Gene Hackman knew from childhood that he wanted to be an actor, but his path was not an easy one. Hackman was born 90 years ago, on January 30, 1930 in San Bernardino, Calif. His family moved frequently, and his father eventually left. He ran away at 16 to enlist as a Marine and served as a radio operator. After finishing his military career, he attended Pasadena Playhouse to earn his acting chops. Voted as the least likely to succeed (along with his friend Dustin Hoffman!), Hackman became even more determined to earn his living as an actor.
One of his first big breakthrough roles was as Buck Barrow in Bonnie and Clyde, which netted him an Academy Award nomination. His film career has spanned 40 years and although he formally retired in 2014, he stays busy with his second career as a novelist. Known to be a character actor who can play a variety of roles either supporting or leading, Hackman’s films are beloved by critics and audiences. Here are my top picks for Hackman.
The French Connection established Hackman as an A-lister when he won an Academy Award for Best Actor. Based on a nonfiction account of the New York Police Department's pursuit of a French heroine smuggler, it's one of Hackman's best-known roles. A bonus is the exciting car chase under the city's train tracks.
Hackman made several westerns, but swore off doing violent roles as he felt he was being typecast. It took Clint Eastwood to persuade him to take the role of “Little Bill” Daggett, the corrupt sheriff in Unforgiven. The film earned Hackman an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
One of my personal favorites was Hackman’s role in the dark comedy The Royal Tenenbaums. He plays the bumbling patriarch, Royal, who tries to ingratiate himself back into his dysfunctional family by pretending to be dying. The role netted him a Golden Globe.
For diehard sports fans, Hoosiers is a must-see. It stars Hackman as the coach of a small Indiana high school basketball team that makes it all the way to the nationals.
Hackman appeared in three different movies based on John Grisham novels. In my favorite, Runaway Jury, he starred as the ruthless "jury consultant” Rankin Fitch, who would do anything to help his client, a gun manufacturer, win a civil case.
Gene Hackman has a rich and lasting legacy, and despite his fame, always saw himself as a "regular guy" who maintained his ability to play normal characters by not trying to be a star. What's your favorite of his films?