"It's a completely different landscape," reflects Daryl Hannah of the life of the modern Hollywood actress. Social media, press junkets, image management rights, TMZ: none of those were about when the Chicagoan burst onto the scene in the early '80s. She'd grown up dreaming of magic of the movies and, when she landed a part on Ridley Scott's tumultuous, brilliant and often pretty testy Blade Runner shoot, found herself plunged into a magician's den. "From the moment I walked on set, I was transported to another reality," she tells Empire, sparked by the mere memory of the sci-fi dystopia Scott had crafted on an LA backlot.
If it felt like a simpler time, it threw up plenty of its own complexities: egos to navigate, the right projects to pick, cumbersome mermaid tails to flap around in. But while the '80s brought highs (Splash, Steel Magnolias, Roxanne), as well as a low or two (Wall Street), little of her work hasn't endured. About to reunite with the Wachowskis for a second season of Sense8, she's still going strong on screen and stage. Hannah is also a formidable force in environmentalis – just in case you were thinking of chopping down any trees. In short, she's a true Empire hero and an '80s star worthy of celebration.
Blade Runner was a famously tumultuous shoot. Had you done anything previously that remotely prepared you for it?
It was really my first [major film]. I'd done a very small part in a Brian De Palma film (The Fury) when I was still at high school and living in Chicago, but Blade Runner was my first big part in a studio movie. The only thing that prepared me for it was that it was exactly what I thought movie-making would be like. I'd read so many books about the '30s and '40s, the golden era of Hollywood, and had been in love with films like The Wizard Of Oz. The vision, the scope of it was so much bigger than things we were seeing at that time. My imagination had prepared me for it, but what it didn't prepare me for was the fact that it was an anomaly! (Laughs)
One of the lessons I've learnt is to do everything you can not to get involved in on-set politics.
Have you ever experienced anything like it since?
Not really. The closest thing would be Kill Bill in a way, because Quentin [Tarantino] creates such a unique universe around his projects, but it didn't have to be quite as elaborate as Blade Runner. Quentin and Ridley [Scott] are both extremely thorough in realising their creative vision, getting involved in every minute detail.
There was quite a lot of tension on that set, particularly between Ridley and Harrison Ford. What are your recollections of that?
I was aware of it but I was thankfully and blissfully left out of the majority of it. Because I was the baby of the cast, I didn't get involved in the politics. That's one of the lessons I've learnt that I wish I'd understood much earlier: do everything you can not to get involved in the politics on set, because it distracts you from your doing good work.
Your character, Pris, has a spectacle death scene. The gymnastics was all your own work, wasn't it?
In the original script, the fight scene with Harrison took place in a gym and involved barbells and hitting each other with weights. I suggested to Ridley that, since I was a gymnast, maybe I could do some gymnastics during the fight. When Deckard first comes across [Pris] in the script she was hanging from some rings, but I told Ridley that I could do stuff on the rings and on the parallel bars. He said, "Can you show me what you mean?" so I did some gymnastics for him, then he asked me to do it again in my audition, a very elaborate three-day filmed affair on the Warner Bros. soundstages with rain and smoke, and then during my screen test. The other girls auditioning didn't have that in their concept of the character. He rewrote the scene based around that idea.
Was that scene fun to do?
It was all fun to shoot on that film, it was all so fantastical. Whenever I walked onto set I was immediately transported to another reality, which is all I ever wanted when I was making movies. For five months, nobody recognised me until I got into character. I loved it.
On Blade Runner I was devastated because the other girls were really beautiful and I looked like a total freak.
The '80s was an era renowned for some fairly out-there looks. Do you have a favourite?
Well, for the screen test for Blade Runner, we got to co-create our own look with the wardrobe team and hair and make-up, so I had a completely different look. I remember being devastated by what the other girls looked like because they were really beautiful and I looked like a total freak. But I'd ushered a film festival as a kid and seen Nosferatu The Vampyre and been inspired by Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski's interpretation of that character. I tried to look a little bit like him. I found an old yak-hair wig in a box, puttied out my eyebrows, blackened my eyes and all that stuff just being inspired by Nosferatu.
The look of Hannah's Blade Runner character was inspired by Werner Herzog's vampire Nosferatu.
Was a Clockwork Orange an influence for Pris' look too?
I have never seen A Clockwork Orange, to this day. I have nightmares and I've been told it will exacerbate my nightmares. It's the scene with the eyeballs. I'm a bit scared.
Are there any looks from that period that you look back on and grimace?
Blade Runner was exactly what I thought movie-making would be like.
Definitely all of the overblown big hair, primped hair was unfortunate but, you know, whatever...
Any movies spring to mind?
Oh my god, quite a few. I'd rather them not spring to mind (laughs).
What about the horn-rimmed glasses from Steel Magnolias?
Actually those are my glasses and, yes, I picked them. If you look at the first time I ever appeared on the Academy Awards, I wore them to read the card because they used not to have teleprompters. I'm wearing those glasses at the Oscars.
With Sally Field, Olympia Dukakis, Shirley MacLaine and Dolly Parton on Steel Magnolias.
So you actually wore them onto the set on the first day of filming?
I actually went to my meeting with Herbert Ross, the director, because I wanted him to see that it was part of my interpretation of the character before she started metamorphosing.
Was the set of Steel Magnolias as much fun as it sounds?
It was really lovely. Up until then I'd done quite a few films where I'd been the only girl, so to be able to work with so many incredible women was really nice. I'd never been in an environment where women were able to be so supportive. I can't tell how much I adored Dolly Parton and Shirley MacLaine, Olympia Dukakis... it was such a treat to spend that time with them. They were beautifully written parts.
