While she’s the first to acknowledge she didn’t have “very good self preservation skills” early in her career, she’s still waiting on an apology for how the industry treated her in the ’80s and ’90s.
It’s been forty years since Sean Young made her debut in “Stripes,” before other career-defining roles in movies like “Blade Runner,” “Wall Street” and “No Way Out.” Though she’s never taken a real break from Hollywood and has continued to act in films on almost a yearly basis to this day, the industry, it appears, did try to make a break from her.
First, came the unfortunate horse riding accident that cost her the role of Vicki Vale in Tim Burton’s first “Batman” movie. When it came time for “Batman Returns,” she thought she should have had, at the very least, been considered for the role of Catwoman — and lobbied for the role by showing up to the studio in a catsuit, before donning it again for an infamous appearance on Joan Rivers’ talk show in 1991, thirty years ago this summer. Michelle Pfeiffer, of course, landed the part.
She would later claim Warren Beatty cost her a role in “Dick Tracy” after she turned down his sexual advances — claims he denies — while her legal issues with ex James Woods also continued to make headlines. And, in 2008, she entered rehab for alcoholism after heckling Julian Schnabel during the DGA Awards, before appearing on “Celebrity Rehab” in 2010.
Those incidents have all added up to the so-called “Sean Young narrative,” something she does her best to ignore, while pointing out the double-standard between herself and men in the industry who are given chance after chance, despite similar headlines and behavior. Though she’s the first to admit she could have handled herself differently and didn’t know how to censor herself early in her career, she explained she’s never been a “bulls— artist” and would never allow anyone to “take advantage” of her — consequences be damned. “When people have a perception of you and they think, ‘Oh, crazy Sean Young,’ or, ‘Drunk Sean Young,’ or whatever it is, it’s like, I don’t have any control of it,” she tells TooFab. “What’s true is I’m just practical Sean Young.”
In her latest release, the indie “Rain Beau’s End,” she plays the no-BS best friend to one of the lead characters — a funny, brassy role that seems perfectly aligned with Young’s real life persona. Speaking with TooFab about the role and her career as a whole, Young reflected on her Catwoman stunt, revealed the empowering words Bryan Cranston told her while they discussed the double standard between men and women in the industry and looked back on making her mark on Hollywood — even if it “maybe wasn’t as big a mark as I would’ve liked.”
You bring a spark to “Rain Beau’s End.” Can you first talk a little bit about the types of roles you get offered now and what it was about this one that really appealed to you?
Well, I get offered stuff, but I don’t always take the role. What I like is taking roles about nice people. I kind of have a rule that I don’t want to play anyone that I wouldn’t want in my house, you know? I just turned this other one down and it was like an evil grandma of ‘Hansel and Gretel’ and I just went, ‘Ugh.’ And at the end she’s like cutting up the kids toes and everything and I just went, ‘No, no I’m not doing that.’ I don’t really want to do a lot of heavy drama anymore because I have done that and I can do it, but there’d have to be a significant reason to do it, like an important movie that would be worth it. Because when you put that kind of energy in, it’s very draining, and you’re always sort of waiting for the difficult scenes to show up and you just want to get through them. I like comedy the best and I like light heartedness and I like playing people that I actually like.
I feel like this character is a bit like you. Having seen interviews with you through the years, you’re very outspoken, funny and you get that from Nat in this movie.
People have said I’m outspoken … but I mean I certainly would’ve, throughout my career, skipped the interview portion of it if I had been allowed to. And what I didn’t know in my early career, was very good self preservation skills. I’m really not that outspoken, I’m just not a bulls— artist. You know what I mean? I’m just not a bulls—er.”
Compared to the rest of the industry, you are a different breed and I appreciate that. Nat, in this movie, she really is there for advice, she doesn’t BS people, she tells it like it is. Who has been that for you? Has there been someone who has been there to offer you advice when you needed it or was a cheerleader for you?
My sister Kathleen and Bob my husband. Believe it or not, my children are very good at telling me what they think, what their opinion is and they’re not aggressive and saying like, ‘You have to see it my way!’ They’re just like, ‘This is my opinion and you know?’ So, I think I did a good thing when you just try to take responsibility for yourself and you don’t smother other people. You allow them to make their mistakes and try to do so in as non-judgmental a way as possible. Yet keeping your boundaries intact. That was always hard for me too. I’d go into boundary failure and then I’d have to sort of work my way back and realize that, that’s not their responsibility, that’s mine or vice versa like that’s not my job, that’s their job.
