Nationality: American. Born: Eugene Alden Hackman in San Bernardino, California, 30 January 1931. Education: Studied journalism, University of Illinois, Urbana, for six months; studied at a New York school for radio; studied acting at the Pasadena Playhouse. Military Service: Served in the U.S. Marine Corps, 1947–50; disc jockey and newscaster for unit's radio station. Family: Married 1) Fay Maltese, 1956 (divorced 1985), children: Christopher, Elizabeth, Leslie; 2) Betsy Arakawa. Career: Worked briefly for civilian radio and TV stations, 1953; made his off-Broadway debut in Chaparral , 1958; made his television debut, 1959; made his film debut in Mad Dog Coll, 1961; made his Broadway debut in Children from Their Games , 1963; formed a production company, Chelly Ltd., 1970. Awards: National Society of Film Critics Best Supporting Actor, for Bonnie and Clyde , 1967; Best Actor Academy Award, National Board of Review Best Actor, New York Film Critics Circle Best Actor, Best Motion Picture Actor-Drama Golden Globe, for The French Connection , 1971; Best Actor British Academy Award, for The French Connection and The Poseidon Adventure , 1972; National Board of Review Best Actor, for The Conversation, 1974; National Board of Review Best Actor, Berlin Film Festival Best Actor, for Mississippi Burning, 1988; Best Supporting Actor Academy Award, Best Actor in a Supporting Role British Academy Award, National Society of Film Critics Best Supporting Actor, Los Angeles Film Critics Association Best Supporting Actor, New York Film Critics Circle Best Supporting Actor, Best Performance by an Actr in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture Golden Globe, for Unforgiven , 1992. Address: c/o Guttman, 118 South Beverly Drive, #201, Beverly Hills, CA 90212, U.S.A.
Mad Dog Coll (Balaban) (as cop)
Lilith (Rossen) (as Norman)
Hawaii (Hill) (as the Rev. John Whipple)
A Covenant with Death (Johnson) (as Harmsworth); First to Fight (Nyby) (as Sgt. Tweed); Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn) (as Buck Barrow); Banning (Winston) (as Tommy Del Gaddo)
Shadow on the Land (Sarafian—for TV); The Split (Flemyng) (as Lt. Walter Brill); Riot (Kulik) (as Red Fletcher)
The Gypsy Moths (Frankenheimer) (as Joe Browdy); Downhill Racer (Ritchie) (as coach); Marooned (John Sturges) (as Buzz Lloyd); I Never Sang for My Father (Cates) (as Gene Garrison)
Doctors' Wives (Schaefer) (as Dr. Dave Randolph); Confrontation (Hiller—short)
The Hunting Party (Medford); The French Connection (Friedkin) (as Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle)
Prime Cut (Ritchie) (as "Mary Ann"); Cisco Pike (Norton) (as Holland); The Poseidon Adventure (Neame) (as the Rev. Frank Scott)
Scarecrow (Schatzberg) (as Max)
The Conversation (Coppola) (as Harry Caul); Zandy's Bride (Troell) (as Zandy); Young Frankenstein (Mel Brooks) (as guest)
Night Moves (Arthur Penn) (as Harry Moseby); Bite the Bullet (Richard Brooks) (as Sam Clayton); French Connection II (Frankenheimer) (as Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle); Lucky Lady (Donen) (as Kibby)
The Domino Principle ( The Domino Killings ) (Kramer) (as Roy Tucker)
A Bridge Too Far (Attenborough) (as Maj. Gen. Sosabowski); March or Die (Richards) (as Maj. William Sherman Foster); A Look at Liv ( Liv Ullmann's Norway ) (Kaplan) (appearance)
Formula I, febbre della velocità ( Speed Fever ) (Orefici and Morra) (as interviewee); Superman (Donner) (as Lex Luthor)
Superman II (Lester) (as Lex Luthor); The Making of Superman: The Movie (Johnstone—doc) (appearance)
All Night Long (Tramont) (as George Dupler); Reds (Beatty) (as Pete Van Wherry)
Under Fire (Spottiswoode) (as Alex); Superman III (Lester) (as Lex Luthor); Uncommon Valor (Kotcheff) (as Col. Rhodes)
Misunderstood (Schatzberg) (as Ned); Eureka (Roeg—produced in 1982) (as Jack McCann)
