Fair warning our guest in this episode uses some language and some themes that are a bit adult so if you got little ones nearby throw on some earbuds.
Hi I’m Eric Conner senior instructor at New York Film Academy.
And I’m Aerial Segard acting alum. And In this episode we bring you one of the stars of Blade Runner Sean Young.
I think in Ridley’s mind Deckard was a replicant. That’s the impression I got the entire time we were working.
And it’s one of Eric’s favorite movies of all time.
I mean I’ve only seen like five times.
10. 20. All right fine. A lot. I don’t even know anymore. It’s really good though.
She also acted with Harold Ramis and Bill Murray in Stripes.
And started opposite Jim Carrey in Ace Ventura and Kevin Costner in the fantastic thriller No Way Out.
Worked with David Lynch on Dune Oliver Stone on Wall Street and was the original Vicky Vale in Tim Burton’s Batman. But was recast due to an onset injury.
But it’s her work in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner that might be her crown jewel.
It was quite a jump for a young actress whose initial game plan was to dance.
Both my parents were journalists my dad he was a producer for NBC in Cleveland and then in New York. He had a very type A personality and was very prone to heart attacks let’s say and my mom was a journalist and I wanted it to be a dancer. And I started dancing a little bit late at 14 in terms of classical training and went to Interlochen Arts Academy and at 18 I came to New York City and I modelled for about a year and I went yuck. I didn’t like it and my mom introduced me to an agent at ICM in New York because she was a writer and a journalist. But she had published two biographies and had an agent and the agent introduced me to agents in the film department and then a month after I was there I got a job and so they were encouraged. And so and then like very quickly after that I got stripes and then very quickly after that I got blade runner. So it all happened very quickly but I was really wanting to be a dancer. That was actually what I was intending in terms of growing up and I don’t know how this acting thing happened. You know I don’t. I just I caught on quick and I did study. In New York. I did go to various different teachers and I did read and I did learn and I you know did my best and took advantage of the opportunities that came my way on a set. My favorite place was always by the camera because my dad shot films. He had a Bell and Howell camera that you’d have to crank up. You know it had three different Angelou lenses and he did all these family films of us which you could actually see on my YouTube channel which is msypariah which I’ve edited together because it helps me express myself. You know in terms of like being a director and he left me great footage.
Her rapid ascension as an actress included working with two legendary teams in our first two roles Merchant Ivory and the comedic duo Bill Murray and Harold Ramus.
I did a movie with James Ivory and Ishmael merchant who’s now dead. It was Jane Austen in Manhattan and it wasn’t a very good picture. But they went on to do a room with a view and a lot of really nice pictures. And they had done Shakespeare Wallah before that or something like that. And that was my very first picture. The second one was stripes.
You pretend there’s a forcefield all around your body. And you try and get as close to each other as possible without actually touching.
That was a funny picture. And then. And then Blade Runner yeah third film. The problem with early success is it’s not very edifying. I mean in the sense that you know when you when you’re 19 years old or 20 or whatever it is and you’re in the same playing field as everybody else and you’re all sort of in the same boat. You get your lessons and you accept them and you learn them when you get lifted up to some sort of other level. You don’t get the lessons that you would have gotten at 19 or 20 like everybody else so then you have to kind of fall from grace a little bit to get in with your comrades at a later point at least that that was my experience.
In her next film Sean Young played Harrison Ford’s love interest right as he was becoming the biggest star on the planet.
The movie Indiana Jones came out when we were working on that movie and he was very proud that it made a lot of money on the first weekend. You know I remember he had he had made it but it hadn’t come out yet. So how I booked it. I did an interview a reading and I didn’t do very well in the first one and I called my agent up and I said I didn’t do very well. I said can you get me in again he said OK I’ll try because I didn’t understand the script. It was like Voight Kampff and this and that I was just like really confused and really young and I didn’t I didn’t really understand it I couldn’t quite grasp it and I hadn’t read the book. And so I did get another interview. And I read the book and I read the script again a few times and thought OK I can try to understand this so that helped a lot. Having a second chance to go in.
That second chance got her the role of Rachael a replicant with an all too human heart. It’s a character so fascinating they even spoiler alert brought her back for Blade Runner 2049. For Miss Young working with visionary director Ridley Scott meant she even gained some unexpected skills.
