Lost in time

Hampton Fancher on beauty, evil, and writing Blade Runner for Robert Mitchum

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Hampton Fancher:
Hampton Fancher: "You know, I wrote Blade Runner for Robert Mitchum. The first draft was for him. And Robert Mulligan was going to direct it." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Hampton Fancher, co-screenwriter of Denis Villeneuve's Blade Runner 2049 and Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, told me that he had Robert Mitchum in mind, not Harrison Ford, while writing his first draft of the Blade Runner screenplay when Robert Mulligan (To Kill A Mockingbird) was going to direct the film.

In our conversation at Lincoln Center, Hampton also saw Sam Shepard and Mitchum similarities, that Harry Dean Stanton had a Mitchum-like attitude, and expressed what Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds and a Wallace Stevens poem can do to him.

Hampton Fancher, subject of Michael Almereyda's recent documentary Escapes and director of The Minus Man (starring Owen Wilson as a serial killer) starts out with coming to grips with evil and beauty.

Hampton Fancher on a Quentin Tarantino film:
Hampton Fancher on a Quentin Tarantino film: "If I see Inglourious Basterds, I'm going for two hours in that ecstasy. An intellectual stroll, a cerebral stray." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Anne-Katrin Titze: Are there certain ideas, issues, that drive you, that endlessly fascinate you? Where your writing drives you to explore?

Hampton Fancher: I guess, in my tangential way, evil. Evil fascinates me. I guess evil and beauty. I can't get enough of beauty. And evil is a mystery I can't fathom. It's not psychology, that has nothing to do with that. And I'm not religious.

And I'm always questioning my own inconsideration. I'm always on the edge between selfishness or altruism. And I write poetry. And I'm always fascinated with what I think of as beauty. I don't understand it, not really.

AKT: When you watch a movie, it controls the amount of time we spend with it. It's a fixed length. When you read a book of poetry, you're the one stopping and starting. Nobody tells you when.

HF: When I read a Wallace Stevens poem, maybe for two minutes, I'm transported into this intellectual ecstasy. If I see Inglourious Basterds, I'm going for two hours in that ecstasy. An intellectual stroll, a cerebral stray. I'm astonished and amazed without the baggage of my ego.

AKT: It doesn't always work.

HF: Only when it's great.

Robert Mitchum with Nicholas Ray on the set of Lusty Men
Robert Mitchum with Nicholas Ray on the set of Lusty Men

AKT: I really liked what you sent me about Sam Shepard and that you put him in a category with Robert Mitchum, who had a retrospective at the New York Film Festival. You just met Kent [Jones]. A lot of men, I believe, feel that way about someone like Mitchum. Unlike you, they would never express it.

HF: You know, I wrote Blade Runner for Robert Mitchum. The first draft was for him. And Robert Mulligan was going to direct it. It was to be a much smaller movie. It was Mulligan who said, "Who are you thinking?" And I said Mitchum. He said, "Fantastic, that's perfect." Then it turns out, that he was friends with him. I knew other people who knew Mitchum well.

AKT: You didn't know him personally?

HF: No. He is a rousty guy. He has a wife he was always married to but he goes around a lot. That's all I knew about Mitchum. That he's what you'd think he is and doesn't give a shit for Hollywood. That he is a very good actor who doesn't take it seriously.

AKT: Again, very similar to Sam Shepard.

HF: Very similar. And both corny in a way.

AKT: Corny how?

Harry Dean Stanton in Wim Wenders' Paris, Texas, screenplay by Sam Shepard
Harry Dean Stanton in Wim Wenders' Paris, Texas, screenplay by Sam Shepard

HF: Corny in that they're from a certain time. When I met Sam Shepard, he said "Hampton? Lionel Hampton, huh?" I didn't know what to say to that. So, Mulligan says, Mitchum is a closet intellectual. His idea of a good time is with a Jesuit who lives in a monastery in Illinois. He loves him and he flies him out to his ranch up in Ojai or Santa Barbara, wherever it is.

And they discuss Saint Anthony for a weekend and drink scotch. He's got an incredible library, is incredibly well-read and basically is an intellectual. Who doesn't want anybody to know that. Fuck me! I couldn't believe it.

AKT: Better corny than intellectual! That makes sense.

HF: I think so. You know who looks like him a little bit? Harry Dean Stanton is like a miniature version.

AKT: Really? I don't see it.

HF: If you look at Harry Dean - the thin lips and the broken nose and also the attitude.

AKT: Why did the Blade Runner with Mitchum fall apart?

Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford in Blade Runner 2049
Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford in Blade Runner 2049

HF: I think because of ego. I'm glad it fell apart. It would have been a little movie, a classy movie, but a very different movie.

AKT: How was San Diego? The Comic-Con experience?

HF: I've never been to anything like that, so it was all new for me. It's horrifying, I mean the madness of it. We were all perfectly safe. We didn't have to deal with it too much. It was so big and we were on stage and they were so voracious. They didn't ask me any questions. They talked to Harrison and Denis [Villeneuve] and Ryan Gosling.

I was scared to death. I'm glad I didn't have to talk. And they had an installation with Virtual Reality. I was in there flying through the buildings. I was really more there than here. I could feel stuff. I really thought I was 30 feet off the ground, flying. It was the most amazing thing I experienced.

AKT: Were you flying through the old Blade Runner or the new one?

HF: A combination. It took my breath away. Have you done this before?

McNally Jackson Mrs Caliban event: Rivka Galchen with Christine Smallwood and Hampton Fancher
McNally Jackson Mrs Caliban event: Rivka Galchen with Christine Smallwood and Hampton Fancher

AKT: Yes. The most amazing experience was finding myself in the middle of a herd of buffalo. I looked to my right and up to the sky and suddenly there was a buffalo nose on my left. I jumped in my seat.

HF: It's amazing. I didn't want it to end. I just wanted to stay there.

Today, November 3 is the start of BAMcinématek's True West: Sam Shepard on Film, which coincides with the date of Sam Shepard's birth. The eleven movie tribute, sponsored by The Wall Street Journal, runs from November 3 through November 9 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Rose Cinemas.

Hampton Fancher will read with Rivka Galchen from his screenplay Dorothy And The Lizard Man, based on Rachel Ingalls' novel Mrs Caliban on November 29 at 7:00pm - McNally Jackson, 52 Prince Street in New York.

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