Profile: Gene Hackman
January 28, 2015 1:37 PM   Subscribe

"'I'm not that kind of guy. He was a physical man,' Hackman said of Popeye [Doyle] in the Ebert interview. 'We had to go back and re-shoot the first two days of scenes because I hadn't gotten into the character enough. I wasn't physical enough.'" (Steven Hyden's piece on actor Gene Hackman at Grantland.)

And here's the 1971 Roger Ebert interview referenced (also linked in the article).
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome (40 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
(via a retweet from The Whelk)
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 1:38 PM on January 28, 2015


JESUS, DON'T YOU DO THAT!
posted by symbioid at 1:38 PM on January 28, 2015 [16 favorites]


JESUS, DON'T YOU DO THAT!

No kidding. I had to look thrice to make sure it wasn't what I feared it was.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:40 PM on January 28, 2015


Well, if this is going to be a well-deserved love thread for the STILL LIVING Gene Hackman..."A visitor is all I ask."
posted by Guy Smiley at 1:47 PM on January 28, 2015 [6 favorites]


Gene Hackman was one of my mom's fortysomething crushes, along with John Williams the conductor. I miss my mom's crushes. She's in a nursing home with dementia now, and for me sometimes it's like the last thirty years never happened: Hackman should still be on the big screen.

And I love that Hackman's idol was James Cagney, who for me is THE American screen actor.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 1:47 PM on January 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Great, now I'm going to have "Don't Talk To Me About Gene Hackman" in my head for the rest of the day.

He's in every film
Sometimes wearing a towel
And if it isn't him
You get Andi MacDowell...
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 1:49 PM on January 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


Everyone thought Gene Hackman was dead, but it turned out that it was just that he was in Nebraska.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 1:51 PM on January 28, 2015 [4 favorites]




"And I love that Hackman's idol was James Cagney, who for me is THE American screen actor."

Yes, that was nice to learn - Cagney is also John Travolta's childhood idol which is kind of amazing for his generation. Don't underestimate James Cagney, I guess...
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 1:52 PM on January 28, 2015


For some reason whenever I see Gene Hackman I remember reading in Herb Caen's column that he was shopping with his wife at Wilkes Bashford when the Lona Prieta Earthquake struck.

Unfortunately, I don't remember any quips, or harrowing tales of survival ("I was drowning in a sea of YSL ties ... I had to claw my way through a rack of Hugo Boss suits ... it was awful!") -- just that he was there.
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 1:53 PM on January 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


[Edited the title on poster's request to not accidentally look so much like an obit hed. Gene Hackman not dead. Carry on.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:56 PM on January 28, 2015 [7 favorites]


There is an elite group of actors who always give an outstanding performance in every film they're in. Even if the film overall is complete shit, that particular actor's performance is noteworthy and worth watching.

Gene Hackman is one of them. Ned Beatty is another. So it was a total pleasure to watch them working together in the first Superman movie. Every scene with Luthor and Otis was magnificent.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:56 PM on January 28, 2015 [16 favorites]


> Another oft-made claim about Gene Hackman that you learn is untrue after digging deep into his back catalogue is that he never gave a bad performance. I’m sorry to report that Hackman sort of sucks in The Poseidon Adventure...

Don't forget about Superman IV! Nobody who's seen it can.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:58 PM on January 28, 2015


Was it in The New Yorker? Yup -- http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/01/21/tales-of-hoffman

It's got a quick note bout Dustin Hoffman, Robert Duvall, and Gene Hackman living together in NYC. They used to practice their "craft" by reciting the line - "You think you can just come to my house, and piss on my wife!?" or something to that effect. Get's a laugh out of me everytime imagining that line in their voices.
posted by brainimplant at 2:02 PM on January 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


I guess that I didn't realize that he hadn't done a film in more than a decade. All the big stars of those great seventies films are pretty old by now. Beatty and Nicholson seem to be retired too.
posted by octothorpe at 2:05 PM on January 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


I would also like to say, joseph conrad is fully awesome, that Little Bill Daggett doesn't deserve this... to die like this. He was building a house.
posted by Guy Smiley at 2:10 PM on January 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


In Enemy of the State, Hackman took Harry Caul out of mothballs and plugged him into a supercharged Will Smith vehicle about how creepy it is when Jon Voight stalks you.

