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Is Deckard a replicant? 'Blade Runner 2049' writers discuss that and other mysteries

After months of being shrouded in secrecy, the long-awaited dystopian sci-fi sequel “Blade Runner 2049” finally hit theaters Friday, and though the opening weekend numbers may have been underwhelming, those who have seen the film have found plenty to chew on.

Critics have almost universally embraced director Denis Villeneuve’s film — which stars Ryan Gosling as an L.A. police officer who stumbles on a buried secret that eventually leads him to Harrison Ford’s long-lost android hunter Rick Deckard — and fans have taken to Reddit and other corners of the Internet to decode its secrets.

Fittingly, it seems a film centered on androids known as replicants could end up replicating the path of Ridley Scott’s original 1982 classic. Based on Philip K. Dick’s novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” that film was deemed a box office disappointment in its initial release but went on to develop a deeply passionate fan base.

The Times spoke with original “Blade Runner” co-writer Hampton Fancher and his “2049” co-writer Michael Green about how the script for the new film came together, the oft-debated question of whether Deckard is a replicant and where the franchise could go from here.

Warning: Major spoilers about “Blade Runner 2049” ahead. Proceed at your own risk.


Hampton, what went through your head when you first got the call from Ridley that he wanted to talk about a sequel to “Blade Runner”?

Fancher: A collision of joy and suicide. I was very excited but very fraught because I had one little idea and that’s not even a fig leaf. You can’t go out in public with that. Then I got a couple of little ideas and three little ideas and then we were off to the races. But it was frightening.

What was that first little idea? Was it the notion that Rachel and Deckard could have had a baby together?

Fancher: It was just the character of K. I had written a little “Blade Runner” short story about a new kind of blade runner and I named him Kard, with a K. So there was this character who could be investigating something and that could maybe be a through-line [for the sequel]. There was also a romance with a digital woman. So there were certain ingredients, some flavors.

I read Ridley a paragraph from the story on the phone and he said, “Come on over to London and let’s talk.” On the way to London, I was desperate to think of something and I thought, “What about a genesis idea?” Then it started developing as we confabulated for a week. I did a treatment and, from the treatment, I did a first draft — and then I was gone. Then Michael confabulated much longer and more fruitfully.

The image was this: A handbook turns into a poem through his experiences and his ordeal and love.

Hampton Fancher on his inspirations for Ryan Gosling's character, K

Ryan Gosling, left, as K and Ana de Armas as Joi in the action thriller "Blade Runner 2049."
Ryan Gosling, left, as K and Ana de Armas as Joi in the action thriller "Blade Runner 2049." Stephen Vaughan / Warner Bros. Pictures / Alcon Entertainment

Michael, how did you come onboard the project?

Green: I was led into the very comfortable and stylish offices at [Scott’s production company] Scott Free and given Hampton’s treatment to read, which as a fan I was excited to do. Like a lot of people, I was nervous about it: Do you really want to rattle the hornet’s nest of “Blade Runner” and open up that legacy? But from the first lines, I could see that there was a tone and a world that I wanted to spend more time in.

There were some ideas in there that were viral and sticky: this idea Hampton had of a new kind of blade runner and the idea of a digital girlfriend. And the idea of the potential of a child — that spoke to me of a moment of speciation and that opened up themes that were very interesting and avenues of story.

Did you plan from the outset for the prospect of Harrison Ford returning to play Deckard?

Fancher: That idea was there from the beginning. At first, I thought, “What if he doesn’t want to do it or he dies or whatever — is the movie over?” Then I realized, “No, this is Hollywood — you’ll have another actor as good as him play old Deckard.” But it was written with him in mind.

Green: I knew that this story that I was building out from what Hampton built himself was going to require none other than Harrison Ford, that without him you couldn’t do that story. If he said, “No, thank you,” maybe we could start from scratch and come up with something else. But that was a lottery ticket I was happy to buy. I remember very specifically getting that call that we didn’t have to throw it out. That he did like it and was interested.

Fancher: Yeah, that was a great moment.

“Blade Runner” fans have debated for decades whether Deckard is a replicant. In this movie, it’s revealed right away that Ryan Gosling’s LAPD officer, K, is a replicant. What was the thinking behind making that character an android?