Has there every been anyone in the industry side of things that has given you a piece of advice that you still carry with you?
Mostly, I’ve been the giver of advice I’d have to confess. Warren Beatty once told me to shut up in the press and I should’ve probably listened [laughs], but he’s not the type of guy I want to take his advice of, you know?
I was rewatching your infamous Joan Rivers interview to prepare for this and it’s also been 30 years now, this summer, which is wild.
I think that’s wild too, isn’t it? It’s so like, wow!
Even Joan brings that up in the interview, like, “Hey, you should take this advice and stop talking.”
I said, I know, but it’s too late now.
Rewatching that though … a lot of what you talked about then is still relevant now. You mention actors needing to be in big blockbusters so they have the freedom to do indie work — you see that now with people doing Marvel movies — how women aren’t allowed to be angry in the industry and how you vowed to never be quiet about issues that are important to you …
I don’t think it did me much good though. I mean, I don’t have any regrets. That’s true, but my strategy in my 20s and my 30s was very missing because, like I said, I didn’t have those kinds of preservation skills. I didn’t know how to censor myself at all.
Part of that is also the culture at the time. You can’t put it all on yourself when the ’80s and ’90s were even more misogynistic than they are now.
Yeah, they were. They definitely were. And I don’t know how much has changed because, I was mentioning this to somebody else too, like is it really men, or is it just power? You can get women in powerful positions who behave atrociously and sexually, you know what I mean? It’s different, obviously, but power corrupts.
A lot of people now have started to see how much they were a part of the problem. There are people who are actually apologizing to Paris Hilton, Britney Spears — like Sarah Silverman — for comments they’ve made. They’re starting to be held accountable in a way they weren’t back then. But have people ever come to you and apologized for how you were treated back in the day?
Not as of yet. No. I was the beginning of all that stuff with Warren Beatty. Like I said, I could’ve handled it better, but I wasn’t going to let people take advantage of me. Period. That was it and what I realized was, you get a big movie and you get the ‘list’ of people, and I think very quickly it became clear that I was not a bend over type of gal, and they were like, ‘Nah we don’t need to put her on the list.’
I think there are a lot of people sleeping with their leading ladies or directors and all of that kind of stuff and it just goes on. I don’t know how you would avoid that. What I told in another interview, we were talking about and I said, it’s not really men and women. It’s more evolution. How evolved you are, because the more power you get, people get twisted from it and it’s hard to maintain a humility that is a little more wholesome. There’s a lack of wholesomeness. During the time, I think people confused my wholesomeness with being stupid. I can see why it would be. I can see that mistake.
Also, the movie business isn’t particularly humbling. In the beginning, they kind of blow so much smoke up your ass, you don’t know which way is coming or going. So, ‘I must be really wonderful!’ All these people are giving me all this money and attention. I must be a big deal.’ That’s one of the conclusions you get to in the beginning until you kind of get some better focus.
The whole Catwoman thing is something I love so much about you. I love how bold and gutsy it was, how big of a move it was, despite how it may have ended and what happened.
People didn’t quite get it the way it was intended [laughs].
But the idea of it is so great. I saw people talking on Twitter like, if she had done that and then gotten the role, the perception would have been so the opposite of what it ended up being. You see people like Ryan Reynolds making a concept video for Deadpool and because that did well, these movies got made.
But guys get that. I was talking to Bryan Cranston, I saw him at the screening of “Trumbo” where he played the writer and he was so positive. He was a really nice guy and I was very impressed with how good and authentic he is. He said, ‘You need to get back out there. You know?’ And I looked at him and I said, ‘Well, the business isn’t as kind to women as you imagine.’
It can let Robert Downey Jr. be in prison and bring him back. It can be Kelsey Grammer, Richard Dreyfuss, I mean all these people had all of these alcoholic accidents, almost killing people, you know what I mean? The men are more tolerant, but women, not so much. I said, ‘Name one that you think has made that type of comeback?’ And he said, ‘Well then you’ll be the first.’ And I thought, aww, that’s such a nice thing to say. I really liked his positive attitude.
Do you get tired of talking about the “Sean Young narrative,” the story around your career?
I ignore it … I’m not defined by whatever failures I had in my career, or whatever success. If you’re not gonna pay attention to the bad reviews, paying attention to the good reviews is stupid. I don’t pay attention to any of it, I don’t define myself by it at all.
We’re a sum of our experiences, we’re not just one or two of the big ones.
