Snarky's (Classic) Cinemachine: Unpacking Sean Young

Ange Anderson
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Hollywood seems to reserve a special hell for female actors who do not play nice, and the most enduring example–for me anyway–is Sean Young. Young’s performance in the 1982 Ridley Scott sci-fi classic Blade Runner left an indelible impression on me as a teenager and even more so when I saw the first of many “director’s cuts” theatrically. Regardless of what lens is utilized to examine it–film criticism, feminism or feminist film criticism–the film says some pretty unsatisfying things about females and its construction of gender is quite essentialist. Arguably the essentialist construction of gender supports the narrative framework–replicants are gendered beings in a reductive way to limit confusion. Even so, it still is a bothersome element of Blade Runner.

Because Blade Runner made quite an impression on me, I paid attention to Young’s other projects during the 80s, where arguably her career peaked. While she was never positioned as a leading lady in the manner of stars like Michelle Pfeiffer or Kim Basinger, her looks, acting range and onscreen charisma did have a currency, often explored in films where she was mostly sexual eye candy, but always depicted as a little bit dark or off. Throughout the 80s, Young appeared in memorable films such as No Way Out, Dune, Wall Street and The Boost. While filming Wall Street–where Young played the glamorous wife of ruthless corporate raider Gordon “Greed is Good” Gekko (Michael Douglas at his smarmy best) –stories of her erratic on-set behavior and “frequent” clashes with cast and crew members began to surface.

From an interview she gave to Entertainment Weekly in 2008:

Sure, she could rattle cages sometimes, like on the set of 1987’s Wall Street, where she irritated director Oliver Stone so badly that he wrapped her scene early and had her dropped off at the bus station. But her coltish good looks and snappy, sexy appeal suggested a kinetic star just coming into her own.


Then in 1989 actor James Woods–Young’s costar in the film The Boost–filed a $2M harassment lawsuit against her, citing a variety of charges, which Young flatly denied:


More troubling is the continuing fallout from the harassment lawsuit that James Woods, her costar in The Boost, and Woods’ then-fiancée Sarah Owen, filed against her in 1989, alleging in part that Young left an iodine-splashed, headless baby doll on their doorstep.


While the suit was ultimately settled out of court–with damages paid to Young in a rumored sum of $250,000–the damage to her reputation, already precarious after clashes with her Wall Street director Oliver Stone, was catastrophic. For what it’s worth, Woods later divorced Sarah Owens (the other party in his suit against Young) and their acrimonious divorce included charges by Owens of verbal and physical abuse:

In 1987, she [Owens] accused him [Woods]of verbal and physical abuse, including pointing a gun at her and ordering her to strip, lie on the floor, and say, “I am a whore, I am a baby killer.


I read many accounts of her supposed antics - some unsubstantiated–a few a little odd and sad, and some really unfortunate moments. In sifting through all the published reports, tabloid fodder and interviews with Young herself, it seems in many cases there was bad behavior all around, but unfortunately–and this comes as no shock–the threshold for female misbehavior is substantially lower than it is for males, and the punishment is disproportionately more severe. Male actors engaged in similarly bizarre antics or even convicted of attacks on women seem immune to the harsh career derailments experienced by women accused of the crime of being opinionated, sexually alluring–but inaccessible–or just flat out odd.

Sean Young is not a saint, and makes no claims suggesting so. Nevertheless, she was my first glaring example of the sexual inequities present in Hollywood and she definitely stoked my feminist fires in their infancy. Despite working steadily for the last several years in cable fare and television guest spots, Young’s smoldering brilliance in her early films is a faded memory, replaced with a continuous sexist drumbeat of hateful slurs, rumor, and jokes about her struggles with alcohol. Currently, Young appears on the daytime soap The Young and the Restless as Maggie, a “sultry” barmaid. I have no idea what sultry barmaids have to do with Y&R as it has been nearly twenty-five years since I last watched it.

Young does suggest that the fact that she was a woman — a strong, mouthy, opinionated one — also contributed to her exile. She points fingers at the suits at Warner Bros. who shook their heads in eye-rolling dismay when she showed up in her Catwoman suit.”The fact that I made them see me, that aggressiveness on my part was just not allowed for women to do. If a guy had done that — if Jim Carrey had done that, if Sean Penn had done that — it would have been ‘Ha-ha, what balls!’ But for me it totally backfired.”


