20 Crazy Details Behind The Making Of Ladyhawke

1985 was an eventful year for Hollywood, seeing the releases of such timeless classics as The Goonies, Back to the Future, The Breakfast Club, Brazil, Witness, Out of Africa, and Ran. It also saw the release of Ladyhawke, a medieval fantasy/romance/action/adventure telling the unforgettable tale of the love story between Isabeau (Michelle Pfeiffer) and Navarre (Rutger Hauer).

The two lovers are placed under a terrible curse whereby she transforms into a hawk during the day, and he into a wolf by night. Together with the help of the crafty thief Gaston (Matthew Broderick), they must attempt to lift the curse for the sake of true love.

Since its initial release, Richard Donner’s Ladyhawke is probably best remembered among mainstream audiences today for its highly divisive synth-rock score. Any contemporary review or more recent retrospective of the film makes mention of Andrew Powell’s music. While certainly noteworthy and memorable, Ladyhawke has so much more going for it - or against it, depending on how well you like Powell’s score.

In the past thirty-three years, Ladyhawke has earned a cult classic status to match other '80s fantasy adventures like Conan the Barbarian, Labyrinth, The NeverEnding Story, and Legend. Die hard fans of this movie (and those movies) know that there is always more to the story than what makes it onto the movie screen. For all its campiness, self-seriousness, and (yes) its bizarre musical score, Ladyhawke produced some pretty fascinating behind-the-scenes stories.

Here are 20 Crazy Details Behind The Making Of Ladyhawke.

20 Kurt Russell Left The Starring Role Just Before Filming Started

Kurt Russell John Carpenter The Thing

Before Dutch actor Rutger Hauer signed on for what would become his second-best role of the 1980s (after Blade Runner, obviously), action star Kurt Russell was cast as Navarre. Ladyhawke began production in 1981, the same year Russell starred in John Carpenter’s Escape from New York and Disney’s The Fox and the Hound.

From the beginning, production on Ladyhawke encountered some severe delays, pushing photography back by a few years. According to producer Lauren Shuler, Russell dropped the project to reunite with Goldie Hawn, but it’s possible scheduling conflicts with The Thing and Silkwood are also to blame.

Whatever the reason, Donner exchanged a distinctly American actor for a distinctly European one, inarguably more suited for the part.

19 Michelle Pfeiffer's Audition with Kevin Costner

kevin costner dances with wolves

Michelle Pfeiffer sent in an audition tape for the part of Isabeau, despite reservations about the fantasy genre. She had been sent part of the script to read containing a scene between Isabeau and Gaston, later played by Matthew Broderick. Pfeiffer read the part and enlisted the aid of a friend of hers to read for Gaston.

The friend was a still unknown actor named Kevin Costner. That’s right, years before raking in Oscars for Dances with Wolves, Costner read on Pfeiffer’s audition tape for Ladyhawke.

Costner’s big break came in 1985, the same year as Ladyhawke’s release.

He starred in Lawrence Kasdan’s western Silverado. Prior to that, his biggest movie was The Big Chill, but all of his scenes were cut from the final edit.

18 Rutger Hauer Almost played Aquila

Before being offered the role of Navarre, back when Kurt Russell was still signed on to play the part, director Richard Donner reached out to Rutger Hauer to play the villain. Considering Hauer’s breakout turn in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner in 1982, he would be a natural choice for any antagonist. Hauer was concerned about becoming typecast as villains, the way so many European actors do in American movies, and refused.

Hauer did, however, tell Donner that he liked the script, and would love to play Navarre if the role opened up before production. Shortly thereafter, Kurt Russell dropped out, and Donner called Hauer to fill his shoes. Everything worked out in the end.

17 Michelle Pfeiffer didn't want to play a princess

It can be difficult for a young actress to make it big in Hollywood, even with the talent of Michelle Pfeiffer. Before Ladyhawke, Pfeiffer’s looks had been subject to some fairly outlandish criticism. Some said she was too pretty to ever be taken seriously.

Well, with this in mind, Pfeiffer exercised extreme caution in selecting projects and auditions. For that reason, she was hesitant to try out for Ladyhawke. In her own words, she didn’t want to play a “beautiful princess romping through the woods,” a Disney character, if you will.

After reading the script, though, she changed her mind, citing it as one of the most charming stories she’d ever read.

16 Dustin Hoffman and Sean Penn were the first choices for Gaston

Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man

Matthew Broderick was arguably the foremost star of his age group in the mid-80s, with movies like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Wargames. Ladyhawke definitely bolstered his CV during this time, but he wasn’t first in line for the part.

Before Broderick was offered Gaston, producers considered both Dustin Hoffman and Sean Penn. Hoffman had been on the scene for twenty years by the 1980s, and while his familiar face from past successes like The Graduate and Midnight Cowboy could translate to box office revenue, he wasn’t quite what Donner was looking for.

Gaston is meant to be a young, mousy character, and Hoffman was in his mid-forties by Ladyhawke.

He was older than Rutger Hauer.

