Gene Hackman shares his brilliant Richard Donner anecdote

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Gene Hackman recalls an on-set story from 1978’s Superman, remembering the late Richard Donner for his sense of fun.

Richard Donner’s passing at 91, earlier this week, has led to an outpouring of stories and celebration about one of the great commercial filmmakers of our time. After all, Donner has left behind a body of work that will be difficult for any Hollywood director to match, and in doing so, worked with some of the industry’s greatest talents along the way.

One of those talents is Gene Hackman, who despite being mostly-retired these days, popped up to share a brilliant anecdote to mark Donner’s passing. You might have already heard this, but it never gets told.

The story comes from 1978’s Superman, where Donner was working with some incredible talents: Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Glenn Ford for instance. All for what was then seen as a just a lowbrow ‘comic book’ movie. Perhaps because they thought they were ‘slumming it’ a little, both Brando and Hackman made demands that undercut Donner’s plans: for example, as Kryptonian scientist Jor-El, Brando famously demanded that his lines were written on cue cards and taped to co-star, Susannah York’s head. He got his way too.

As for Hackman, who was portraying the villainous Lex Luthor, he was refusing to shave off his mighty moustache for the part. For this particular problem however, Donner unleashed a masterstroke. We’ve covered this story previously on our podcast and YouTube channel, but it’s one worth revisiting to commemorate Donner’s passing.

Remembers Hackman: “I showed up for the first day of make-up tests for Superman with a fine Lex Luthor moustache I’d grown for the role. Dick, wearing his own handsome moustache, told me mine had to go. He bargained to lose his if I did mine. True to his word, he celebrated my last razor stroke by gleefully pulling off the fake whiskers he’d acquired for the occasion. Dick made it fun, and that’s why the films turned out that way, too.”

Publicly tricking the notoriously-difficult Hackman was a bold move by Donner, but it not not only got him his desired result, but also won the actor’s favour: not an easy thing to do. It also points to the reason why Donner films tended to be such fun, when the man at the top has such a sense of playfulness. It’s a great story to remember a great director. If you’re looking to commemorate Richard Donner this week, you could wear a fake moustache in tribute.

Or just watch one of his films. Fake moustache optional.


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