I remember Ridley. Feeding me cigarettes. You know because I didn’t smoke and I learned how to smoke on that movie. And. One of the problems was I remember that I needed to look older be more sophisticated than I was because I was only 20 so I was sort of playing twenty eight. So I was playing older than I was so he was always trying to make me sound more mature and I think I sort of have a flat voice anyway so I think that might have been part of why I got the part because I can kind of be kind of what you think whatever you know he fed me a lot of cigarettes and would talk to me on the set. I remember that a lot to kind of lower my voice because when you smoke a lot of cigarettes your voice gets like a lot lower. And my voice was always like excitable at 20. So I would go you know. So he fed me a lot of cigarettes and then talked to me and would sort of kind of I think three or four cigarettes later I would end up going on to and actually getting into it. Ridley was always very attentive to me a lot more so than I actually even understood at the time.
Thirty five years after its initial release Blade Runner remains a benchmark of science fiction and art direction. But when it first arrived in theaters its box office was far from out of this world.
Michael Deeley who was the British producer on it considered it a dismal failure at the time of release. He was just devastated actually. He was like. And it was 45 million dollars. I mean I remember hearing that it cost forty five million dollars to make Blade Runner and that was this massive sum of money. You know.
I think it opened to six is what I read.
Yeah so everybody was not happy about the amount of money that it made at the time. And then of course it went on to become a classic cult kind of classic but and I’m sure they’ve made money on it now and they’re all happy now. But at the time it was released it was it was not considered. A big success. But you know what. I remember feeling like it was ahead of its time. I mean I remember the first time I saw it and I was just like I saw it for the first time when I did looping. When I had to do voiceover work and go and fix certain kinds of dialogue. And I remember looking at it going wow you know because I never got to see any of it as we were shooting it. And I just remember thinking Wow this is amazing. And then when it didn’t do as well as everybody had hoped for or expected in 1982 because we made it 80 and it got released in 82 because they spent a whole year doing the special effects a whole year doing that. We shot it for like four months and then they took another year to do the special effects and whatnot. And everybody expected it to be a blockbuster because that was sort of the model for those were the new days of that kind of blockbuster that if you didn’t have a blockbuster you didn’t have a picture. You know it’s just different kind of model at the time. So it didn’t do well when it came out and they were kind of disappointed.
Blade Runner could have just been an ambitious box office failure but ten years after its initial release a new version of Blade Runner reached theaters it’s a true Director’s Cut going back to Ridley Scott’s original vision. The ending was darker. The wall to wall voiceover was removed and critics in fanboys alike swooned.
But in Sean Young’s case she still prefers the original.
I think the first one still but I liked the last one too because the quality is really good in the last one in terms of the visuals but it was always pretty stunning wasn’t it. The visuals on that on that movie Harrison didn’t like the voiceover He was all pissy about it. He didn’t. He never wanted to do the voiceover but he did it. And in my opinion it was really funny because when you listen to the voice of the original he’s like.
They don’t advertise for killers in the newspaper. That was my profession. Ex cop. Ex Blade Runner. Ex killer.
I quit because I’d had a belly full of killing. But then I’d rather be a killer than a victim.
Replicants weren’t supposed to have feelings. Neither were blade runners. What the hell was happening to me.
He’s just so flat. And I think he was trying to like piss him off like just be as flat as he can be because he really didn’t want to do the voiceover. So he does he does this really horribly flat but it worked against him. It was just so Humphrey Bogart and it just it just totally worked.
Sometimes I wonder what strange fate brought me out of the storm to that house that stood alone in the shadows. As I probed into its mysteries every clue told me a different story. But each had the same ending. Murder.
I loved the original but I think it’s just because there is nostalgia in me remembering the original and when I was 21 when it came out. You know it was really like it was Humphrey Bogart. You know that voice over to me. You know what I think this version is good too. We saw this at the Comic Con a couple of years ago or whatever it was when we Ridley came out with his final final the absolute final. And I missed the voiceover. I liked the voiceover Because I liked those older movies the black and white movies like with Humphrey Bogart and I don’t like movies that do over use voiceovers because now a lot of movies are like let me tell the story by doing a voiceover You know which is stupid because you should be able to as a filmmaker tell a story and not even have anybody talk you know as far as I’m concerned you should be able to do that. But. I like the voiceover in Blade Runner.
Director Ridley Scott has made what feels like an infinite number of remarkable films alien.
Gladiator. Thelma and Louise.
Black Hawk Down.
The Martian. Though Ms Young discovered that his perfectionism included an unorthodox approach to crafting her performance.
