If you love movies, it’s hard not to miss him. So, for the past month I’ve been watching Gene Hackman films — not just the iconic ones,2 but also the deep cuts, good and bad. Almost all of them are worth seeing, because Hackman himself is almost always worth seeing, but also because the man had a knack for picking projects that have only gotten more strange with time. I refer to films like Prime Cut, in which Hackman plays a Kansas City gangster named Mary Ann who forces Sissy Spacek to lie naked in a pen at a sex slave farm until Lee Marvin comes along; Cisco Pike, a far-out drug thriller set in early-’70s Los Angeles in which Hackman plays Big Foot Bjornsen to Kris Kristofferson’s Doc Sportello; and Loose Cannons, a confoundingly stupid buddy-cop comedy costarring Dan Aykroyd that has one of the all-time great Netflix plot summaries.
Never mind an oddity like All Night Long.
Or Full Moon in Blue Water:
Hackman for me is the greatest living American actor because — with the exception of the Reverend Frank Scott in The Poseidon Adventure — I always buy what he’s selling. Even when the movie is bad, you believe what Hackman is telling you, right down to the last “heh-heh.”
Hackman’s my favorite.
I love Gene Hackman as much as I’ve ever loved any actor.
Dig this short Q&A with Hackman from the latest issue of GQ:
GQ: You worked with Coppola on The Conversation. He’s a director who has a “reputation.” Tell me about that movie.
Hackman: He wanted Brando for that part. But it’s not too bad to be second to Brando. [laughs] We rehearsed—normally you don’t get a lot of rehearsal in films. We took advantage of Francis having some juice, because he’d just finished The Godfather. It was a good experience, because he’s such a confident filmmaker. It was great because it was about something. It was about paranoia, the whole idea of eavesdropping. He’s a very hands-on director, but after rehearsal he left me alone. But you knew what was required of you. Most directors, if sensitive at all and think an actor knows what he’s doing in a film, have the good sense to leave him alone, and he did that.
GQ: If someone were to portray you, what would be the key to “getting” you?
Hackman: That’s a tough one. Almost anything one would say would sound egotistical. [pauses] I’d like to think that if an actor was playing me, that he would do me in an honest fashion. I always try to approach the work in that way, regardless of how good or bad the script. When I say “honest,” I say to portray what is on the page, instead of what maybe people might think of me or what I would like them to think of me in terms of personality or charisma. But just be what is asked of me on the page.
[Drawing by Jerry Vaughan]