Penn, meanwhile, was less than half Hoffman’s age. His previous popularity in Fast Times at Ridgemont High meant that he would be a good choice, but he turned down the role when it was offered to him.

15 Rutger Hauer drove a mobile home across Europe for the part

Upon hearing the news that he had won the role of Navarre, Hauer told Donner, “Make sure you have a parking space for my 55ft trailer.” Donner assumed Hauer was cracking a joke about the egos of Hollywood leading men. He was not.

Hauer’s pride and joy at the time was an epic motor home he constructed himself.

He drove it all the way across Europe, from his home in the Netherlands to the filming location in Italy. No one was quite prepared to witness this behemoth vehicle show up on set.

He parked his 18-wheeler at the front gates of the studio headquarters in Rome. When Donner came out he was less than thrilled, to put it politely.

14 Matthew Broderick spent two days freezing cold and wet

One of the first major set pieces in Ladyhawke depicts Gaston’s daring escape from prison, which required actor Matthew Broderick to swim in a castle moat, emerge dramatically from the water, and run on foot across a wintry Italian countryside.

According to Broderick, when he read the script, he thought it sounded like a great scene. Little did he know at the time that “Gaston bursts from the water” actually meant, “Gaston bursts from the water for two hours straight.”

The reality of filmmaking is often slow and repetitive. In this case, poor Broderick spent hours fully submerged in the icy waters of the moat, only then to spend two days filming the sequence of a sopping wet Gaston running through wintry landscapes. If he looks freezing on screen, that’s only because the actor was freezing in real life.

13 Rutger Hauer's Horse Prank on Matthew Broderick

Rutger Hauer is an accomplished equestrian. He spent much of his youth riding horses, even at the competitive level. Matthew Broderick, on the other hand, was not so confident. In fact, he’d never ridden a horse before in his life.

There’s a scene in Ladyhawke where Hauer’s character sends Broderick’s out alone on his horse. They planned to put Broderick on the horse and then cut before sending it riding off, but Hauer had other, more impious ideas. Ever a prankster, and a firm believer in baptism by fire, apparently, Hauer slapped the horse’s rear.

The animal took off at a tremendous gallop with Broderick barely hanging on.

Crew members were sent out in jeeps to track them down, and eventually found both horse and rider half a mile away.

12 Rutger Hauer turned his back on stardom after the movie

Although he considers Ladyhawke as one of the best experiences of his career, the production nonetheless turned Hauer off the path of stardom—b y choice. Hauer has since intentionally avoided “leading man” roles in favor of smaller supporting parts. He acknowledges the attraction of wealth, but says that he fears the way producers, fans, and managers try to take over one’s career at that point.

In his words, “It may be money, but then your life’s… I’m not going to say 'over', but there’s no... privacy.”

Apparently, he values being an actor over being a celebrity, which is admirable and difficult to come by these days. He’s swapped fame for artistic flexibility. Seems like a fair trade.

11 Michelle Pfeiffer's Talking Bird

Ladyhawke stalled in pre-production for years before shooting finally commenced. One of the reasons for the delay was the arduous casting process. Actors signed on and dropped out, studios fought for celebrities, locations took time to scout, and things dragged on. According to director Richard Donner and producer Lauren Shuler, one of the major hurtles to clear was the casting Isabeau.

Michelle Pfeiffer’s audition tape was appealing enough, but as Shuler tells it, it wasn’t her reading that one her the part, but her sense of humor. Apparently, at one point on the tape, she demonstrates what she imagined Isabeau the hawk to look like, putting the camera on little bird, and providing voice over from off screen. This sense of humor immediately endeared her to Donner, and she got the part.

10 Mick Jagger was almost Aquila

Ladyhawke has more alternate casts that most movies, but possibly the greatest possibility to consider is that of music legend Mick Jagger in the role of the evil bishop. The role eventually went to actor John Wood, but one can imagine Jagger hamming it up as a villain.

The producers courted him for the part, but due to the extended timeline and obscure locations, Jagger couldn’t commit to the role.

A similar story regards Jagger’s involvement in the 1982 Werner Herzog film Fitzcarraldo. Jagger was Herzog’s first and only choice to play a character, and when he had to drop out to return to the Rolling Stones, Herzog rewrote the entire script without that character rather than recasting. That strategy wouldn’t have worked for Ladyhawke.

9 Matthew Broderick's Salary

There’s a reason everyone wants to be a movie star. While Matthew Broderick did have to put up with some mild discomfort— and struggle with an accent— he was more than generously compensated for his efforts. Lots of people get wet and cold at work. Think of fishermen, for example-- that can be dangerous work. They don’t get paid $750,000 for five months of work, however.

Despite his youth, and despite Wargames being his only other major credit to date, Broderick’s salary was about four percent of the film’s total budget.

Considering the expensive special effects, costumes, and locations, that’s a pretty considerable sum of money to spend on an actor of Broderick’s standing. He must’ve had one heck of an agent.