One of the things he used to do. Because I was so young he told the ADs that I had to stay in my little box and at the time they didn’t have these trailers that they have now all over the place they had these little huts made out of wood. Literally that had wheels on them and they used to wheel them around and they didn’t. The huts didn’t have a bathroom. So you would get out of your hut and you’d have to go walk a few whatever it was to the public bathrooms there’s like a bunch of different bathrooms on this lot that were here. But it’s changed now and there was an air conditioner in your little hut and the little huts looked like camp. You know what I mean like little camp little huts right. Well Ridley left instructions that I was to be confined to my hut. And his reasoning in his own mind. I asked him later was he wanted me to feel unconnected to humanity. Like really you know isolated. He wanted me to feel really isolated and not relaxed and not comfortable and that was his thing he didn’t want me to feel comfortable and I remember bribing the ADs and saying you’ve got to let me out of here. I am going crazy in here it’s four months in here. You know I said give me a radio. He won’t find out I promise you he won’t find out. I had to convince them that they wouldn’t. Ridley would not find out that I was on the loose on the lot because I couldn’t stay in there all day long. You know in this little in this little hut. I was just going crazy and it was like four and a half months. So they would give me a radio. The ADs were really sweet and I would have my radio and I would hear everything that was going on with my radio and I would go and I would check out other lots other studios others you know stages and stuff and see what was going on because if I had to stay in that hut all day long for after about a month and a half I was like OK guys you can’t keep me in this fuckin hut all day long I mean come on you know. So we made a little deal but the only thing was that I was they knew and I knew that if anything happened and I was found out I couldn’t say who it was. I mean they would all deny it so I said I’m not going to do that if I get caught. We won’t be naming names right you know. So that’s that’s how I survived the last three months of that shoot was the ADs gave me my freedom.
Even when Sean Young didn’t see eye to eye with certain directors she’d still jump at the chance to work with good ones again. In the end the play’s the thing.
The best quality a director can have is to make a fucking good movie. You know what I mean you know period. It’s like be an asshole. I don’t care just at the end of the day. Make me a good movie don’t make me some piece of shit that I’m going to be embarrassed about. You know what I mean. If you want to be an asshole be an asshole if you want to be sweet be sweet be whatever you need to be. But make me a good movie at the end of the day that I can go to see and be proud of. Because. As an actor we’re not in control of that we are. We are having to show up for you. I don’t care what kind of asshole you are if you make me a good movie all is forgiven. You know what I mean. All is forgiven at the end of the day. Make me a good movie. That’s the best quality you can have as a director. Make me a good movie and if I’m in it make me look good. You know. You know. That’s the best thing you can do as a director.
For Sean Young landing her first roles in Hollywood felt like a like a sprint. But she discovered that staying on top was a lot more like a marathon.
My best years as an actress were were from 1981 to 1987 or 88. I. Think I’m a really wonderful actress but I’m not. I’m not a really wonderful politician and I’m not real good at bullshit and I’m not really good at. Parties. You know. I’m just not I’m just not I’ve never been good. And so one of the things as I get older is I realize. This is strange to say but really if you think you’re supposed to be at a certain level in this business like hey I’m talented I should be at a certain level in this business it’s all kind of a. Kind of a ridiculous thought. If you’re not willing to do the work. That the people who are at that level are willing to do so at a certain point I kind of recognized that I wasn’t willing to do the work. Necessary. To maintain these contacts and to maintain these friendships and to maintain these relationships as they’re called you know it’s important what I wish I had known earlier in life is reputation is everything because mine got destroyed which you know happened but I didn’t really understand the value of a reputation at that point in my life. At age twenty seven or whatever it was when my reputation got destroyed and you can have your reputation destroyed and have nothing even to do with it it can happen beside you and you have nothing to do with it. It’s like it happened and you had no relationship with that you know it can be destroyed regardless of any of your own behavior. That was a really difficult thing for me in the business relationships. At high levels like a list and all of that kind of stuff. There’s a certain. High School. Prom night about it. You know what I mean. There’s a little bit of. Immaturity you know emotional immaturity among the people who do well in the business at least that’s been my perspective and a certain coldness. Certainly not like I couldn’t say that I find this business filled with down to earth people. You know I mean I really don’t. I don’t find that that’s not been my experience. And so at a certain point recognizing that my aptitude. For showbusiness wasn’t as great as maybe my ability to do it. You know like maybe my talent was fine. That was all in order. But my aptitude for the business wasn’t wasn’t nearly the same as my my my actual talent you know and that I think is an important thing to remember if you have ambitions is that it’s not just talent you know talent great it’s wonderful to have talent. And I think you have to walk in the door with talent but it’s also your aptitude for dealing with. Lots of different types of people who are at lots of different stages of their own involvement and. And some of them aren’t necessarily on the same level as you might be and your job might end up being hello you might need to lift a few people up here and there. And. Usually lifting people up requires patience. And I didn’t have a lot of that either. I’m not really patient with. Bullshit. And there’s a lot of bullshit in show business so I mean you really have to have an aptitude for B.S. or else you know you don’t you don’t you don’t go far if you don’t have a good aptitude for that. You know I mean it’s important to have B.S. skills it really is you know. No I mean it is it is. It’s important.
