cool News) that it made the leap to feature film.

Eisener, a lover of 80s trashploitation horror flicks, says Hauer, in 1986's The Hitcher, is his favourite villain. It was like a dream come true for the 28-year-old to have the actor play his hobo, who is a good guy of sorts.

"What I was really interested in was how Rutger has this amazing gift of being able to say a lot without saying anything at all," says Eisener.

"He can just throw a look and through his eyes you can dive right into the character and you know what is going on inside. That was very much a lot of who the Hobo was and we were very inspired by westerns like The Man with No Name and Django and characters who walk into a town and you know what they are thinking without them saying anything."

The story follows Hauer's red-eyed dishevelled hobo coming to "Scum Town" intent on buying a lawn mower to set up a gardening business. But when he discovers that a sadistic capitalist named Drake and his evil sons Slick and Ivan are terrorising the town, beheading people and taking a flamethrower to a school bus, he decides he has to act. He becomes a kind of vigilante and ultimately a town hero.

Hauer realises the film isn't for everyone and the perennially cool actor, who today wears jeans and a skull neck scarf, is cool with that.

"We don't ask everyone to like it. What we really say is, 'Don't go see this movie if it's too bad for you, don't do it!' It is a luxury we can afford," he notes, referring to the film's low budget.

Will his family come and see the movie? "No, I am going to tell them not to. My first film was Turkish Delight and I was naked in it and it was a success all over Europe and my family didn't go and see it because they couldn't stand me naked. Fine, by the way! Thanks Mum!"

He was of course inordinately handsome back then, in Blade Runner too. "Yeah, I was hot, but I never looked at myself that way. I didn't know it. Let's put it that way. I am slow. People don't believe me when I say this. I never thought of myself as hot at all."

Hauer started in 1969 with the title role in the popular Dutch TV series, Floris, directed by Paul Verhoeven, who then gave Hauer his first film role in 1973's Turkish Delight, which they followed up with 1977's highly lauded World War II drama, Soldiers of Orange, and Spetters (1980).

Shifting to Hollywood, he became a supporting fixture in 80s and 90s movies after his casting in Blade Runner. And this year, film festivals like Sundance and the New Zealand Film Festival, are getting a double dose of Hauer with Hobo and Polish director Lech Majewski's The Mill and the Cross which uses computer technology to bring Bruegel's frieze The Way to Calvary alive and puts the artist into his painting.

"I think the two films belong together because they are both extreme forms of art in a certain way," maintains Hauer. "I look at Hobo as a graffiti film which is open to all kinds of interpretations and I look at The Mill and The Cross as an extreme high quality art film with great art. It's a great experiment made by a great film-maker who is paying homage to his love for paintings and chooses one painting to travel into.

"He uses all this technology that is available and he had like 40 kids in different rooms at the computer figuring out how to make a painting come alive in a way that you can believe it. It is a really amazing project."

Wielding a brush as an artist made a nice change from his usual weapon props. But while Hauer says he knows his way around a gun, he's not as tough as he still looks.

"I run, I am a coward at heart," he chuckles. "I swear, when I smell violence or aggression the coward comes out in me. I have no desire to fight anybody except myself."


Rutger Hauer, veteran Dutch actor and one-time Hollywood action star
What: New Zealand International Film festival movies Hobo with a Shotgun and The Mill and the Cross

- TimeOut