Twice in a Lifetime (Yorkin) (as Harry Mackenzie); Target (Arthur Penn) (as Walter Lloyd)
Hoosiers ( Best Shot ) (Anspaugh) (as Coach Norman Dale); Power (Lumet) (as Wilfred Buckley)
No Way Out (Donaldson) (as David Brice, Secretary of Defense); Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (Furie) (as Lex Luthor)
Another Woman (Woody Allen) (as Larry); Bat 21 (Markle) (as Lt. Col. Iceal Hambleton); Full Moon in Blue Water (Masterson) (as Floyd); Split Decisions ( Kid Gloves ) (Drury) (as Dan McGuinn); Mississippi Burning (Parker) (as Anderson)
The Package (Davis) (as Johnny Gallagher); Loose Cannons (Clarke) (as Mac)
Narrow Margin (Hyams) (as Robert Caulfield); Postcards from the Edge (Nichols) (as Lowell); Class Action (Apted) (Jedediah Tucker Ward)
Company Business (Meyer) (as Sam Boyd); Class Action (Apted) (as Jedediah Tucker Ward)
Unforgiven (Eastwood) (as Sheriff "Little Bill" Daggett)
Geronimo: An American Legend (Walter Hill) (as Brig.Gen. George Crook); The Firm (Pollack) (as Avery Tolar); Earth and the American Dream (Couturie—doc) (voice only)
Wyatt Earp (Kasdan) (as Nicholas Earp)
Crimson Tide (Scott) (as Captain Frank Ramsey); The Quick and the Dead (Raimi) (as Herod); Get Shorty (Sonnenfeld) (as Harry Zimm)
The Birdcage (Mike Nichols) (as Senator Kevin Keeley); The Chamber (Foley) (as Sam Cayhall); Extreme Measures (Apted) (as Dr. Lawrence Myruick)
Absolute Power (Eastwood) (as President Richmond)
Enemy of the State (Scott) (as Brill); Antz (Darnell, Guterman) (as voice of General Mandible); Twilight (Benton) (as Jack Ames)
Hitchcock, Selznick and the End of Hollywood (Epstein) (as Narrator)
The Replacements (Deutch) (as McGinty); Breakers (Mirkin); Under Suspicion (Hopkins)
Pearl Harbor (Bay)
Interview with N. Mills, in Stills (London), April 1986.
Interview with B. Paskin, in Films and Filming (London), May 1986.
"Hackman: The Last Honest Man in America," interview with Beverly Walker, in Film Comment (New York), November/December 1988.
Interview with John C. Tibbetts, in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury), January 1993.
Hackman, Gene & Lenihan, Daniel, Wake of the Perdido Star: A Novel of Shipwrecks, Pirates, and the Sea , Newmarket Press, 1999.
Hunter, Allan, Gene Hackman , London, 1987.
Munn, Michael, Gene Hackman , Robert Hale Limited, 1997.
Current Biography 1972 , New York, 1972.
Hamill, P., "Hackman," in Film Comment (New York), September-October 1974.
Luft, Herbert G., "Gene Hackman: An American of Strength and Doubts," in Films in Review (New York), January 1975.
Ecran (Paris), October 1978.
Ward, Robert, "I'm Not a Movie Star: I'm an Actor!," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), March 1983.
Elia, M., "Gene Hackman. Monsieur Tout-le-monde," in Séquences (Montreal), November 1989.
Emerson, Jim, "Man of Iron," in Premiere (New York), February 1991.
Stars , September 1992.
Radio Times (London), 29 April 1995.
* * *
Gene Hackman is one of that rare breed of actor whose star status has been built on talent alone. He may not be the handsomest or sexiest performer in the picture; his romantic roles have been infrequent, and mostly marginal to the plot. But you cannot stop watching him whenever he is on screen, even when the film in which he is appearing is run-of-the-mill. Hackman is an instinctive, intensely physical actor, as much at home playing loud-mouthed bullies and cunningly manipulative bad guys as stalwart or brooding heroes. He is especially adept at expressing himself by modulating his voice and subtly altering his expression, both of which communicate more to the audience than any dialogue. Few actors are more expert at giving ordinary people shadings of psychological complexity, and making larger-than-life characters seem more vulnerable and believable.