Ms Young described that in Hollywood it’s hard to keep your feet on the ground when there is literally no ceiling.
The reason people like this business is because you can make a hundred and fifty million dollars like Jim Carrey he made 20 million bucks on after Ace Ventura. He went on to make 20 million bucks for his. I forget what film it was. But you know and I’m like Jim are you kidding me. He was like the first person to make 20 million bucks for a movie. So the stakes become very high for people in the sense that. It’s an industry that can provide you with no ceilings. You know you can go to a place where where if you were in school for whatever whatever you’d know maybe you’d make this much money a year you’d make this much money a year or whatever it is you would make in show business. You can make something outrageous that has no ceiling. Just because you’ve done this or you’ve done that or you’re connected with these people so this is why people get nutty because there’s no ceiling there’s there’s absolutely it’s like you can you can you can move into a medium that doesn’t have any walls. If you have the talent and you have the ability to deal with bullshit and you have the ability to understand politics and you understand the stakes of the people on the level who are investing in that. Understand their point of view. You know what I mean and you can bring all of those elements together and make it work for you. You can you can find yourself in a situation where you’re in an industry. That has no ceilings and that’s unheard of in any other industry. In most cases you know what I mean it’s I don’t know of any other industries that that do that do you. I mean I mean most industries have a top level and you can’t kind of go above that you make 20 grand a year 30 whatever that is whatever that ends up being. You know you expect that. But in show business it’s a wildcard.
Well I think too you have actors who are expected to open themselves up so vulnerably You know and then be completely normal.
And also be able to walk in a room at a party and be able to negotiate B.S. really well. It’s like I’m not supposed to be honest here but I’m supposed to be honest there I’m not to this here but I’m supposed to be able to do that here. So it becomes those skills I wish I understood better at an earlier age. But you learn them and your life experiences growing up in who you were and what you what you are. I mean I mean I’m Ohio cornfed country type girl you know and I didn’t have any nepotism. I mean I didn’t have anybody helping me I got it all on my own and and it all happened very quickly for me in the very beginning. So it was it was not a very edifying situation. Like I said it wasn’t like it it it educated me on what it was like to become spoiled. But not what it was like to be forced with facing situations that were demanding that I didn’t really know how to deal with that came later in life.
Miss Young also bemoans how the industry often relies on decision by committee. It’s one of the reasons Blade Runner was altered before it was released and it’s what makes Miss Young considerably less excited about working on bigger projects.
Studios TV companies it’s Committee it’s a committee of people it’s a roundtable of. Like. However many people 10 people. 15 people who decide together. What’s what movie is going to be made or you know what budgets are going to be decided upon who’s going to be in it or whatever that’d be like being in a family of 15 people like brothers and sisters. Right. Can you imagine who’s going to be trying to dominate you know and who’s going to be trying to say their point of view is there a point of view. And so it really just becomes this back and forth like 15 10 people deciding blah blah blah. So it’s a lot of blah blah blah. Isn’t it better that just one person gets to decide. Like in the French days the auteur. You know the auteur like what’s his name is John Cocteau. You know what I’m saying like one person says this is the way it’s going to be. This is the movie we’re making. We’re not in a committee situation here. I’m the boss and this is how we’re going to make it OK. Because it’s my vision and that’s the way it’s going to be. It’s like how many movies are made like that it’s all committee. You got this asshole and this asshole you got to answer to. You know I mean that’s not a good situation for art. That’s a committee that’s what’s made movies go down in quality in my point of view and this is one of the reasons why independent movies were so popular at a certain point like Hillary. She did. Boys Don’t Cry. Yeah. And she did that for like hardly any money. She’s in my spin class. She’s. You know. And she did something that she could do and not have a committee decide how it’s going to be you know. So a lot of these backdoor independents that end up being studio released pictures this is one of the ways you can swim this this business you know that’s one of the ways but yeah it’s very hard to get a true vision without a bunch of people telling you you know what you’ve got to do a true vision being able to have your movie made how you want it to be without you know. This is why skills are very very important in negotiating how you deal with people. You know it’s very hard.
