Hackman, Gene

 GeneHackmanJun08 Name: Gene Hackman

Born: January 30, 1930

Strengths: Intensity, Depth

Weaknesses: None

Best Role: The Conversation

Rating:   rating-153609_640 5.0

The sound of his surname alone is enough to invoke a quality of acting utterly unique and charismatic. Showing astonishing range across a long career he’s played characters of all types across all genres. He made his bones in the late 1960’s with a series of quirky, sometimes seminal, support roles such as Clyde’s older brother Buck in Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Cyde. He helped define US cinema of the 1970’s with a series of dark introspective not to mention iconic performances. He was doing superhero movies back when few A-listers were (and devouring the furniture as he did so). In the latter years of his career, he added a series of brilliant comedic roles to his resume – as if Hollywood suddenly remembered how funny he actually was as Lex Luthor -, the pick of which was his hilarious Harry Zimm in Get Shorty.

But it’s still, nonetheless, fair to say that Hackman made his name with his darker roles. The intensity of Popeye Doyle has arguably never been equalled on screen nor perhaps the internal tempest which defined his Harry Caul in The Conversation. A less talented actor would have played these one-dimensionally but Hackman seems to naturally imbue his characters with unseen layers. His underappreciated turn as Harry Moseby in Penn’s Night Moves, a private detective caught up in both personal and professional intrigue, demonstrated this most clearly wherein he said more with his gaze and body language than most actors could muster with in thousands of uttered words.

However, perhaps his most distinctive acting trait is that he can be both eminently likeable and utterly detestable, sometimes even while playing the same role! Though the pitched gravel of his voice seems to suit his more villainous roles, when he plays the good guy, he displays a charm you can’t help but relate to. But when he plays it bad, he can be downright intimidating. His turn as “Little Bill” in Clint Eastwood’s revisionist western Unforgiven was as laced with venom as Goodfellas’ Tommy while his nasty Secretary of Defense David Brice in No Way Out simply made your skin crawl.

Described as an extremely quiet man off-camera, he comes across as extremely contemplative and reticent of fame and stardom. Afraid it would affect the purity of his acting, he seemed to understand what other charismatic actors of his generation failed to: that audiences (or more likely filmmakers) might eventually just want to see “Hackman” and nobody else (Jack Nicholson, I’m talking to you!). He, thus, chose his roles carefully never over-ploughing any particular furrow and remained as fresh an actor the day he retired as the day he began.

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Depth
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