The Angelina Jolie Story
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 2:20 PM on January 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


I think Hackman's thing was that he projected a sort of basic humanity, or decency, which could be used in all sorts of interesting ways; either to leaven a "bad" character, or to offer a shorthand for a "good" character, or perhaps most interestly to conceal (as in the surprisingly evil sheriff in Unforgiven).

I think unfortunately this can sometimes cause his performances, in lesser hands, to just feel a bit boring.

Contrast with Christopher Walken, who projects a sort of uncanny valley feeling which is nearly the opposite.

(PS: Get Shorty is so damn good)
posted by selfnoise at 2:20 PM on January 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


Beatty and Nicholson seem to be retired too.

Beatty wrapped filming last year on his Howard Hughes movie , which he's directing and starring.

Hackman might get more work if he wasn't such a scary pain-in-the-ass to work with.
posted by Doktor Zed at 2:22 PM on January 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


Given that Hackman ended his career with "Welcome to Mooseport" and Sean Connery ended his (more or less) with "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen", I always had the far flung hope that these two legends would get together for one last film on their own terms.

And if those terms amounted to "Swearing and insulting the audience in colorful ways for ninety minutes", I would be fine with that.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 2:56 PM on January 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


He has always seemed like one of those actors who just likes to work. He's in a whole lot of movies and even if the movie is crap, his performance is always as solid as it can be, given the source.
posted by rmd1023 at 3:07 PM on January 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


There is an elite group of actors who always give an outstanding performance in every film they're in. Even if the film overall is complete shit, that particular actor's performance is noteworthy and worth watching. Gene Hackman is one of them.

My dad said something similar to me 25 or 30 years ago, about Hackman specifically, and it changed the way teenage-me thought about acting, and about what constitutes an impressive acting career. Changed how I thought about and followed the careers of a lot of actors thereafter - and yes, I always kept an eye out for Gene Hackman.

The popular reaction to James Gandolfini's and Philip Seymour Hoffman's deaths seemed to stem from very much the same place.
posted by rory at 3:26 PM on January 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


I can't find the clip or remember exactly at which point it happens in the movie, but do you guys remember that scene in The Conversation where Hackman's character is off screen, on the phone, visible in frame only because of the shadow he casts and he's able to move all of his character's tension, dread and barely restrained panic into that shadow? His shadow. He was standing in another room, listening back to a tape or on a phone call, hears something he doesn't like and he makes this small pivot, this small bend and you know exactly how his stomach dropped in that moment.

There are actors out there who couldn't embody a nosebleed if you punched them in the face and added cgi later. Gene Hackman doesn't even have to be in the damn frame.
posted by EatTheWeak at 4:20 PM on January 28, 2015 [25 favorites]


And if those terms amounted to "Swearing and insulting the audience in colorful ways for ninety minutes"

Shut up and take my money.

I'm not sure if I'm onboard with Hackman always being a great actor. For me it's more like, whether he's acting well or not, he's mesmerizing to watch. You can't look anywhere else on the screen when he's on it, even when he's just phoning it in (e.g. The Firm, which I made the mistake of rewatching recently).
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:35 PM on January 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think Hackman's thing was that he projected a sort of basic humanity, or decency, which could be used in all sorts of interesting ways; either to leaven a "bad" character, or to offer a shorthand for a "good" character, or perhaps most interestly to conceal (as in the surprisingly evil sheriff in Unforgiven).

I dunno if I get the "basic decency" thing, but Hackman's a genius at portraying a certain kind of morally enigmatic and compartmentalized personality, often in the "sinister figure, who yet seems to have an inscrutable code" type vein. Some of the earlier movies, like Night Moves or The Conversation, where that thing hasn't yet gelled into his basic persona, are almost weird to watch, he's so conventionally vulnerable...
posted by batfish at 4:41 PM on January 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


I was just coming in to mention Night Moves! He's so good in that, playing a man who just keeps realizing he's in over his head in his work and his marriage, but can't even see how to change course.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 5:26 PM on January 28, 2015


Hackman is one of those rare actors who can make other actors around him better without sacrificing his own performance. He's at his best when in an ensemble, yet he stops just short of stealing the scene. Unless he's the lead. Jesus, he made Barbara Hershey look good in Hoosiers, he should get an honorary Oscar for that. That scene in Red October was outstanding.

EatTheWeak: "There are actors out there who couldn't embody a nosebleed if you punched them in the face and added cgi later. Gene Hackman doesn't even have to be in the damn frame."

