The Web      Powered by


Return to Transcripts main page


Larry King Goes One-on-One with Gene Hackman

Aired July 7, 2004 - 21:00   ET


GENE HACKMAN, ACTOR: All right, Popeye's here!

Take a good look, pop. I'm Buck Barrow.

I'll see you in hell, William Munny.

LARRY KING, HOST (voice-over): Tonight, an ultra rare one-on-one with Gene Hackman.

HACKMAN: I don't care what the scoreboard says at the end of the game. In my book, we're going to be winners!

JOHN TRAVOLTA, ACTOR: You make movies, huh?

I produce feature motion pictures. No TV.

KING: You know his brilliant work on the big screen, but there's so much you don't know about his life off screen. We'll cover it all.

HACKMAN: Meet me in 20 minutes at the corner of El Dorado and Palm.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lady, not for a million dollars.

KING: With an acting legend who never gives interviews, the one and only Gene Hackman is next...

HACKMAN: We're going now, goodbye!



(on camera): What a great pleasure for me, personally, tonight to have as our special guest Gene Hackman on this edition of "LARRY KING LIVE." One of our truly great actors.

Won the best supporting actor for 1992's "Unforgiven"; Best Actor for '71's "The French Connection"; co-author of the new novel "Justice for None" -- there you see its cover -- co-authored with Daniel Lenihan. He also wrote another book with Mr. Lenihan called "Wake of the Perdido Star." Two diverse topics, by the way.

HACKMAN: Yes. KING: You don't do a lot of interviews, though, do you?

HACKMAN: I do them for film when we're out doing the junkets. But...

KING: You don't do sit-down, elaborate, extensive...


KING: You don't like it?

HACKMAN: I don't like to talk about myself that much.

KING: Why?

HACKMAN: I don't know. It's the same as watching myself on film, it makes me uncomfortable. I love doing the acting. I love that part of it. When I'm doing it, I'm just totally enraptured.

But when I see myself up on the screen, it's that -- I see my grandfather there or something, you know? I see -- you know, I think of myself as being 21. You do, too, I know. Yes. But then, when you see yourself, it's a whole different story.

KING: And psychologically, do you think you like going into roles rather than letting yourself out -- I don't want to get so deep to start here, but do you think that's part of it?

HACKMAN: I like that. I like...

KING: You like being other people?

HACKMAN: Yes, I like getting inside there and that interplay with other actors. I love that -- Denzel and people of that caliber that can really stay with you and, you know, do the stuff.

KING: And acting is a lot reacting, right?

HACKMAN: Yes. Yes, you listen and something happens with you while you're listening, and then you give something back.

KING: Are you better when the other person's great?

HACKMAN: Well, I would like to think so, but...

KING: I mean, two actors make each other better.

HACKMAN: I think they do, yes. I think that it's a give and take. You work with Meryl Streep or somebody like that, and there's stuff going on there, you know?

KING: Let's talk about some movies. "The French Connection," you were not the number one choice for that.


KING: Is that correct? In fact, someone said you were seventh.

HACKMAN: At least. Robert Mitchum had been considered by the studio.

KING: Popeye Doyle.

HACKMAN: Rod Taylor was the first choice of Eddie Egan, who was the real cop. The director wanted Jimmy Breslin.

KING: The writer.

HACKMAN: The writer -- New York writer. I fell in the kind of -- the middle area there, because I had done some films, and yet I was still kind of unknown.

KING: So, how did you get it?

HACKMAN: I met with Billy Friedkin and Phil D'Antoni here in New York and...

KING: Did you have to test for it?

HACKMAN: No. No, I didn't test. But I met with him. It was a pretty good meeting. And the next day, they said, "OK, you got it."


I'm going to check on this address in the Bronx, and if they don't know you, then it's your ass.


KING: Did you watch that finished work?

HACKMAN: I've seen it since, but I didn't watch it at the time.

KING: That was a brilliantly put together movie...

HACKMAN: Yes, it was.

KING: ... in addition to the performances.

HACKMAN: Thank you. But it was really well put together. And Billy Friedkin is a great, great director. He really, really knew what he was doing. Knew exactly what he wanted.

KING: Are you well directed?

HACKMAN: I have trouble with direction, because I have trouble with authority. I was not a good Marine. I was -- I made Corporal once and was promptly busted. And I just have always had trouble with authority.

KING: So, do you challenge directors a lot?

HACKMAN: I do. I shouldn't, but I... KING: But if it's Billy Friedkin, do you not challenge him?

