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Daryl Hannah Young: A Look Back at the Blonde Beauty’s Most Iconic ’80s Roles

Who can forget when she played a robot and a mermaid?


Daryl Hannah was an unforgettable presence in some of the most popular movies of the ’80s. The tall, blonde, blue-eyed star played everything from a butt-kicking robot (in Blade Runner) to a lovable mermaid (in Splash).

MUST-READ: ‘Splash’: Catch Up With the Cast of the 1984 Magical Mermaid Rom-Com

While she’s best-known for her ’80s output, Hannah won over a new audience with her role as a one-eyed assassin in Kill Bill and its sequel in the ’00s, and in recent years she’s stepped behind the camera to collaborate with her husband, the legendary musician Neil Young, and been a passionate activist for environmental causes. Here’s a look back at the actress’ beloved early roles.

Daryl Hannah’s early days

Hannah’s desire to act arose from a difficult childhood. Born in 1960, she was diagnosed with autism before the condition was widely understood and developed a love of movies as an antidote shyness and social stress. At 17, she moved from Chicago to L.A. to start her acting career. She saw acting as a form of escapism, saying, “Acting for me was about going to the Land of Oz and meeting the Tin Man… It still is,” in a 2013 interview revealing her struggles.

Hannah’s first role was a bit part in the 1978 horror movie The Fury. In 1981, she had another small role, in the Texas-set drama Hard Country. The next year, she acted in the ultra-’80s TV movie Paper Dolls, playing a teen model.

Daryl Hannah and Alexandra Paul in 'Paper Dolls,' 1982
Daryl Hannah and Alexandra Paul in Paper Dolls (1982)@80s_ultra/Instagram

Daryl Hannah becomes a star

1982 was an auspicious year for Hannah. She had one of her defining roles playing Pris, a robot in the dystopian sci-fi film Blade Runner. While her character is known as a “basic pleasure model,” she shows herself to have surprising abilities, and can catapult through the air like a gymnast.

Pris’ look — shaggy mop of blonde hair, white face makeup with a stripe of black shadow around the eyes and a punk outfit — remains instantly recognizable, and the film has grown in popularity over the years as its human-versus-machine themes have become increasingly relevant.

Daryl Hannah holds a mutilated doll by the hair in a scene from the film 'Blade Runner', 1982
Daryl Hannah in Blade Runner (1982)Warner Brothers/Getty

Blade Runner is well-known for its film noir-influenced, neon-lit vision of a futuristic L.A., and while the onscreen world is ominous, Hannah was excited to escape into it. As she recalled in an interview with The Guardian, “when I did Blade Runner, I was completely transported to another world. The whole thing was perfect. It was just what I wanted. I wanted to become another person. I wanted to live in another reality.” That alternate reality and her performance both still haunt us over 40 years later.

Daryl Hannah in 1982
Daryl Hannah in 1982Ralph Dominguez/MediaPunch via Getty

The same year Blade Runner was released, Hannah also starred in a movie with a very different vibe: The steamy romance Summer Lovers. Hannah played a young woman who travels to Greece with her boyfriend and, inspired by the uninhibited spirit of their island surroundings, gets into a throuple.

Actors Peter Gallagher, Daryl Hannah and Valerie Quennessen, in a scene from the movie 'Summer Lovers', 1982
Peter Gallagher, Daryl Hannah and Valerie Quennessen in Summer Lovers (1982)Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection/Getty

Hannah’s biggest role up to that point came in 1984, when she starred as Tom Hanks‘ mermaid love interest in the fantastical rom-com Splash. Hannah won praise for her delightful mermaid-out-of-water performance, and had many hilarious moments of physical comedy, including showing up naked at the Statue of Liberty and attempting to eat a lobster shell and all.

Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah in a promotional photo for 'Splash,' 1984
Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah in a promotional photo for Splash (1984)@historyofmermaids/Instagram

Splash was a big hit, and its legacy lives on. In one of the movie’s famous scenes, the mysterious mermaid chooses Madison as her name, based on her seeing a Madison Avenue street sign in New York City.

