Blade Runner, the seminal tech-noir film directed by Ridley Scott inspired by a Philip K. Dick story, has been a cultural touchstone since its original release in 1982. Now, celebrating its 25 anniversary, star Sean Young candidly discusses her role in the film, her career since and her brightening future in the biz. Suffice it to say – Sean Young is no replicant.
By Daedalus Howell
DH: This is sort of a “boxers or briefs” question, but which do you prefer, the original Blade Runner or the director’s cut which was stripped of Harrison Ford’s narration?
SY: I prefer the original. I think it’s just because that’s what I was exposed to, so long ago, and was used to. I don’t know why, I think it was just imprinted on me and became the one I’m close to.
DH: Given its cultural impact, were you “set” after Blade Runner?
SY: Oh, no. My career got whacked somewhere in 1989. I’ve had to stumble and survive ever since.
SY: If you have an actor accuse you of leaving a voodoo doll on their door step, it doesn’t do a whole lot for your reputation. I suppose if I was a guy that might, you know, help.
DH: I must admit, I know some of the controversy that’s laden your career, but frankly, I’m a fan so I find it irrelevant.
SY: You’ll have to do your research because I don’t go back. It’s a good thing you don’t know, it’s not something I would want you to reiterate or revisit [laughs].
DH: Was it your hairdo in Blade Runner?
SY: [Laughing] No, no they did a great little hairdo. It took a long time. I’ve had to explain it to hairdressers over the years. Those were the days when I had a “leaning board.” You would get dressed and go off to the set, but weren’t allowed to sit down because you would wrinkle your clothing. You would have to have this board that was slightly leaned backwards and it had little armrests on it. You had to stay on the leaning board until you were released and could go back to your little dressing room and then you could take off your skirt or whatever and, you know, sit.
DH: Sounds pretty old school.
SY: Betty Davis had a leaning board, Joan Crawford did and so did I.
DH: I would definitely say your look in Blade Runner borrowed from their DNA.
SY: I think so too. I think there’s been a sad loss in terms of homage to that kind of great beauty — the great, mysterious beauty.
DH: Indeed. And it seems to me that, despite some of the issues that we’re not talking about, you’ve retained a sort of cult following.
SY: I do too, in the real world. But Hollywood is not a real place. It’s like a figment in the imagination of people in the corporate offices who think their opinion has any value. And they do – they think it’s good. The way the business has changed – reality TV has had a big impact on it. The people producing reality TV couldn’t hope to make a Blade Runner in their last dying breath. The market for the kind of things I’d like to do – there’s not a lot of support for it in terms of finances. Frankly, I’m only now just overcoming my shyness. My wretched shyness.
DH: What about doing something independently or even on the web?
SY: I might do it. My children are old enough now where I’m not worrying about whether they’re going to throw themselves off the balcony. I’ve started to actually concentrate on that. I did a 12 day shoot his last June. I was one of the producers and one of the reasons it got made. I’m starting to do that. That one is named Darkness Visible.
DH: I’m glad to hear that because I definitely think you still mean something to audiences.
SY: I do too. I’ve only just stated to mean something to myself. I guess it took me a long time to recover.
DH: What, a decade at the most? Hey, some people have gone longer.
SY: I think I’m an odd commodity. I’m certainly a name and a commodity and there’s a certain amount of mystery that has almost mistakenly been built up. It’s there, it’s doable, it’s usable. There are a lot of people who are supporters. I think the big bridge for me has been overcoming having my reputation whacked, surviving that and overcoming that. I’m starting to get my sea legs back. I don’t feel so shy and I also feel kind of vindicated in the sense that when people try to wreck your reputation, it does catch up to them. It may take a while, but people ultimately know – and they know when someone is an asshole.
DH: You’ve weathered the storm and most of those people probably don’t have their jobs anymore.
SY: That’s right. That’s actually true.
DH: It might be cheesy to characterize where you are now as a comeback but –
SY: Oh, I’m a comeback waiting to happen, that’s for sure. I just had to sort of step on the bandwagon. I wasn’t honestly very impressed with success. Success can bring really good things in people at times, but I think that’s less common. Mostly, success can make people have very large egos and feel justified in kinds of behavior that, in my mind, depresses me.
DH: Success tends to magnify any crap that’s there.
SY: Yeah, pissing contests are not my forte.
DH: This sounds like an exciting time for you.
SY: Yeah, not really [laughs].
DH: But, you sound like you have a renewed sense of spirit.
SY: I’m older now, so I at least have perspective. I’m not the kind of person who is going to walk in with pistols blazing. I’m much too shy for that. I don’t think I’m characterized like that either. I feel like I’ve been endowed with a fiery, mysterious power, which is a complete illusion. If I feel uncomfortable, I’ll just back out of the room and quietly disappear. I don’t do those kind of fights anymore because I recognize that women don’t win them. You got to have a strong arm next to you in order to win that one and I that’s a battle I’m not even interested in being a part of.
DH: After some recent meditation on our culture, my colleagues and I have had the feeling that you’re due to pop again soon. It’s like “Sean Young, of course!”
SY: I think you might not be alone in that department. And I hope not. I would certainly know how to handle it in a way that would be graceful and dignified. I’m now in a position where I can accept only what I want to – I wasn’t always in that position. I don’t have to say “yes” to things that I felt I had to previously to support my children. When you have that kind of freedom to say “Nah, I don’t think so,” it’s a totally different thing. I can’t say that has always been the case.