Film: From art house to schlock tactics: that really Hurts

Remember `Kiss of the Spider Woman'? `Body Heat'? James Mottram wonders what an actor like William Hurt - the golden boy of intelligent Eighties film-making - is doing in hokum like `Dark City' and `Lost In Space'

Looking tired, flustered and hot, William Hurt's weathered face, with its piercingly blue bespectacled eyes, has the ability to transfix. And right now, you want to smack it. An actor who truly embodied a generation, just as Nicholson, Fonda and Hoffman once did, is attempting to justify his recent Hollywood showreel. That he played a tabloid hack in Nora Ephron's appalling angel comedy Michael one year ago is forgivable - it gave him the chance to work with John Travolta - until one considers parts two and three of this triptych of sell-outs.

This week sees Hurt take a supporting role in Alex Proyas's Gothic sci- fi (ish) noir, Dark City, a fond reminder of Brazil and Blade Runner. While Rufus Sewell spends most of the film searching for his memory, Hurt plays Inspector Bumstead, assigned to uncover the killer of the corpse that was found next to Sewell when he woke up minus his identity.

By contrast, Lost In Space, which is released next month, is breezy effects hokum, all good intentions but a little self-absorbed in its own importance. Based on the Sixties schlock TV series, Hurt plays the head of the Robinson family, sent into deep space to build a hyperspace gate. Eschewing the tongue-in- cheek, family dysfunction is the theme of the day. With Matt LeBlanc of Friends and Heather Graham - Rollergirl in Boogie Nights - on board, Hurt finds himself doing battle with spiders and Gary Oldman, back once again for a dose of summer psychotics.

With a budget of $80m (pounds 48m), it's the only film likely to rival Godzilla at the box office, boasting the most F/X (nearly 1,000) ever used in a movie. Neither project is typical Hurt (the studio, New Line, wanted Tom Selleck for the role), his performances benign in both. Yet he will argue fervently for doing them, denying that they signify any change in direction.

"It's a family-kiddie drama," he says of Lost In Space, for example. "It's basically a series of serious issues blocked out on a set of cards and handed out to the audience in an entertaining way that does not have them quivering in terror and despair about their future."

As enigmatic as he is ever-troubled by political correctness (he apologises after the interview for swearing, just in case his children read this), Hurt says that he deplores ignorance, be it in his work or in life. "What the film doesn't do - unlike those in its genre that it will be compared to - is important for me," he continues with regard to Lost In Space. "You don't get 10,000 people shot in the first two minutes or reservoirs of red blood flowing in the aisles with brains slapping against the walls."

Such concern for the wellbeing of his children presumably comes naturally for a father of four who always wanted to have children. He moved with his mother and brothers from Washington to Manhattan after his parents split when he was six. His childhood was unusual, lacking a stability that his adulthood has also rarely found. While his father was a US State Department official, allowing him to spend time in Guam, Pakistan, the Sudan and Somalia, his mother remarried the son of one of the founders of Time Inc - moving the young Hurt once more, this time from a four-room apartment to a 22-room duplex. Little wonder that the boy who spoke half in the language of Guam at four and learnt about honour from a Muslim cook at nine, grew up to act out illusions.

His own personal life has been turbulent, a relationship with the bottle the most important factor for him for many years. Accused of physical and verbal abuse by his first wife, ballet dancer Sandra Jennings (who gave him eldest son, 14-year-old Alex), in a palimony suit, Hurt saw the marriage go public. Though his second - to Heidi Henderson - bore him two sons, it ended and a relationship with French actress Sandrine Bonnaire (co-star from The Plague) gave him four-year-old daughter Jeanne.

Hurt made his screen debut as a Jekyll variant in Ken Russell's Altered States. Best remembered for his Oscar- winning performance in Hector Babenco's Kiss of the Spider Woman, Hurt was the golden boy of the Eighties, working most notably three times with director Lawrence Kasdan (the neo-noir Body Heat, ensemble college piece The Big Chill and quirky comedy The Accidental Tourist). He played a special- school teacher in Children of a Lesser God, a Moscow policeman in Gorky Park and a shallow anchorman in James L Brooks' Broadcast News.

His disappearance from the spotlight in the early Nineties was rapid, though. Leaving his wife, agent and country (he moved to Paris), Hurt experimented with European art-house (Wim Wenders' Until the End of the World) and worked with the likes of Anthony Minghella (who wrote 1991's The Doctor for him and directed him in Mr Wonderful). The films received little screen-time. His return - almost stalled by his appearance as Rochester in the dire Jane Eyre - was with Wayne Wang's Smoke, in which he gave his best performance to date, one full of gentility and humanity, as a troubled writer who frequented Harvey Keitel's cigar store. His refusal to appear in its rag-bag sequel Blue In The Face (put together in just a week) says much about Hurt's working method.

"They said it was improvisation, which it wasn't. Improvisation is a highly structured artistic discipline. I didn't like the end result, it seemed like a lot of people cameoing." Preferring to work alongside those who have "a sense of training", Hurt's performances involve intense preparation, and he certainly takes his job seriously.

"I think what's taking something away from acting is not the inclusion of special effects, but what the studios have done to actors, which is to take away any rehearsal time.

"No time to prepare, so why would you differentiate? Work then ceases to be interesting, because you don't have time to make a different statement in a place you can trust to fall on your face and try some artistic risks. Then they take the endings away by market research, and you can't aim your passions, intentions, thoughts, integrity anywhere.

"And then you hear them say: `Why aren't there any good actors any more?' Well, I'm sorry. I started working in a medium 20 years ago where there was a little more room. Now, they're gonna computer-generate me, and I understand why. Acting has been outmoded - it really doesn't exist."

Hurt's return to a spate of American independent films should give him breathing space. Next up is the Sean Penn co-production, Loved, in which Hurt stars alongside Robin Wright-Penn as a lawyer who is attempting to prosecute men for physical abuse towards women.

He also is set to work on The Big Brass Ring, based on an incomplete Orson Welles script, allowing him to work with Nigel Hawthorne, Irene Jacob and Miranda Richardson.

"Acting is an art," he says. "Not because we make it one but because it's an art. You don't need cinema, you can do it in the street, in the bathroom. Film is not the innate art, theatre is. There are roses and daisies and dancing, theatre and painting, and rocks - that's the way it is. If all the film in the world burnt down today, you'd still have acting."

`Dark City' is released today. `Lost In Space' opens on 31 July

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Life and Style
Jodie Stimpson crosses the finishing line to win gold in the women's triathlon
Commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan stars as Christian Grey in the Fifty Shades of Grey movie
filmFirst look at Jamie Dornan in Fifty Shades of Grey trailor
Life and Style
Phillips Idowu, Stella McCartney and Jessica Ennis
fashionMcCartney to continue designing Team GB Olympics kit until 2016
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

    £30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

    Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

    £34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

    Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

    Developer - WinForms, C#

    £280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

    Day In a Page

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game