The first phase of Hackman's career commenced in the late 1960s. He had made his screen debut in a bit part as a cop in Mad Dog Coll , when he already had turned 30; six years were to pass before his appearance in Bonnie and Clyde , the first film in which he earned critical and audience attention. His performance as the genial but dimwitted older brother of Clyde Barrow won him an Oscar nomination, and instant stardom. He cemented his fame four years later with an Academy Award-winning star turn as "Popeye" Doyle, the bellicose, bigoted narcotics cop, in The French Connection . In between, he was splendid as the dutiful son unable to connect with his elderly parent in I Never Sang for My Father . Afterwards, he was equally fine as the obsessive surveillance expert in The Conversation ; the itinerant bum lurching toward fellowship with another drifter in Scarecrow ; and the dogged but emotionally torn-apart detective in Night Moves . His versatility may be exemplified by contrasting his performances in The French Connection and Night Moves . In each, he plays a good guy in search of bad guys, yet in The French Connection his performance befits his role in that it is outward and in-your-face; "Popeye" Doyle is a character whose actions affect others in the story. Conversely, in Night Moves , his outward toughness masks an inner vulnerability as he plays a character who not so much acts as is acted upon.
Hackman's career continued in a similar vein into the 1980s, at which point he offered equally fine performances as the television journalist who is intent upon becoming an anchorman in Under Fire ; the tough, unorthodox basketball coach in Hoosiers ; and the veteran FBI agent in Mississippi Burning . His way of getting inside a character is best summed up by critic Roger Ebert, writing about Under Fire : "Hackman never really convinced me that he could be an anchorman, but he did a better thing. He convinced me that he thought he could be one."
Not all of Hackman's films, however, have been of the highest caliber. His career has been littered with appearances in films ranging from the awful to the merely forgettable. This list begins with The Split , Riot , Doctors' Wives , The Hunting Party , Prime Cut , Cisco Pike , Zandy's Bride , The Domino Principle , and March or Die ; and continues with Bat 21 , Full Moon in Blue Water , Split Decisions , The Package , Loose Cannons , Narrow Margin , Company Business , and The Quick and the Dead . Mixed in were prestige roles in high-profile, big-budget Hollywood spectacles which required little more than his imposing presence. In Superman and its various sequels, he is the comically oily villain Lex Luthor. He is top-billed above an all-star cast in The Poseidon Adventure , one of the 1970s best disaster films, playing a heroic minister who cooly takes control after the capsizing of an ocean liner. Perhaps it was his coming to stardom at such a relatively advanced age—he was past 40 when he made The French Connection —that compelled him to be less selective in his choice of roles.
The second phase of Hackman's career started in the mid-1980s, when he began accepting juicy co-starring and supporting roles as corrupted authority figures. Some have been downright villainous: the scheming Secretary of Defense, who tries to cover up his murder of his mistress and in so doing makes an imposing foil for hero Kevin Costner, in No Way Out ; a strikingly similar role in Absolute Power , only here he is a duplicitous U.S. President and his nemesis is Clint Eastwood; and, most memorable of all, the ruthless outlaw-turned-sheriff, who hides his viciousness beneath a folksy demeanor, in Eastwood's Unforgiven (for which he earned a second Oscar). Other, similar characters have been more complexly twisted and deluded: the high-powered attorney who becomes mentor to hero Tom Cruise, and proves to be anguished and regretful, in The Firm ; and the crusty, set-in-his-ways nuclear submarine commander, whose faulty judgment is challenged by hero Denzel Washington, in Crimson Tide . He also is excellent at playing understated drama, working smoothly with Paul Newman and Susan Sarandon as a terminally ill actor who manipulates Newman's retired private detective in Twilight. But you always can expect a curve ball from Hackman. Once viewers became used to seeing him as foils for the hero, he offered an equally impressive performance in Get Shorty as a schlock movie producer who becomes comically involved with gangsters while attempting to finance his next project. In Get Shorty , actors other than Hackman—John Travolta, Delroy Lindo, Dennis Farina—get to be the tough guy. In The Birdcage, he proved adept at playing farce in his role as a moralistic, ultra-conservative U.S. Senator. And on occasion, he even was a good guy: in Enemy of the State , he is a hermit-like renegade surveillance expert who offers key assistance to hero Will Smith.
Despite his frequent lapses in judgment in selecting his film projects, Hackman has over the course of four decades appeared in an impressive list of exceptional films. In each, he has proved time and again to be a rock-solid actor, and a master of his craft.
—Fiona Valentine, updated by Rob Edelman