Fancher: I just thought it’s a reflection of the world. Automation breeds automation. The image I had in my head of K, as I wrote in that first little short story, was that this guy is a handbook. He follows the rules. He’s a machine in a way. But the image was this: A handbook turns into a poem through his experiences and his ordeal and love. And the same thing with the digital woman.

The debate seems to continue, and people seem to think that those who think the opposite of them are nuts.

Michael Green on whether or not Deckard is a replicant

Ryan Gosling, left, and Harrison Ford in "Blade Runner 2049."
Ryan Gosling, left, and Harrison Ford in "Blade Runner 2049." Stephen Vaughan / Warner Bros. Pictures

As I see it, this movie seems to suggest that Deckard is a human, not a replicant. But there are other people who interpret it differently.

Green: One of my favorite outcomes from the film from early reactions I’m seeing is that people are coming out of it even more sure of the opinion that they’ve held — and still not agreeing. That gives me tremendous joy. And that includes some of the people that were responsible for the original film and this film. The debate seems to continue, and people seem to think that those who think the opposite of them are nuts.

Fancher: I’ve always thought that if the replicant-cy is a success, then you don’t know that you’re a replicant. So either way you’re … in terms of the ambiguity of it — and life is ambiguous.

Deeming Deckard a replicant closes the door on the party: “Go home, everybody, it’s closed.” It’s got to be up in the air or there’s no dog fight. It’s an aesthetic philosophical equation. Like, I’m not so sure Michael Green is an authentic human being. You know what I mean?

Green: I agree. I don’t think this movie answers definitively one way or the other, but I’m tickled that many people do and I’m also tickled that many people don’t. Some people come out saying, “Thank you for not answering it” and other people come out saying, “Thank you for answering it.” And that’s what we set out to do. We wanted to make sure that the ambiguity is built into the story.

“Blade Runner” is all about questions of authenticity, comfort with ambiguity, and you can’t discuss the film without talking about that particular ambiguity — is he a human or a replicant? — or even about which version of the film is the authentic version of the film. So the film itself is representative of gradations of realness.

Which is all in the spirit of Philip K. Dick.

Fancher: I wouldn’t know about that. Have you read any Philip K. Dick? I haven’t.

Really, you haven’t?

Fancher: No. I mean, I read that novel [“Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”] a couple of times. But I’ve never been a lover of Dick.

Green: [laughs] There’s your pull quote!

A scene from "Blade Runner 2049."
A scene from "Blade Runner 2049." Warner Bros. Pictures / Alcon Entertainment

This is a movie that’s pretty dense with philosophical musings and mysteries. How did you set about balancing that with the need to deliver the kind of action an audience for a big-budget movie expects?

Green: There was a very clear recognition from everyone involved that this was “Blade Runner,” that no one wanted to turn this into “Transformers.” We weren’t just trying to bang pots and pans.

There were definitely points where people were looking at the script as a whole and wondering if the heart rate had gone down for too long. But once I started the process of re-crafting some of those moments with Denis, everything snapped into focus. If he tells me that a moment has enough tension or impact, I believe him — I don’t think I’ve had as long a sustained cardio workout as I did seeing films like “Sicario” and “Incendies.” So you start shaping it specifically to suit his vision.

Ridley Scott has talked about potentially building out the “Blade Runner” universe in the way the “Alien” universe has expanded. Have you two considered the possibility of future “Blade Runner” movies?

Green: I’ve certainly fantasized about it but I kept it in the box of fantasy until we had this movie well in hand and knew that it landed well. At no point during the making of this were people concerned with building out the universe. All the focus was on: “Let’s make the best possible movie we can right now and then maybe, maybe dare to dream.” I’m sure Hampton already has ideas, though.

Fancher: Well, I didn’t before but I do now — because of your ending. In my script, Deckard died at the end, but you have him live.

The first time Ridley and I ever considered doing a second “Blade Runner,” in 1986 or whatever it was, I came up with an idea about Deckard and his next job — and it’s kind of horrifying what happens in my little fantasy.

Now that Deckard lives, that idea is back in my head. But I’m not going to tell you what it is.

josh.rottenberg@latimes.com

Twitter: @joshrottenberg

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