Soon enough, Madison became a popular baby name that’s remained on the list of top names for girls for decades. As Hannah said in an interview, “It’s funny because no one understands the irony… the whole point of me choosing that name was because it [was such a] silly name. Obviously everyone knew it as the name of the street. No one really saw it as a first name and that was a joke. And now, of course it’s not funny at all. It’s just like, ‘Oh, what a beautiful name!'”

Actress Daryl Hannah poses for a portrait on the set of " Splash" in circa 1984
Daryl Hannah on the set of Splash Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

Hannah then had a string of lower-profile movies, including Reckless, The Pope of Greenwich Village and The Clan of the Cave Bear.

Daryl Hannah in 'Reckless,' 1984
Daryl Hannah in Reckless (1984)Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

Late ’80s successes

As the ’80s continued, Hannah appeared in some more successful movies. In 1986, she played a spacey performance artist caught up in a legal drama in Legal Eagles, and in 1987 she both starred as the title character in the Cyrano de Bergerac-inspired rom-com Roxanne and had a supporting role as Michael Douglas’ ex in the highly influential Wall Street.

Darryl Hannah and Robert Redford on the set of 'Legal Eagles,' 1986
Darryl Hannah and Robert Redford on the set of Legal Eagles (1986)Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty

Hannah rounded out the decade playing a ghost in High Spirits, making an uncredited appearance in the acclaimed film Crimes and Misdemeanors, and starring in one of her best-loved movies, the Louisiana-set melodrama Steel Magnolias.

MUST-READ: ‘Steel Magnolias’ Cast Then and Now — See What This Group of A-Listers Has Been Up to Since the Film’s 1989 Release

Hannah played a soft-spoken beauty school graduate who was worlds away from her earlier roles in Blade Runner and Splash. The powerhouse ensemble cast included Sally Field, Dolly Parton, Shirley MacLaine, Olympia Dukakis and Julia Roberts, and Field said that when it came to working with Hannah, “Every now and then, the whole room would go quiet, and Daryl would come up with the smartest, the wisest and the most poetic thing.”

Steel Magnolias actresses Julia Roberts, Sally Field, Shirley MacClaine, Dolly Parton, and Daryl Hannah pose for a portrait in October 1989
Left to right: Steel Magnolias stars Julia Roberts, Sally Field, Shirley MacLaine, Dolly Parton and Daryl Hannah in 1989Aaron Rapoport/Corbis/Getty

Daryl Hannah in the ’90s and ’00s

In the ’90s and ’00s, Hannah was in big movies like Grumpy Old Men and The Little Rascals. She also appeared in a number of box office flops, straight-to-video movies and TV movies. Her ultra-cool role in Kill Bill revitalized her career and harkened back to her signature femme fatale turn in Blade Runner. Since then, she’s continued to act in genre movies and low-budget indies, and she’s appeared in shows like Hawaii Five-0, Sense8 and The Now.

Daryl Hannah in 'Kill Bill,' 2003
Daryl Hannah in Kill Bill (2003)@filmsforyears/Instagram

In the years since Kill Bill, Hannah has expressed dissatisfaction about some of the roles she’s gotten offered, telling The Times that even though she wasn’t thrilled with the available roles out there, “I’ve been working for a long time and, to a certain extent, I’m satiated. I’m not ambitious or desperate to be working all the time, because I have a lot of other interests and creative outlets.”

Daryl Hannah in 2023
Daryl Hannah in 2023Amy Sussman/Getty

While Hannah still acts today, at 63, she’s more focused on environmental activism and living a low-key farm life (she often shares snippets from the farm on her Instagram page). From shy girl to ’80s leading lady to back-to-nature bohemian, Hannah’s career trajectory hasn’t been conventional but it’s certainly been fascinating to watch.

Read on for more about your favorite ’80s actresses!

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