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Casting the film proved troublesome, particularly for the lead role of Deckard. Screenwriter Hampton Fancher envisioned Robert Mitchum as Deckard and wrote the character’s dialogue with Mitchum in mind. Director Ridley Scott and the film’s producers “spent months” meeting and discussing the role with Dustin Hoffman, who eventually departed over differences in vision. Harrison Ford was ultimately chosen for several reasons, including his performance in the Star Wars films, Ford’s interest in the story of Blade Runner, and discussions with Steven Spielberg who was finishing Raiders of the Lost Ark at the time and strongly praised Ford’s work in the film. According to production documents, a long list of actors was considered for the role, including Gene Hackman, Sean Connery, Jack Nicholson, Paul Newman, Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Al Pacino, and Burt Reynolds.
Coming off the success of Star Wars(1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Ford was looking for a role with dramatic depth. After Steven Spielberg praised Ford, he was hired for Blade Runner. In 1992, Ford revealed, “Blade Runner is not one of my favourite films. I tangled with Ridley.”Apart from friction with the director, Ford also disliked the voiceovers: “When we started shooting it had been tacitly agreed that the version of the film that we had agreed upon was the version without voiceover narration. It was a f**king [sic] nightmare. I thought that the film had worked without the narration. But now I was stuck re-creating that narration. And I was obliged to do the voiceovers for people that did not represent the director’s interests.” “I went kicking and screaming to the studio to record it.”
In 2006 Scott was asked “Who’s the biggest pain in the arse you’ve ever worked with?”, he replied: “It’s got to be Harrison … he’ll forgive me because now I get on with him. Now he’s become charming. But he knows a lot, that’s the problem. When we worked together it was my first film up and I was the new kid on the block. But we made a good movie.” Ford said of Scott in 2000: “I admire his work. We had a bad patch there, and I’m over it.” In 2006 Ford reflected on the production of the film saying: “What I remember more than anything else when I see Blade Runner is not the 50 nights of shooting in the rain, but the voiceover … I was still obliged to work for these clowns that came in writing one bad voiceover after another.” Ridley Scott confirmed in the summer 2007 issue of Total Film that Harrison Ford contributed to the Blade RunnerSpecial Edition DVD, having already done his interviews. “Harrison’s fully on board”, said Scott.
The film also used a number of then-lesser-known actors such as Daryl Hannah and Sean Young. Casting their roles of Pris and Rachael was also challenging, and a lengthy series of screen tests, with Morgan Paull playing the role of Deckard, were filmed with numerous actresses auditioning. Paull was cast as Deckard’s fellow bounty hunter Holden based on his performances in the tests. Among the actresses tested for the role of Rachael was Nina Axelrod, who was Paull’s recommendation. Stacey Nelkin tried out for Pris but was instead given another role in the film, which was ultimately cut before filming. Both Axelrod’s and Nelkin’s screen tests are featured in the 2007 documentary Dangerous Days: Making Blade Runner. Young was picked to play Rachael, Tyrell’s assistant, a replicant with memories that belonged to Tyrell’s niece. Hannah played Pris, a “basic pleasure model” replicant, and the development of her relationship with Roy Batty is shown as a symbol of the replicants’ underlying humanity.
One role that was not difficult to cast was Rutger Hauer as Roy Batty, the violent yet thoughtful leader of the replicants. Scott cast Hauer without having met him, based solely on Hauer’s performances in Paul Verhoeven’s movies Scott had seen (Katie Tippel, Soldier of Orange and Turkish Delight). Hauer’s portrayal of Batty was regarded by Philip K. Dick as, “the perfect Batty— cold, Aryan, flawless”. Of the many films Hauer has done, Blade Runner is his favourite. As he explained in a live chat in 2001, “BLADE RUNNER needs no explanation. It just IZZ [sic]. All of the best. There is nothing like it. To be part of a real MASTERPIECE which changed the world’s thinking. It’s awesome.”
Edward James Olmos played Gaff and used his diverse ethnic background, and some in-depth personal research, to help create the fictional “Cityspeak” language his character uses in the film. His initial addresses to Deckard at the noodle bar is partly in Hungarian and means, “Horse dick! No way. You are the Blade … Blade Runner.” M. Emmet Walsh played the role of Captain Bryant, a hard-drinking, sleazy, and underhanded police veteran typical of the film noir genre. Joe Turkel was Dr. Eldon Tyrell, a corporate mogul who built an empire on genetically manipulated humanoid slaves. William Sanderson was cast as J. F. Sebastian, a quiet and lonely genius who provides a compassionate yet compliant portrait of humanity. J. F. sympathizes with the replicants, whom he sees as companions, and shares their shorter lifespan because he has “Methuselah Syndrome”, a genetic disease resembling progeria that causes faster aging. Joe Pantoliano was considered for the role.
Brion James played Leon Kowalski, a replicant masquerading as a waste disposal engineer; he shoots a Blade Runner to escape, establishing the physical threat the replicants pose to their would-be captors. Joanna Cassidy was a special-ops, undercover and assassin replicant model called Zhora. Cassidy portrays a strong female who has seen the worst humanity has to offer. Morgan Paull plays Holden, the Blade Runner initially assigned to the case. James Hong as Hannibal Chew, an elderly Asian geneticist specializing in synthetic eyes. Hy Pyke conveyed the sleazy bar owner Taffey Lewis with ease and in a single take, something almost unheard-of with Scott whose drive for perfection resulted at times in double-digit takes.
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