The Hitcher - Fangoria

Source: Fangoria
January, 2007
Revisiting any role once played by rugged Dutchman Rutger Hauer is a tall
order that not any Hollywood pretty-boy could manage. Imagine Josh Hartnett
as Reinhardt in a NIGHTHAWKS redux, or Jude Law as BLADE RUNNER’s Roy
Batty. Then, feel the cold drip of embarrassment wash over you. THE
HITCHER’s John Ryder isn’t a stroll in the park either. In the hands of a
less-than-capable thespian, the role could have been an overblown, festering
turkey of an interpretation. Hauer, under the direction of Robert Harmon
in the 1986 original, opted for the opposite: a loner with a cool-breeze
saunter and enigmatic determination. His performance has survived two
decades and a limp direct-to-DVD sequel. So, what in the name of all
that is masculine was Sean Bean thinking when he enlisted to traverse t
he highways of America as Ryder in Platinum Dunes and Rogue Pictures’
new update of THE HITCHER?
“[The original film] made an impression on me,” explains Bean, a huge
admirer of Hauer’s performance. As Ryder, Bean is a feral feline in a
bloodsoaked cat-and-mouse chase, the mice here being two college
students (Sophia Bush and Zachary Knighton) on a cross-country drive.
“I had certain reservations about being involved with another version
of the film, but what I found was that Ryder gives so much leeway to
maneuver as a character, I personally felt quite excited about it. I could
really f**k with these kids and push the envelope. I met with [Dunes’]
Michael Bay—he’s made some good stuff—and with him involved, you
know the film is gonna be well-constructed. Dave Meyers—I knew his
videos, and he’s got a twisted, eerie, creepy visual sorta thing. With
all of these put together, I felt it was a great opportunity, and not
because I was the lead. I felt it was something I could do well, and
it allowed me to mess around with the character and bring things out
that I’ve not been able to do in the past with certain films. I wasn’t
chained to any particular approach, and that excited me.”
OK, we can dig that—not that we had any problem with his involvement in
the first place. The British thesp has, to date, amassed quite the résumé
of bad-assery. To most, he first rocketed across the pop-culture radar
as the deadly Irish foil to Harrison Ford’s Jack Ryan in PATRIOT GAMES.
The poisonous villainy he brought to that film later slithered into GOLDENEYE
(where he played rogue agent 006), but it was in the LORD OF THE RINGS
trilogy where he swapped immorality for nobility as Boromir and transcended
“that guy” status to achieve blockbuster familiarity. Turns in FLIGHTPLAN,
NATIONAL TREASURE and THE ISLAND came soon after, with a pair of genre
projects thrown in for good measure: John Fawcett’s THE DARK and
Christophe Gans’ SILENT HILL.
Bean’s weathered good looks are befitting of his contradictory body of
work; at one moment he can convey an amiable, salt-of-the-earth
demeanor, and in the next he can level the room to frigid temperatures
with a sneer. Luckily for Fango, no winter jacket is needed when meeting
the actor in a Beverly Hills hotel, where he makes the gracious offer to
join him in a smoke and a beer. We decline—missing the opportunity
to brag later about having “drinks with Boromir”—and embark on a
wandering conversation about the John Ryder of the new millennium,
who, not coincidentally, resembles the Ryder of the ’80s. After all,
why change a good thing when the clothes make the man?
“It certainly adjusts your persona, body language and the way you perceive
things as a character,” he says. “It was a particularly interesting costume—
long coats have always become synonymous with ‘sinister.’ It’s fitting for the
film, and it got grimier and grimier and shinier and shinier as we continued
shooting. I thought it was a really normal look, with a gray coat, blue shirt,
trousers slightly too short and crap hush-puppy shoes.” Except it’s not “shoes”;
it’s “shows” when you hear the word waft through an exhale of nicotine
smoke and his thick accent. “I believe Ryder became what was there before;
he assumed various identities before the film, and once he’s out of that
identity and those clothes, he reverts back to what he was before he became
the person he has just knocked off.
“He sees these two happy kids—you know, students who have finished college
and are giddy going on holiday, just so full of love on a road trip. John Ryder
just despises that kind of shit, like, ‘Piss off, I’m really gonna f**k you up,’ ”
Bean says. “Ryder, I believe, has a certain thing with [Bush’s] Grace—not i
n a sexual way, but he sees something in her he can identify with and that
he can pass on in some kind of way.”
Bean is appreciative that Ryder has maintained some ambiguity in this era
of explanation, where every bogeyman’s past is laid bare and their motives
made readily apparent. “It’s difficult to put your finger on what he’s trying
to achieve, and that’s something I was conscious of,” the actor notes.
“That’s what makes him so unpredictable and disturbing. I didn’t want
to play him as a mustache-twirling villain. He’s soft-spoken and quite
humorous. He’s got a wry humor, but it’s all something that obviously
only he finds to be pretty funny.” Bean laughs, reconnecting with those
dark bits that bring a smile to Ryder’s face. But he wasn’t the only one
who enjoyed Ryder’s bittersweet company. “If he has any redeeming features,
it’s his dignity. I quite liked that, and Dave Meyers did too. I think he identified
quite a lot with Ryder—which quite worried me, actually. The director of
photography, Jim Hawkinson, he really took to Ryder, too. He loved that
character.” Consequently, the camera loves him as well, as Ryder is allotted
plenty of power-shot close-ups to increase his palpable intimidation, yet do
nothing to reveal the true man behind the monster.
“We had a lot of fun making things up on the set. It was great with Zach
and Sophia, ’cause they were up for anything,” Bean adds, pausing to reflect
on a moment with his two co-stars that sums up Ryder’s menacing manipulation.
“I just had a very crooked outlook. When they first pick Ryder up in the beginning,
he seems OK at first. He’s in the rain and is trying to get back to his family,
his car has broken down. He’s a pretty sociable guy, and things aren’t quite
working. The dialogue isn’t right and it’s all very fractured and he breaks the
cell phone. These kids are in a tin box going 60 miles per hour down a freeway.
Just the way things develop from there, I found it all very interesting. The fact
he could have gotten the knife out straight away, the fact that he prolongs that
and plays with their minds and enjoys it. It tells you something about a character.
I’m glad I didn’t know everything about him; it’s more disturbing that way.”
The conversation concludes on the future, particularly what Bean might have
coming up genre-wise, which is nil at the moment. However, he is aware that
Gans is talking about a SILENT HILL sequel, and turns the interview around to
inquire about Fango’s thoughts on the first film. We string a few words and
names together like “interesting,” “Eurohorror” and “Fulci-esque,” especially
when it came to the film’s surreal third-act slaughter. He soaks it in and
replies, “I thought HILL was really good. Gans has an incredible vision;
there’s nothing quite like it. Everything seems to be to the side for him;
all of the action is on the edges of the screen. Sometimes I felt like
I was looking at a surrealist or Dadaist painting, in that things are framed
to unsettle you. He’s talented in that respect. It was good to work with him,
and it’ll be interesting to see if HILL 2 comes about.”


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