April 19, 2018 | Rome, Italy | °C

A determined man

Author and screenwriter Hampton Fancher with Barbara Hershey.
By Dianne Bennett
Published: 2017-12-10

ampton Fancher, the principal writer of just-released "Blade Runner 2049" and its iconic 1982 predecessor "Blade Runner," has led a life that could be the stuff of fiction. His full name — Hampton Lansden Fancher III — hints of illusion. That name, along with his looks — handsome, tall, dark and distinctive — opened doors for him.

Fancher was born in East Los Angeles in 1938 to a half-Mexican, half-Danish mother and an American physician father. He was in and out of school, a truant, and also in and out of juvenile detention. He quit school in his early teens to become a Flamenco dancer. By 15 he was dancing in Spain, renaming himself Mario Montejo. Before he was 20 he was married. "She was older and turned me on to a lot of things," he says. Those "things" included Henry Miller.

Though not formally educated, the young Fancher began reading widely, starting with a 1905 edition of "The Oxford Book of English Verse" he found in his parents' house ("I loved the cover, the paper it was printed on"). Not knowing how to borrow a book, he stole Ernest Hemingway's "Death in the Afternoon" from the public library by dropping it out of a bathroom window. He saw three movies a week.

Fancher on the casting of Ryan Gosling in "Blade Runner 2049" — "I want Gosling. Because, I whispered to someone, 'He's from Mars.'"

Fancher fell into the acting business when someone saw him on the street and said, "Hey 'Wolfboy,' want to be in a movie?" That first movie — "The Brain Eaters" (1958) — led to a 20-year acting career, mostly as sidekick, an enemy, or a character, but never the male lead. He was in numerous films, including "Rome Adventure," with Troy Donahue, shot on location in 1962, and TV series, such as "Gunsmoke." His acting career lasted until the late 1970s.

In 2012, he published "The Shape of the Final Dog and Other Stories," his first foray into writing aside from screenwriting. In a story titled "The Climacteric of Zachary Ray," Fancher could be describing himself. He describes fictional character Ray as being "famous for playing conniving characters, half craven, half courageous, and never showing their hands." But Ray then hits a wall. "A slump is what he called it, and it spread. For about twelve years running, he was among the best of the bad guys, but then they had seen enough."

At the time Fancher's stories were published, he hadn't acted since 1978 and hadn't written a screenplay until "Blade Runner" in 1982. But he'd been dogged in obtaining the rights to "Blade Runner." Early on he had identified William Burroughs, Philip K. Dick, and Charles Bukowski as potential sources for screenplays, and he maneuvered his way into all their homes. In a first visit to the home of sci-fi writer Dick, he asked, even begged, for the rights to Dick's book, "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" Three years later he was instrumental in getting the rights by sending his persuasive friend Brian Kelly (of TV's "Flipper" fame) to Dick. Kelly succeeded.

From "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?," Fancher developed the basic story for director Ridley Scott's 1982 "Blade Runner," and it was his first writing credit. He was also a producer on that film, no doubt for his efforts in obtaining the rights. After that he had occasional success with screenwriting. He wrote "The Mighty Quinn" (1989) and "The Minus Man" (1999), which he also directed. Both films received critical acclaim and some awards.

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