Holy crap, that was the shot. I've posted about my dad's absolute love for this movie before, and after he got a crappy VHS copy being sort of forced to watch it as a teen who in no way appreciated the slow burn, I resented the shit out of this movie. He used to talk about the shots leading up to that shadow shot. He's said to me verbatim, "I'm going to go to my grave never getting a shot that good." You can call my dad up tonight*, and he'll tell you he failed as a photographer and a videographer, because he couldn't get anywhere near the emotion in that shot.

*Don't call him, it's my parents anniversary tonight. Love you, Dad.

posted by Sphinx at 6:12 PM on January 28, 2015 [7 favorites]


Night Moves has some fictional/factual reality slippage that disturbs my full immersion. Early in the film, Harry says something about being reminded of Alex Karras (who would've been an active nfl player at the same time as Harry) when he fondles the primitive religious idols in the display case. But Ellen Moseby, Harry's wife, is played by Susan Clark, later Katherine Papadapolis--that is, "ma'am"--spouse of Karras's George Papadapolis on Webster, and in fact they were married in real life!! Furthermore, in the very present of the film (1974-75), Karras and Clark were then working together on the TV biopic Babe, about the great female athlete and perennial standardized test reading comprehension subject, Babe Didrikson. Anyway, it's an underrated film, yes, and Hackman is terrific
posted by batfish at 6:23 PM on January 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


I would also like to say, joseph conrad is fully awesome, that Little Bill Daggett doesn't deserve this... to die like this. He was building a house.


Deserve's got nothing to do with it.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:43 PM on January 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


Just to add something I may have said before on the blue: Hackman first came to prominence in Bonnie and Clyde in 1967 and worked steadily until he last appeared in Welcome to Mooseport in 2004. He was born in early 1930 (actually it will be his birthday Friday) so this is a guy who aged from 37 to 74 in the public eye and still somehow managed to seem 55 the whole time.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:50 PM on January 28, 2015 [9 favorites]


He's my favourite! And I love that he writes his cowboy novels here. Morgan Freeman mentioned him in an interview a while back, how he'd been chatting to Gene about how things were going. I mean, c'mon, to go for a drink with those two...
posted by Gin and Broadband at 11:56 PM on January 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


The Conversation is one of my favourite films.

Far from being disappointed Hackman retired, I'm ecstatic that we got a full career out of one of the best actors to ever grace the silver screen.
posted by flippant at 1:11 AM on January 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Hey, Gene Hackman's performance in The Poseidon Adventure is one of my very favorites! (Mind you, I didn't say it was good...)
posted by Gelatin at 4:53 AM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


He is also an underrated comic performer. I mean, he's hysterical in Tenenbaums, but don't forget Young Frankenstein and the first Superman. I also recall thinking he was very funny in All Night Long, but I haven't seen it in years. I wonder how it's aged. Even Streisand was tolerable in that.
posted by Man-Thing at 7:26 AM on January 29, 2015


I got through the author's 90s section of the piece and I was thinking why the hell hasn't he mentioned Unforgiven, he has to talk about Unforgiven, and then near the end he describes Unforgiven as his favorite Gene Hackman performance. But he doesn't end up saying much.

I think that Little Bill is what that film was really about -- Bull Munny isn't so much a protagonist as a landslide in progress, the film has no true hero, but it sure as hell has a villain who thinks he's a hero, and it's Little Bill Daggett.

Daggett's prolonged, excruciating brutalization of English Bob had to shock the audience to their core, it had to come from nowhere, as it seemed to, and it had to be worse than they could have expected. We come to a movie like that expecting violence, but what we needed to see in that scene wasn't movie violence, but something more like what it would actually feel like to watch someone be kicked nearly to death in the street in front of us.

But that last line -- I don't deserve this... to die like this. I was building a house -- it absolutely had to come from a character who was believable, at least to some degree, to the audience as the decent sheriff and upstanding citizen that Little Bill thought himself to be. This is a man whose essential nature was revealed in that scene with English Bob -- Little Bill was never so alive and so much himself as when he was kicking a man to death in the street. But what he wanted, what he needed, was to be that man, to be honored for being that man, to think that this murderous rage was something normal, something acceptable, something necessary and this was all how everything should be, everything is in its right place. He was keeping the peace. He was building a house.