Over the years Sean Young has learned how to pick projects that excite her and interest her. Rather than just picking projects for the money.
I just recently got offered something in London and it was so depressing I read it. They offered all this money and then it was all like vampire. Blood sex drugs coke and I thought Are you kidding. And I read it and I just wilted I just big money. No not a good product right. Then a friend of mine sent me a script. Really wonderful script real story wonderful wonderful part. No no money zero like shit money. And I thought I’d rather I’d rather do this. Because at this point and you make decisions I mean like in my I guess in my 40s I did some movies purely based on the fact that I needed the money because I have two children and I thought better do this. You know it’s not a it’s not a great thing to have to do a movie for money. It’s not. But at the same time it’s it’s great to be able to be offered something and be able to actually say OK I’ll do this shit for the money. You know I mean it’s a gift regardless of the quality of it. You know but to be able to do a great movie for no money is a better option than doing a really you know huge budget movie that you hate. But actors have to do what they do and when you get older you get less opportunity to do that as well. I mean my choices in my 20s were different than my 30s different than my 40s and I’m 51 and they’re different they’re different now so so I base it on like what Bette Davis said which is take the best offer you have at the time you have it. You know what you can bear what you can stand.
Looking back at her career. Ms Young sees how she could have approached things differently. But in a lot of what it takes to make it didn’t really interest her then and it really doesn’t interest her now.
At 51 I would do a lot of things differently than I did at 20 30 or 40. You know what I mean. But at the same time. It’s like I’m not perfect but I’m. Just perfect as I am. You know it’s just it’s hard to accept that about a person yourself it’s like it’s hard for a person to accept the bad things about themselves in a peaceful spirit. But that’s the work I do. You know on a daily basis that’s what I do. And and. I wish I could have been more politically correct. I just wasn’t able to. You know I just never was able to do that. I just wasn’t a real good B.S. artist You know I just never was and I’m not today to this day I’m not you know and ultimately this is an interesting thing which is sometimes you know in my private meditations I go boo hoo I wanted Julia Roberts career you know. But at the same time I was I was never willing to do what she did. You know the work she put it in the people she met and the contacts she maintained and you know and the effort that she put into it I was never willing to do that. It just never was something I was had the hunger for. You know so so it’s in reverse. It’s like don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time it’s like don’t whine if you can’t put your effort in it. You know what I mean it’s like if you want it then go for it. But you got to want it you know and you and if you don’t want it be clear about that to yourself it makes it easier.
I think it’s important to hear her perspective. She’s 100 percent correct. This industry is made for certain people and if you’re not 100 percent in it then it’s a hobby. So if you’re not willing to go completely through the race to B.S. when you need to B.S. to network when you need to network to make friends with people you don’t necessarily want to make friends with. You might as well just consider it a hobby and do it in your hometown.
It’s like so much of the work is not the acting or the writing or the directing it’s making sure you’re in a position where you can do the writing or directing or the acting. Yeah I think Sean Young for years did it and then at some point was like I’m good.
I’m glad she doesn’t need to be that person. She is not that person. And she’s OK with it. And I think that’s what the lesson is. What you can take away is that you either look at what she’s saying and say oh that’s me maybe this isn’t for me maybe I’m not cut out for this or it makes you want to do it more. And on that note I want to thank you Sean Young for being so honest with us.
And thanks to all you guys out there for listening. That’s Aerial Segard.
He’s Eric Conner.
And this episode was based on the Q&A moderated by Jeff grace to watch the full interview or to see or other Q&As. Check out our youtube channel at youtube.com/newyorkfilmacademy.
This episode was written by Eric Conner edited and mixed by Kristian Hayden our creative director is David Andrew Nelson who also produced this episode with Kristian Hayden and Eric Conner.
Executive produced by Tova Laiter Jean Sherlock and Dan Mackler. A special thanks to our events department Sajja Johnson and the staff and crew who made this possible.
To learn more about our programs check us out at NYFA.edu. Be sure to subscribe on Apple podcasts or. Wherever you listen.
See you next time.
This test will determine if you’re a human or replicant. A train is moving from Omaha East at a speed of 75 miles per hour. Another train leaves Kiev going 10 miles per hour. At what point in the Atlantic Ocean will the two trains meet.