Blade Runner: Whatever happened to the original's star Sean Young?

Warner Bros.

In Blade Runner, Harrison Ford's Deckard has to track down a group of renegade replicants who've returned to Earth seeking their maker.

In the publicity material for Blade Runner 2049, Denis Villeneuve's ecstatically acclaimed new sequel to Ridley Scott's 1982 classic, one figure is noticeably absent.

At the end of the original, Sean Young's Rachael, an experimental replicant with the memories and consciousness of a human, was seen riding off into the unknown with Harrison Ford's LA cop, Rick Deckard.

Young has a fleeting, computer-generated appearance as a digital copy of Rachael in the new film, but the actress, whose performance as a slinky, fragile and unknowing cyborg marked the 28-year-old as one of the major up-and-comers of the Eighties, has all but disappeared from view.

While Ford went on to cement his position on the Hollywood A-list, a decade after Blade Runner's release, Young's career was in ruins, thanks to a toxic mix of highly public, erratic behaviour combined with borderline misogyny received from some of the people she worked with.

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Sean Young played the replicant Rachael in Blade Runner.

Sean Young played the replicant Rachael in Blade Runner.

In the wake of Blade Runner, Young's career seemed to be in the ascendant, with acclaimed roles in David Lynch's Dune and the surprise box office hit No Way Out. But the wheels soon began to fly off when an alleged affair with actor James Woods on the set of their drama The Boost resulted in a major dent to her reputation.

While both have always denied they were an item, Woods filed a US$6 million harassment suit against Young that year, claiming she had stalked him and his fiancee, Sarah. Some of the more outrageous accusations included that Young had left a butchered voodoo doll on the doorstep of their home.

Sean Young twirls her gown as she arrives on the steps at the palace for the closing ceremonies and the awarding of the ...
FRED PROUSER/REUTERS

Sean Young twirls her gown as she arrives on the steps at the palace for the closing ceremonies and the awarding of the Palme d'Or for best film at the Cannes Film Festival in 2000.

Young repeatedly denied that she was the source of the doll, or that she had stalked the couple, telling Entertainment Weekly in 1992 that the scandal "[boiled] down to two people plotting to set me up and make me look like I was a crazy person, partially because of their own mental illness, partially because of revenge".

Dramatic tales of Young's antics (including the rumour, denied by both parties, that she once superglued Woods's penis to his leg) helped create a narrative of wayward behaviour that eclipsed some of the treatment she suffered at the hands of her co-stars.

In 1987, midway through shooting a supporting role in Oliver Stone's Wall Street, her co-star Charlie Sheen stuck a note on her back. It read: "I am the biggest c... in the world."

Sean Young and Matt Dillon teamed-up for A Kiss Before Dying.

Sean Young and Matt Dillon teamed-up for A Kiss Before Dying.

Young had already infuriated Stone with her repeated insistence that she should have been cast as the film's leading lady instead of Daryl Hannah, and Sheen's dislike of her convinced Stone to take drastic measures. Stone cut out Young's entire sub-plot from the script, sent her packing from the set and had her quietly dropped off at a New York bus station.

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The Wall Street story gets to the root of the Sean Young conundrum. Neither a helpless victim of Hollywood's uglier side, nor the sole orchestrator of her own demise, Young is just as difficult to fully defend as she is to wholly condemn. And yet, she has become a Hollywood punchline in a career more notable for the parts she has lost than the parts she has played.

In 1989, Young was fired from the set of Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy. She was initially cast as Tracy's girlfriend, Tess, who welcomes into their home a young orphan boy named The Kid. According to Star, Peter Biskind's Beatty biography, Beatty had second thoughts about Young's casting when she insulted a young boy auditioning to play the role. Beatty claimed she wasn't "maternal" enough for the part, and replaced her with Glenne Headly.

Sean Young starred opposite Kevin Costner in No Way Out.

Sean Young starred opposite Kevin Costner in No Way Out.

Young's version of what happened was a bit different. She told Movieline in 1990 that Beatty fired her after she rejected his advances: "He is impossibly self-centred, more vain than any woman I've ever met, and obsessed with sex, his penis, and conquering women," she said. "I made him look too old and didn't respond to his endless hitting on me."

That same year, Young was cast in Tim Burton's Batman as Vicki Vale, the beautiful photojournalist love interest of Bruce Wayne. Yet during rehearsals for a scene that ended up not actually being filmed, Young was thrown from a horse. With less than a week to go before shooting commenced, she was replaced by Kim Basinger.

"There's kind of a poetic symbolism about that," Young has said. "In a way I look back at that particular time in my life, and I go, 'Wow, I wish I'd been able to hang on to that horse'."

Sean Young outside the 2011 Governors Awards in Hollywood,
DANNY MOLOSHOK/REUTERS

Sean Young outside the 2011 Governors Awards in Hollywood,

Two years later, hearing that Burton was casting the role of Catwoman in the Batman sequel, Young stormed the Warner Bros lot dressed in a homemade Catwoman costume and attempted to convince Burton to hire her. Burton reportedly hid under his desk until she went away.

The stunt was widely mocked in industry circles, but Young doubled down. A month later, she appeared on The Joan Rivers Show in full Catwoman get-up, lambasting Burton for refusing to see her and claimed she was the one true Catwoman.

After Catwoman, Young's career nosedived. She would play an evil trans woman stripped to her underpants, her penis protruding from between her legs, in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective; a young Famke Janssen's agent in the supermodel-turned-superhero TV pilot Model by Day, and headline a movie called Dr Jekyll and Ms Hyde. From 1992 until 1996, she was nominated for seven different Razzie Awards, winning two for her dual roles as twins in the sub-Basic Instinct thriller A Kiss Before Dying.

A speculated comeback in 2001 never materialised. "Hollywood just loves comeback stories, and I'm a natural for that," she told Movieline that year. "A lot of people want me to succeed, and I'm happy they feel that way."

While Young's acting choices became noticeably more classy in the mid-Noughties, with guest appearances in CSI and ER, she couldn't help attracting bad press. At the 2006 Academy Awards, she tried to crash the Vanity Fair Oscar party before being escorted out by security. Two years later, she drunkenly heckled George Clooney, Marion Cotillard and director Julian Schnabel at the Directors Guild of America Awards. She checked herself into rehab the next day.

Now alcohol-free since 2012, she has settled for starring in regional theatre productions on the outskirts of New York and popping up in horror indies. Sure, there's still kookiness, but there were also moments where Young spoke eloquently about her career.

"I wasn't perfect, by any stretch of the imagination, but I wasn't crazy," she said. "And I'm certainly not the first person in Hollywood to have an alcohol issue. I was a little bit of a whipping girl, and my wings were clipped by a few people that were in a position to do that."

Young has for decades been a compelling performer, despite her off-screen downfall so often eclipsing it. But what makes her so endlessly fascinating is the sheer anarchic drama of that downfall.

An admirably unapologetic acting rebel, Young has repeatedly proved herself to be a one-off, even if it cost her the kind of career she seemed so set up to have. Few would ever insult A-list directors while dressed in a costume-shop catsuit on daytime TV. But, then again, few will ever be Sean Young.

 

 - The Telegraph, London

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