Unforgiven was the apotheosis of the anti-western. It wasn't necessarily the best, but it expresses it in the most elemental fashion. Little Bill Daggett is everything that is wrong with American mythology of the West. Little Bill Daggett personifies imperialist murder that described itself to itself as the civilizing impulse. Bill Munny personifies death running rampant, conjured into form by the promise of cash.

Eastwood starred and directed the film and he knew precisely what he was capable of bringing to the role of Bill Munny. Unforgiven depended upon Eastwood's portrayal of Munny, but that was never in question. And the true center of the film is Little Bill and what he represents. For the film to work, Hackman had to triangulate from those two views of Little Bill: the brutalization of English Bob and Little Bill's bewilderment that he, the guy in the white hat, could die. Doesn't everyone know that the bad guys' bullets never hit their targets?

I think that maybe only Hackman could have been those two versions of Little Bill so perfectly and completely. One of Hackman's talents is to simultaneously be larger-than-life and exactly like life as we know it.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:54 AM on January 29, 2015 [7 favorites]


Just caught the last 30 minutes or so of the Poseidon Adventure last weekend, been a long time since I'd watched that movie. Hackman's turn as the priest ranting at God for not cutting the little group of survivors a decent break is definitely on the unintentionally hilarious side, oh look, he just fell into a pool of fire, that's what you get for badmouthing God. At least he has all those truly great movies to cancel out that little acting episode.
posted by e1c at 8:52 AM on January 29, 2015


He is also an underrated comic performer.

The Birdcage.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:07 AM on January 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Hackman might get more work if he wasn't such a scary pain-in-the-ass to work with.

He was a delight to work with when he was younger -- Sissy Spacek has very flattering things to say about her experiences with him on "Prime Cut." But he admits that he became a perfectionist later in life and started to get very demanding, and there's a lovely quote in the linked article where he admits that he sort of let himself feel old and disrepected when he made Tennebaums, even though he knew it wasn't true.

Hackman tended to make decisions like this anyway. He'd use his feelings in life, and exaggerate them, if it helped his performance. He was playing a difficult, demanding, unpleasant man, and let himself feel ignored and alienated in a way that made him difficult, demanding, and unpleasant. He was working with a very young director and a very young cast, and I think this method really shook them. I don't know that it's the best method, but Hackman genuinely gives a great performance as Royal -- for my money, one of his best. It's almost his last film, and he seems to be a little embarrassed about his behavior on it, and felt like making movies wasn't very good for him anymore.

But, god damn, I really do miss him.

I mean, Harry Dean Stanton sounds like he's somewhere south of real psychosis on a set, but I can't think of many films that weren't improved by his presence. They're both in Cisco Pike, by the way, and Holy Christ that's a great film.
posted by maxsparber at 1:33 PM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


One of my favorite actors since I snuck downstairs after everyone was asleep and watched The Conversation late at night, sitting on the floor far too close to the TV so I could keep the volume low enough to escape detection.

His performance in Under Suspicion is one of my favorites (and what a great and underrated film that is). His mastery of the low key and subtle is something to see.
posted by biscotti at 6:40 PM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Having rewatched Unforgiven recently, it's interesting to see just how many layers there are to it - and just how frequently it jackknifes Western cliches.

Little Bill is much more than simply a corrupt sheriff. He is a corrupt sheriff who believes, and not entirely without reason, that he is actually quite a good sheriff. He permits the face-slasher's posse to settle the score with horses, because he sees it as being more orderly. More horses means more wealth gets brought to the town, right? He hates the bounty that the prostitutes have placed for the face-slasher, because it will bring murder to the town, which is understandable. And even when they do bring around the horses, one of them is nice enough to bring along an extra-nice bonus horse for the woman who'd had her face slashed. Super duper nice, right? I mean, only for so long as you ignore the fact that a woman got her face slashed, but hey, you know.

My point is not that he's secretly a good guy, because he's not. But, when you look at things from Little Bill's perspective, his behavior makes actually quite a bit of sense. It doesn't mean that he's not corrupt, but it does mean that there were several societal, systemic reasons as to why somebody like Little Bill would have been the popular face of law enforcement, and why he would regard someone like Munny as the devil in human form.

Hackman's performance just sells the whole package so well. Munny is a sort of character we've seen before - the wounded, laconic antihero who packs a powerful wallop. Eastwood can play that character in his sleep, and sometimes he does. But Hackman's Little Bill is somebody somewhat new: the confident, sometimes-friendly-seeming face of an unjust regime.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:26 AM on January 30, 2015


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