8 How Hauer Lost 20 lbs.

One of Ladyhawke’s best and most endearing qualities is the convincing costume design. A great deal of fantasy and historical movies skimp out on the costuming and props, favoring cheap materials over authenticity. While not exactly authentic, per se, the costume designers for Ladyhawke did not use cheap materials, particularly where arms and armor were concerned.

Here’s the thing about wearing a metal suit: it’s extremely heavy.

Rutger Hauer learned that the hard way. According to him, the suit of armor he wore and the sword he carried were so heavy, he lost twenty pounds shooting the climactic fight scene alone. That’s one way to get a good workout.

7 Broderick's Wet Suit

Richard Donner is notorious in Hollywood as an all-around fun and caring person to work with. One of his distinguishing characteristics is his reputation for taking his actors’ wellbeing into consideration. Since the script called for Matthew Broderick to soak himself to the bone and then run through a freezing wilderness, they had to film it that way, but Donner tried to make his actor comfortable.

Although Gaston wears thin rags throughout the film, the production team often tried to hide insulation and wet suits under his clothes, to spare Broderick some of the hardship (and presumably pneumonia).

However, according to Donner, this wasn’t possible in close-ups, as the layering became too obvious.

6 Rutger Hauer, Hawk Whisperer

You know those incredible candid moments when you wish you had a camera on hand?

Shortly after Rutger Hauer signed on to the picture, he was having a lunch meeting with Richard Donner and a few others. They showed him some of the props he’d be using on set, including his hawking glove. The costumers showed him how to put it on and how to raise it up so that a bird would actually land on it.

Across the street, some trainers were preparing the birds for their first day, and one of the hawks saw Hauer raise his arm (they have great eyesight).

Much to everyone’s surprise, the hawk flew across the street, into the restaurant, and landed on Hauer’s arm.

According to one producer, everyone jumped with surprise, except Hauer, who was “cool as ice.”

5 Constructing A Medieval Church From Stratch

Europe makes a lot of sense as a location for medieval fantasy. Castles and churches from the middle-ages still pepper the countryside today, some in excellent condition. While scouting for locations, Richard Donner found a number of medieval churches that would be ideal for the church set in the movie.

Unfortunately, and perhaps unsurprisingly, shooting inside these buildings was impossible. For one thing, since these were protected historical sites, there were several concerns that the film crew would damage the centuries-old structures in one way or another. There were also some religious considerations. A church might not be inclined to support a movie wherein an evil bishop transforms a woman into a bird and a man into a wolf.

Instead , the crew had to build a church from scratch, an undertaking that took two months.

4 Location Struggles

Pre-production can be an arduous process for even the most veteran filmmakers. By the early 1980s, Richard Donner had already directed The Omen and two Superman movies, so he knew a thing or two about the craft. Nonetheless, Ladyhawke had its fair share of false starts.

The first major hurdle came from location scouting. Donner knew he wanted to shoot in Europe to establish a more authentic medieval feel, and began his search in Czechoslovakia.

Although several natural locations instantly leapt out at him, the fact that Czechoslovakia was under the control of the Soviet Union at the time simply posed too many problems.

3 Andrew Powell's Inspirations

As previously mentioned, one of the most memorable aspects of Ladyhawke is its incongruous and controversial musical score, written by Andrew Powell of the Alan Parsons Project. Powell was Donner’s first choice from day one, and he was thrilled when the musician signed on, and remains a staunch proponent of Powell’s score today.

One might wonder what inspired Powell to blend modern synthesizers with Gregorian chants.

According to the composer himself, he drew inspiration from several sources, both audio and visual. The cinematography caught his eye, and in many ways his score attempts to translate sight into sound.

Another great influence was the even more controversial composer Igor Stravinsky. Stravinsky incited his audience to riot on one occasion, so some connection may be drawn between the two.

2 Italian Location Scouting

After Czechoslovakia fell through as Donner’s first choice for a location, he turned his attention elsewhere.

After a brief period in Spain, the production moved to Italy, which instantly clicked.

Typically, at this point, professional location scouts spread out into the countryside, finding the exact right valley or mountain for a particular scene. Sounds like a nice job, right?

Richard Donner thought so, too. He decided to personally join the scout team, devoting over two months to driving around the Italian countryside. After a few weeks, they managed to find everything they needed right there in Italy. Shooting commenced shortly thereafter.

1 Michelle Pfeiffer's trick Combating Homesickness

While a five-month, all-expenses-paid trip to Italy may sound appealing to most people, it took its toll on some cast members. In particular, Michelle Pfeiffer says she struggled with the distance from home, and the time spent away from friends and family. Although work kept her busy much of the time, she does spend half of the movie in hawk form, so she had quite a bit of downtime.

During this period, as a way to occupy her mind and distract herself from the ache of homesickness, Pfeiffer took up painting. Apparently, she got pretty good at it, too. Pfeiffer says she still paints to this day as one of her major hobbies, not just as a remedy.


Know any other fascinating stories behind the making of Ladyhawke? Let us know in the comments section.

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