The Mother Brain Files Underrated Actors Special: Sean Young

The Mother Brain Files Underrated Actors Special: Sean Young

By Mother Brain

This latest installment of the Underrated Actors Special is a very controversial choice indeed. Yet, I do find the incredibly sexy 80s star, Sean Young, to be someone fitting the definition of underrated actor. With her exotic looks and her Bacall-like voice, she burst onto the screen strong with her memorable performance in Blade Runner which opened up a wide variety of opportunities. She earned some film roles that turned into franchises while others that could have shot her career to the moon ended up in disappointment. But there’s no question she paved the way for the likes of Sharon Stone, Demi Moore, Anne Hathaway, etc.

Mary Sean Young was born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1959. Media was in her blood from an early beginning with her screenwriter mother, Lee Guthrie, and journalist father, Donald Young. After graduating from Cleveland Heights High School, Young attended the Interlochen Arts Academy followed by the School of American Ballet in New York. She spent much of her time in New York as a model and dancer before pursuing acting full time.

After making her film debut in 1980’s Jane Austen in Manhattan, Young’s first star making role that slipped away was the role of Marion Ravenwood in Raiders of the Lost Ark. She had tested with the then unknown Tom Selleck who nearly won the role until he was forced to turn it down due to his TV commitment to Magnum P.I. (The screen test video would be finally made public when Raiders was released on DVD). The film would ultimately star Harrison Ford and Karen Allen. Young, however, did win the part of  the military M.P. love interest of Harold Ramis in the 1981 comedy hit, Stripes. Not only did Young show she could be a credible leading actress but she also revealed her natural comedic timing in the film, holding her own opposite Ramis and the film’s star, Bill Murray.

Young soon got the industry talking when she was cast as the replicant “Rachel” in the Ridley Scott sci-fi classic based on the Philip K. Dick story, Blade Runner, in 1982. As the experimental replicant assistant to Tyrell, the replicant creator, Rachel falls into the arms of the film’s detective/hunter hero, Deckard (Harrison Ford) after discovering the truth about her implanted memories which makes her a prime target for ‘retirement’. Young was pitch perfect in the role starting out as a stoic, emotionless assistant and then ultimately feeling a touch of humanity due to Deckard’s love. Her best moments in the film involved the sexual tension between Rachel and Deckard which were photographed beautifully by Ridley Scott with his use of film noir-style low key lighting and smoke haze to add to the atmosphere. While it gained little respect in its initial release, Blade Runner has become not only a cult classic of its genre but it’s also the quintessential piece of brilliant cinema.
Young’s next major role was that of Chani in David Lynch’s adaptation of the Frank Herbert classic novel, Dune. This time, Young got to not only play the love interest of Kyle MacLachlan’s Paul Atreides but as one of the Fremen warriors on the desert planet, she got to be more physical in massive battle scenes in the film’s third act. Her performance also seems to have served as inspiration for Carrie-Anne Moss’ Trinity character in The Matrix films. Like Blade Runner, Dune did not have a warm reception from critics or audiences when it was released in 1984 and sequel plans were scrapped as a result. But it still has a following of fans to this day.
Continuing to work steadily during the period, Young appeared in a number of forgettable films including Young Doctors in Love and Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend. But in 1987, Young was back on the Hollywood radar when she played Kevin Costner’s girlfriend in Roger Donaldson’s hit thriller, No Way Out. The role of Susan Atwell became signature for Young: An upbeat loose woman on the outside with dark secrets being concealed inside. While her on-screen chemistry with previous actors like Ford and MacLachlan were relatively good, her on-screen chemistry with Costner had heads turning with their now infamous love scene in the back of a limousine. No Way Out was not only the high point of Young’s career but it would also be the beginning of the end.

Her downward spiral from the A-list started when she was cast as Michael Douglas‘ wife in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street. What should have been a top billing role opposite Douglas, Charlie Sheen, and Blade Runner co-star, Daryl Hannah, became a drastically cut down performance due to conflicts with the director as well as Hannah who was frustrated with her own role. Things only got worse with her next film, The Boost, where she had off-screen drama with her co-star James Woods who would try to sue her for harassment. Things did seem to turn around when Young was cast as Vicki Vale in Tim Burton’s Batman. Unfortunately, a horseback riding accident during filming left her physically unfit to complete production and Kim Basinger took her place. The enormous success of Batman turned Basinger into one of the hottest actresses in Hollywood and Young was left out in the cold.

By the early 90s, Young’s career would suffer more bad luck. Warren Beatty would cast her as Tess Truehart in Dick Tracy only to replace her with Glenne Headly after production started. Young claims she turned down Beatty’s advances towards her while Beatty felt she was too sexy to be the extreme opposite of Madonna’s Breathless Mahoney character. Then her subsequent films like Fire Birds, A Kiss Before Dying, and Once Upon a Crime went completely ignored by audiences. But all that paled in comparison with her controversial publicity stunt in 1991 when Young lobbied so hard to audition for Catwoman in Batman Returns that she and a camera crew stormed into the Warner Bros production offices in a homemade costume scoping out Tim Burton. After Michelle Pfeiffer was cast in the role, Young was seen by the Hollywood community as not only a difficult actress but also a complete lunatic.

After several movie mishaps (Fatal Instinct, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, etc.), Young made a brief comeback as a Miami lieutenant with a disturbing secret in 1994’s Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. The film which turned In Living Color comedian Jim Carrey into an overnight movie star utilized the combination of Young’s troubled public persona and the feline-like swagger of her earlier roles to create the character of Lois Einhorn. Carrey himself encouraged Young to play the part like a ticking time-bomb waiting to explode and she threw herself into the role to the point where she not only had one of the most insane man versus woman fight scene but she also posed in a wig and fake mustache for (SPOILER ALERT) a picture of Einhorn’s previous identity as disgraced Miami Dolphins player Ray Finkle.

The rest of the 90s and most of the 2000s saw Young working steadily in mostly straight-to-video films and appearances on shows such as Boston Public and Reno 911. She also made some video game history when she reprised the role of Rachel in a Blade Runner video game for the PC, having her face scanned and reproduced in 3D. In 2010, Young had a recurring role on The Young and the Restless and was featured in the first season of ABC’s Skating with the Stars. While her personal and professional issues are not quite behind her yet, Young is looking to let her troubled past go and devote more time to family as well as interacting with fans via social media. With a new generation of filmmakers who grew up with her films coming up, perhaps the time will turn to the point where good luck will be on her side.

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