The Blade Runner sequel is coming. Have you had any conversations about that?
Clearly my character has been retired, although obviously I'm a replicant so they could remake me. If they did remake me, I'm not sure they'd remake me 30 years older (laughs).
With Michael Douglas on Wall Street. Olive Stone's drama had a tough and often tempestuous shoot.
Wall Street sounds like a pretty miserable experience. Is that fair?
Um, it's hard to say. It was challenging for me, for sure. I really loved some of the work that Oliver Stone has been doing – he's a very talented filmmaker – but there were some personality problems and I was not mature enough at the time to not let those things affect my work and the process. It took me a long to learn how to avoid any kind of drama and not let it affect me. It's a collaborative medium. It's hit or miss. On Sense8 the Wachowkis were very, very specific in casting people they could spend a lot of time with, but quite often it's just not one of the priorities, so you never know what the mix is going to be. You're going to get people where your energies just don't jibe and you have to find a way to protect yourself and your work. On Wall Street we had a lot of large characters, especially Oliver who has different things that he's confronting in his life, and I didn't know how to navigate that. I was still very vulnerable and sensitive.
Wall Street was challenging for me, for sure. We had a lot of large characters.
Was your relationship with Sean Young difficult?
You know, I get along pretty well with everybody but that was also one of my problems. I used to try to get along with everybody and put too much effort into it. You need to be able to stay focused on your character and your work and not worry if someone else has jealousy issues or problems. That happens in this field because many actors' drive is born out of insecurity. It's important not to engage with it: be friendly, be collaborative and helpful, but don't get too consumed by it. It took me until I was making Kill Bill to learn that.
Seeing a man about a conk on Roxanne.
What's your favourite memory of working with Steve Martin on Roxanne?
Oh my god... he was so smart and so funny. I loved how he would try things out on the set and experiment with his physical comedy and his lines, because he was writing as we were shooting. He's just so fun to watch and be around. Pretty much everything about working on that film and with him was inspiring and fun. His physical comedy is just hilarious and unexpected, because he looks so square (laughs). I feel really fortunate. Obviously my career has been pretty long and I recognise that if you have a handful of pictures that stand the test of time, then you're very, very fortunate. To have one that stood the test of time, that you're proud of and that you had a good time making? That's just the icing on the cake.
Legal Eagles hasn't maybe aged as well as some of those others, but it has a demented seduction scene between you and Robert Redford (below). What was the story behind that?
Steve Martin's physical comedy is just hilarious and unexpected. He looks so square!
That was the only scene I got to put my heart into. Actually, it's funny because that scene was what made me want to do the movie because I'd turned it down three or four times, not because I didn't have massive admiration for Robert Redford or the director (Ivan Reitman), I just wasn't crazy about the character or the script. It felt like a manufactured group of people; it didn't feel like it was someone's dream. The thing that convinced me to do it was the chance to collaborate with Laurie Anderson, one of my favourite performance artists, on this performance art piece. Then when I took it they told me they couldn't get her. I had to come up with the piece myself, so I wrote the song and recorded it at my house. I created the whole thing, collaborating with a performance artist from Venice [Beach]. That was the scene that gave me the most satisfaction in the whole film, otherwise I was just this icy mystery character which wasn't that thrilling to play.
So you came up with the whole scene?
It's interesting because the things I get to invest creatively in that way, like the glasses in Steel Magnolias or the look of Pris in Blade Runner, are the things that stick out and resonate. A lot of filmmakers don't want that kind of investment; they don't want you to be engaged in that way – they just want you to do your lines. But you want to be a collaborator and not just a model.
What was it like working with John Candy on Splash?
(Sighs happily) I just absolutely adored him. [John] was just so full of heart and soul, and so hilarious. Right when he passed, I'd been in development for a project for me and him, a comedy love story, because that's the degree to which [I enjoyed working with him]. It was a similar character to my Steel Magnolias character – a nerdy girl and this blustery egomaniac guy in this beautiful little love story. I cannot tell you how great it was to work with him.
Mermaid in Manhattan – Daryl Hannah and Tom Hanks in Splash.
Splash sounds like it was a career highpoint.
I loved it. Those films – Blade Runner and Splash and Steel Magnolias and Roxanne – still have a life. I still meet little kids whose mothers were young when they first saw Splash.
Would you say it's getting easier or harder for young actresses coming through Hollywood now?
It's a completely different landscape. When I was starting, this whole world of constant self-exposure and the voracious media appetite wasn't really part of it. When I was young, most respected actors did very little press, they didn't go on talk shows. There was something mysterious about them so you could believe their characters. Now it's all about selling shit. You see all the best actors and actresses now in ads, selling us crap. It's a completely different world. Some of the actors I have the most admiration for, you still don't know much about them.
There were more parts for women in the '30s and '40s than there are now.
Which current actresses have caught your eye?
Oh my god, there are so many great young actresses now. It's quite cool and shocking. The girl who won for The Danish Girl – Alicia Vikander – is incredible, Brie Larson was so perfect and moving and believable... there are so many girls who are incredible right now – young actors as well. My one wish for them is that there will be a plethora of complex female roles that offer opportunities for women to be able to identify with characters on screen. That's still a problem. There were more parts for women in the '30s and '40s than there are now, and I hope that incredible talent and beauty that these girls have will be able to be expressed and opportunities. I really pray that those who are making those decisions will open their minds a little bit and stay away from making fodder for college boys or whatever.
Hannah reveals the secrets of Splash here.