HACKMAN: I think I actually did challenge Billy, and I had no reason to because I hadn't had any track record or anything. But I probably did -- I probably don't do it in a way that is constructive.

KING: When you're doing it, do you know if it's going well? Did you know -- "French Connection" -- that you were really cooking?

HACKMAN: Yes, there was kind of an energy, you know, that you can tell. I couldn't tell you that it was going to be a successful film or not. I don't think anybody can. But you can tell when the scenes work. You can just have that feeling that they're cooking, you know, and that the crew is kind of on alert and ready. You know that. Yes, absolutely.

KING: Turned down a role you regret, ever?

HACKMAN: I've met with people that -- of projects that I really wanted to do and didn't get them for one reason...

KING: ... didn't get.

HACKMAN: ... or another. Yes.

KING: But have you ever said, "No, I don't want to do this," and then it turned out to be a hit and you saw the film and said, "I should have done it"?

HACKMAN: No, none that I can remember. I'm sure there are.

KING: So, there are no regrets then, in a sense?

HACKMAN: Very few regrets...

KING: Woulda, shoulda, coulda.

HACKMAN: Yes, very few regrets in terms of the career.

KING: We'll be right back with Gene Hackman. The new one is "Justice for None." Don't go away.


HACKMAN: "When was the last time you picked your feet, huh?"

ALAN WEEKS, ACTOR: What's he talking about?

HACKMAN: I've got a man in Poughkeepsie who wants to talk to you. You ever been to Poughkeepsie, huh? Have you ever been to Poughkeepsie?

WEEKS: Hey, man. Come on, give me a break, man. I don't know what you're talking about, man.

HACKMAN: Come on, come on, say it. Let me hear you say it. Come on, have you ever been in Poughkeepsie? You've been in Poughkeepsie, haven't you? I want to hear it! Come on!

WEEKS: Yes, yes, I've been...

HACKMAN: You've been there, right?


HACKMAN: You sat on the edge of the bed, didn't you? You took off your shoes, put your finger between your toes and picked your feet, didn't you? Now say it!




HACKMAN: If you put your effort and concentration into playing to your potential to be the best that you can be, I don't care what the scoreboard says at the end of the game, in my book we're going to be winners. Okay?

All right! Let's go! Let's go! Let me hear it! Go! Go! Go!


KING: We're back with Gene Hackman, one of my favorite people. It's his second appearance on this show. But the first time he was on, old friend Geraldo hosted it; that was many years ago.

HACKMAN: Many years ago, yes.

KING: But it's great having you here.

HACKMAN: Thank you so much.

KING: Were you a sports fan off of "Hoosiers," by the way?

HACKMAN: Yes, I've always been a big sports fan. Yes.

KING: That must have been a great movie to do.

HACKMAN: It was. It was great fun, because we shot it, you know, 70 miles from Danville where the book is set, actually. Close to Indianapolis.

KING: All right. Let's pick up on some things. You get in late into writing. Also got late into acting. You weren't an 18-year-old knocking on doors to get into theater.

HACKMAN: No. I went in the Marines when I was 16. I spent four and a half years in the Marines and then came right to New York to be an actor. And then seven years later, I got my first job.

KING: Do you know why you wanted to act? HACKMAN: Well, I know -- yes. I was very taken with the early days of James Cagney and Errol Flynn and Edward G. Robinson and those kinds of films. Very taken with that. And my mother and I were at a film once, and we came out through the lobby and she said, "I want to see you do that someday." And that was all that was needed. Because I already wanted to do it. But you have to have somebody tell you, or you need to be pushed a bit. And that's the only thing she's ever said to me about acting. Was she wanted to see me do that.

KING: Where did you grow up?

HACKMAN: In Danville, Illinois.

KING: Right there.


KING: Not far from Reagan country.

HACKMAN: Yes, Dixon is not too far, yes.

KING: You had a proclivity for it? In other words were you good at it right away?

HACKMAN: No, not at all. I never went out for the high school plays or anything like that. They had a Red Mask Players community theater in town. I was always too embarrassed, too shy to do that.

KING: And no acting in the Marine Corps?

HACKMAN: No acting in the Marine Corps. When I got to New York, I got an acting teacher, George Morrison (ph), who really was great for me.

KING: And you hung out with Dustin Hoffman?

HACKMAN: Dusty was a friend and as was Bob Duval. Dusty lived with my first wife and myself for a while until I kicked him out.

KING: He lived with the two of you, right?

