Blade Runner's Rachael Was An Homage To A Golden Age Hollywood Star

"Blade Runner" turns 40 this week, and quadragenarian life looks good on Ridley Scott's noir-drenched sci-fi film. The movie is still beloved years later for its intense atmosphere, moody design, and surprising, existential take on the future of mankind. Scott's adaptation of Philip K. Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" also has some fantastic iconography attached to it, from the neon landscape of future Los Angeles to the origami unicorn.

Few images from the movie are more memorable, though, than that of femme fatale Rachael (Sean Young), her replicant eyes glistening as she takes drags from a cigarette during her first meeting with Deckard (Harrison Ford). With her smokey makeup look and carefully molded updo, Rachael's look seems at once perfectly classic and disorientingly out of place in this future world. Apparently, this was by design.

In an interview with Wired, Ridley Scott revealed that he came up with Rachael's now-famous hairstyle himself. "I'd done a lot of fashion, a lot of Chanel and things like that in television commercials, but this would be my third film," Scott explained. "And so I was very, very, very aware of cosmetics." The vision for "Blade Runner" was surely much different than that of his dreamy Chanel No. 5 commercial, but nonetheless, Scott was inspired to create a new look for Rachael on the spot.

"I didn't love the hair on the first day, so I said, 'You know what, can we take the hair down?'" Scott told Wired. "I sat in there and kind of fundamentally went through the hair again, and the makeup again." The director says he even went so far as to paint on her lipstick himself. And while Rachael's look is both referential and one-of-a-kind in the final product, Scott says he had a very specific old Hollywood star in mind when he created it.

The Hedy Lamarr look

"I always thought of an actress — I think I mean Hedy Lamarr — who had a severity which was spectacular," Scott said. Although the filmmaker, looking back decades later, doesn't seem 100% certain that Lamarr was his reference point, it's easy to see Lamarr in Rachael's look once the comparison is pointed out. The Austrian-American actress was lauded — and typecast — for her beauty during her film career, when her own shining eyes and bold makeup and hairstyles caught the attention of Hollywood.

Lamarr's own life story is fascinating: as described in the documentary "Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story" and biographer Richard Rhodes' interview with The Museum of the Moving Image, the actress came to America amidst the rise of Nazism in Europe. Her career, which included movies like "Samson & Delilah" and the controversial pre-code romance "Ecstasy," may have been hampered by the damage the latter did to her reputation. Despite the era's sexism and painful aspects of Lamarr's personal life, she acted in dozens of films and moonlighted as an inventor, helping to create the technology that's now used for wi-fi internet.

Lamarr makes sense as a reference point for Rachael, not just because she and Young look alike, but because Rachael is a character whose enigmatic presence in "Blade Runner" seems to be interpreted differently by each man around her. Scott may have just meant to borrow her hairstyle, but Young imbues the role with an classic sensibility that brings the air of mystery and complexity surrounding old Hollywood to life — in 1982.