Okay, so she’s a bit eccentric, but she does make an astute point. Lots of male actors have done wacky things in order to get coveted roles. More importantly, Hollywood encourages its actors to behave like contestants on any number of reality shows in order to earn a precious few roles that for the most part aren’t even that great. For women it’s much worse. Sean Young wants a comeback, and that budding feminist in me who wrote passionately about equal treatment for girls and boys (I was 14, cut me some slack) says maybe it’s time she gets one.

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24 Comments Have Been Posted

You had me at Sean Young.

You had me at Sean Young. Awesome post, Snarky!

I've wondered much the same about her over the years. I remember James Woods going on some late night show or other and totally smearing crap about her through his whole interview. It was just plain weird.

Hollywoodland is a strange place, indeed. They want their actors to be clever, but not too clever; take risks but only within certain limits; they want to feel like they can see the seams of an actor's work but be certain there's a real rabbit under all of the velveteen. It's got to be a frustrating career to take on, but I suppose the lure of the accolades keep bringing in new fodder. If Robert Downey, Jr. can have a comeback, why not Sean Young?

"If Robert Downey, Jr. can have a comeback, why not Sean Young?"

You're right! And (post-rehab/jailtime) Robert Downey Jr. is one of my favorite actors. One of my favorite films - <i>Cousins</i>, with Ted Danson and Isabella Rosselini - features Sean Young in a role that probably rang close to home for her, now that I read this article.

I was at the birthday party of an Old Hollywood actress 3 years ago, and Sean Young was there, and it took every bit of restraint in me to not point and shriek "Cousins!!!" at her. It turns out that the friend who I was there with went to the same therapist as Sean Young at some point (gotta love LA), so it seems that she does have some issues. Who doesn't? Hope she's dealing with them because I'd love to see her in a new film.

I agree with both of you. I

I agree with both of you. I feel like Young has paid for her crimes and eccentric celebs are certainly no novelty. it's pretty telling that directors who aren't known for being difficult, mostly say she's opinionated, kind of high maintenance, but don't seem to indicate this is a trait <em>rare</em> amongst actors.

A television show a la <em>Damages</em> or <em>Nurse Jackie</em> would be a great vehicle for Young. Some place where she could play a complex character who while unpleasant, wasn't necessarily modeled after her own persona.

"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Give her a guest spot on The

Give her a guest spot on The United States of Tara! Come on, Diablo!

I wonder what she'd be like

I wonder what she'd be like on 'Treme or Leverage? Or heck, Glee!

"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Living with paparazzi

</i>I felt really bad for her in that "gotcha" clip where the cameras ambushed her in the parking lot. She was maybe a little tipsy and a little silly, but overall I thought she was being very gracious with that intrusion into her life. And it made me realize just how insane and unforgiving the life of a star must be, for all its advantages.

It was really sad to watch,

It was really sad to watch, but I felt it illuminated something pretty typical about Hollywood - it loves trading in the "Oh how the mighty have fallen" tropes. It's the benchmark of all those reality televisions featuring washed up or perpetually Z-list celebs.

Speaking of reality television, Young was rejected for <em>Dancing with the Stars</em>, with one of the producers citing that she didn't meet the qualifications of the show because she wasn't actually a <em>star</em>.

Now that's just mean.

"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.


That's what I exclaimed out loud when I read the iodine-baby bit.

What a fascinating, depressing and infuriating life saga. You're definitely onto something when you say the hubbub around Megan Fox is shaping her into the next Sean Young story. The Catwoman story, especially, bugs me, because she's not only right that Sean Penn or Jim Carrey would be applauded; pretty much any male actor would be. Reportedly Shia LaBeouf got his role in <i>A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints</i> because he returned *after he'd already been turned down* for not acting angry enough, and punched a hole in the wall. A little more troublesome than a surprise appearance in a costume, right? Can you imagine the response if any woman had tried that, even Meryl Streep? It's all so obnoxious...