But I don’t like it. I don’t like people talking s— about me. I never did, and I never had the stomach for it either. I was just like, ‘Oh my god.’ Because it’s not grounded. It’s like a lot of the news these days, it’s like I can’t even listen to it anymore. I don’t know what I’m watching anymore. I really don’t. I’m like who’s behind this? I can’t tell anymore.
You have been doing a lot of these more indie movies lately. Would something big budget still interest you, if it came along?
Sure, I like working. I do like my freedom, too. It’s not the same now, because I don’t have to scramble for the money. I’m of retirement age, I’m very relieved about that and I can choose. Before it was a scramble, I had a family, I had to earn money. God knows what else I could do. I’d be an excellent nanny, housekeeper or cook. Those three things I’d have no problem doing. If the right one came along. I do audition for pilots, I’ve never gotten, in 25 years, an offer for any kind of sitcom or pilot or series in L.A. and I’m always baffled by that. I tell my manager, what the hell, WTF, what is this. It’s so much water over the dam now, I don’t really care, I do keep going. I’m not defined by the West Coast.
Blade Runner recently got a sequel and you were on set for it. The same director [Denis Villeneuve] did the “Dune” remake …
And I begged him to put me in it but he wouldn’t. I emailed him. I said, ‘Please, please. Put me in the sequel,’ but he didn’t. I thought that sucked.’ [Villeneuve wasn’t immediately available for comment.]
After you turned up for “Blade Runner” …
Well, I think the audience would’ve been pissed if I hadn’t been in it at all. And I think that’s what they were trying to solve. But, hey, Harry [Harrison Ford] can get as old as a road map and they’ll always make sure there’s a part for him. That’s what I mean, they look out for their own. There’s not that many women that are powerful enough to look out for their own, you know?
How does it feel, in general, to see people revisiting these projects you were a part of all these years later and trying to find a way to continue or retell them? I imagine it’s bittersweet.
I feel good for the traction I was able to have at particular points. I’m really grateful for that. I got to leave a mark. The fact that it maybe wasn’t as big a mark as I would’ve liked, it’s like apples and oranges. I got to do something and I feel really good about that. I really always kind of considered acting a job and I was very practical about it. I was like, ‘Okay, this is what this job is. This is what I need to bring to it. How could I best do that?’
So I look at it more practically. And the funny thing is, it’s like that rap. When people have a perception of you and they think, ‘Oh, crazy Sean Young,’ or, ‘Drunk Sean Young,’ or whatever it is, it’s like, I don’t have any control of it. What’s true is I’m just practical Sean Young. I look at the lay of the land and see what’s possible and I see what isn’t possible and I make the best of the circumstances I’m in. I don’t think I can have a better attitude. And not imagining woes that aren’’t there and not stirring up woes that are long gone. That’s where I am today.
Looking ahead, what would you still like to do that you still haven’t got to do yet? You mentioned sitcoms, which I think would be great for you.
I think the audience would actually come out to see me. I think I’m somebody that people would watch. I’m not sure why the decision makers don’t comprehend that, but they don’t seem to. There’s a lot of changes now in the business too. It’s definitely a very different business than it was in the ’80s and a lot of people are moving to Atlanta. That’s where I bought a townhouse. I’m really looking forward to moving into. And there’s a lot that I can do in Atlanta, in terms of dancing and my own interests. So, we’ll see how it works.
Production is booming down there. Marvel, AMC, Tyler Perry, they all have studios down there. Get you in a Marvel movie!
That would be fun. Now, for a Marvel movie I might play a bitch. That would be kind of fun. I think I would be good at playing a bitch or like one of the evil people. Like a Catwoman, like that type of character.
Your kids are in their 20s now. What do they think of your career? Do they have favorites and how do they feel about your resume as a whole?
I think they’re very proud of me and I also think they knew I got a lot of unfair rap at a certain point. I think they think I’ve had courage. I know they think I’ve been courageous and I know they think I’ve been tough on myself too, really trying to improve and be a good person and also I think they know that my interests don’t lie just in the movie business.
I like tap dancing. It’s something I’ve spent a lot of my time doing before COVID. I was living in New York on 47th and 10th and I would go to the health club and go to the dance studio and go up to the screening room and you know it was really fun and I miss it. I’m hoping that we open up again and get people’s business back on track and you know, because that’s been tough.
It’s been a pleasure talking to you. I’m happy you seem happy.
Thank you. I appreciate that. Be well, be safe and thanks for giving me your time.
Rain Beau’s End is available on Lesflicks Video on Demand platform now.