With the exception of their

With the exception of their acting abilities, Fox and Young (ha, that would be a great name for a cop show) are positioned in similar ways that have a lot to do with their independent mindedness and the fact they're fairly babelicious. It's be weird to watch Megan Fox be treated eerily similar to Young.

"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Maybe Hollywood can remake

Maybe Hollywood can remake Cagney & Lacey with Young and Fox. That would actually work on some weird subversive level.

"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

On point as per usual.

Great breakdown of the sexism involved in Sean Young's ostracization. I'd love to read your analysis of Blade Runner. It's one of my favorite sci-fi movies. There's a lot of complex issues going on!



ANN, Los Angeles



"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Sean Young, Fallen Catwoman

It's interesting that you compare Sean Young to Michelle Pfieffer and Kim Basinger, as both women were involved with the Tim Burton years of the <i>Batman</i> franchise, which elluded Young. One of the defining moments of Young's constructed aberrance was her appearance on Joan Rivers's talk show when she was dressed as Catwoman and directly appealing to Burton that he cast her. Unfortunately, he did not. And while I like Pfieffer's performance, I know Young would've nailed the &quot;hell here&quot; scene.

This is a rad post. I've

This is a rad post. I've always been fascinated by Young - though I don't know much more about her than what I've seen on E! and in Blade Runner.

This is an awesome deconstruction of her construction/destruction by a patriarchal media.

I'm a little in awe of the

I'm a little in awe of the phrasing "deconstruction of her construction/destruction." It sounds a little poetry slam to me...

A recycled script

Sean Young has always forcibly reminded me of Frances Farmer - both in terms of who they were as actors, how they were treated by Hollywood, and by society at large.

Talk about a Hollywood recycle, take this from Farmer's wiki - "Farmer was not entirely satisfied with her career, however. She felt stifled by Paramount's tendency to cast her in films which depended on her looks more than her talent. Her outspoken style made her seem uncooperative and contemptuous.." ( How much does that sound like it could be "frequent clashes with Oliver Stone"?

Or how about Farmer's "...temperamental work habits and worsening alcoholism began to damage her reputation." vs Young's tipsy leaving Avalon vid and being fired from "Dick Tracy" for " ... not appearing maternal in the role ..." And these narratives are being imposed on young actors who were each well trained and showed early promise and talent, but nearly 50yrs apart. Meanwhile, male peers like Charlie Sheen (for Young) or Errol Fynn (for Farmer) get a pass.

Julian Schnabel

Snarky : absolutely wonderful, insightful article.

It is not complete however, without the dinner/awards show video where Sean Young interrupted Julian Schnabel at the podium. I don't think he was accepting an award but I will have to check the context. Anyway, Young was sitting at her table close to the stage and spoke out telling Schnabel to "wrap it up" and that He was "going on too long." To which Schnabel replied "Have another drink." Applause from the audience. Touche. Young was put in her place.

Never mind I see you have it---but it is NOT the account I saw on you tube where Schnabel clearly says "have another drink."

Later as I thought about this, it occurred to me that perhaps Schnabel was truly gasbagging in his speech! And loving the sound of his voice and his brilliance. Maybe Young was tipsy-- but often it is the drunks, the druggies and the "madwomen" around us who speak the Truth!

If I find it on youtube again I will post.

Sean Young

Julian actually says "Have another COCKTAIL."

Thank you for your reply. I

Thank you for your reply. I think Schnabel gives as good as he gets, so his positioning as the put upon victim is rather hilarious. He's no stranger to controversy <a href="">himself</a> and "gasbag" (I love that word) is an apt description of him!

"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

I saw Blade Runner recently

I saw Blade Runner recently and was really moved to look up more of Sean Young's work/career. I hadn't heard of her until seeing the movie and, needless to say, it's been very interesting to catch up on her story. Thank you for your piece, I'd never really been aware of this kind of injustice in the Hollywood community but I see it so clearly now. It's good to hear she's still working, but I really hope she can find something better. It's long overdue.

(Just today there was some kind of tape released where Mel Gibson is hitting and cussing at his exwife. Here's to hoping for a proper backlash!)

Thank you for your response!

Thank you for your response! Yes, Young's work in <em>Blade Runner</em> was wonderfully effective. It's really a shame her career was not allowed to develop or mature.

"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

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