HACKMAN: Exactly. He was something.

KING: He still is.

HACKMAN: He used to have some Mason jars that had money up on the shelf. And they had $5, $4, you know, rent, food, blah, blah, blah.

And so he asked me for a loan one day and I looked at it and I said, "you've got all this money." He says, "yes, but this one's empty." He wouldn't take money out of there.

KING: What was your first paid job?

HACKMAN: Oh, "Chaparelle" (ph). Off-Broadway. The Sheridan Square (ph) Theater.

KING: What was it like, first night, stepping on stage, paid actor?

HACKMAN: It was like a dream come true. We made $45 a week then, I think, off-Broadway. It was absolutely great.

KING: Liked it?

HACKMAN: Loved it. Loved every minute. I've loved every minute of my career, I really have. There's been tough times of course. But I like the process so much.

KING: You like theater as much as film?

HACKMAN: I do. I do. Probably more.

KING: Because the audience is there?

HACKMAN: Yes. My early days in Broadway were all comedies. I never did a straight play on Broadway. And when I got to California, doing things, everything has been -- up until about ten years ago -- kind of serious stuff.

KING: How did that move happen, New York to Hollywood?

HACKMAN: Let's see.

KING: Were you doing a play and someone saw you?

HACKMAN: Yes, actually, I was. I was doing a thing called "Children From Their Games." Robert Rossen was in the audience...

KING: The director.

HACKMAN: Saw me and put me in "Lilith" with Warren Beatty.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Real nice meeting you. Hope you come back real soon. We'll have a real chat.



KING: And that's where Beatty saw you work and he put you in "Bonnie and Clyde."

HACKMAN: Exactly, yes.

KING: And that was your big, big break, right?

HACKMAN: That was a good break, yes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) HACKMAN: The barrow gang has been reported as far west as White City, New Mexico and as far north as Chicago.


KING: Did you like working with Warren?

HACKMAN: I loved it.

KING: Tough director.

HACKMAN: He's tough.

KING: He's manic.

HACKMAN: 50 takes and all that. Arthur Penn directed "Bonnie and Clyde," but then I worked with Warren again in "Reds." I'm laughing because 50 takes is tough.

KING: You work with Warren. I did a few -- not a movie, personally, but I was in "Bullworth." You think you're done and you're not. "Bonnie and Clyde" though was special. Did you know it was special?

HACKMAN: I tell you, I didn't know that the movie was going to be successful certainly. But it was my first kind of big job in films. And I thought, isn't this great, five actors working around in a car, we are all in a car and doing these scenes. It will always be like this. Of course it wasn't. There are bombs and they had a lot of times you were working by yourself. But it was a great ensemble piece.


HACKMAN: He gave her the milk, see, and she drank a little bit of it, and the next day there was more and she drank a little more until one week goes by, see, and he brings in the milk and she drinks it down, every drop of it. And she looks at the son, she calls him over and she says, "son, whatever you do, don't sell that cow!"


KING: Since there was in you a writer, it didn't come out for a while, did you tend to say to writers, I'd change this line?

HACKMAN: No, I didn't. I like the process. I like doing it the way it's written, even if it's bad. I like to try to make it better, make it good. That's just a challenge for me.

KING: Anthony Quinn told me that no matter what the part, you do your level best. In other words, you could say this was a Grade B movie and this was "Zorba the Greek." You gave it the same.

HACKMAN: Absolutely. I think all good actors do that. That you have to commit. Otherwise, you're going to see that film down the line and it's going to bite you right in the butt. KING: Gene Hackman's new book is "Justice For None" and we'll be back with Gene right after these words.


HACKMAN: Take a good look, pop. I'm Buck Barrow. We're the barrow boys!


HACKMAN: Happy Birthday, hon!




HACKMAN: The part of the problem with all this of course is that actors being in contest with each other which we all would prefer that they weren't. But I'm here. And somebody has to win. I wish all of them could have been up there. Honestly.


KING: We're back with Gene Hackman. You mentioned your mother. Your father left the house early?

HACKMAN: Yes, dad left when I was 13.

KING: Never saw him again?

HACKMAN: I saw him. Yes, I saw him later on. He was still around town for a while.

KING: Bitter?

HACKMAN: Was I or was...?

KING: You.

HACKMAN: No, I wasn't bitter. Disappointed, certainly. Hurt. I don't think I was ever bitter. I loved him. I loved him right to the end.

KING: How much of that life experience goes into a role?

HACKMAN: Well, I think everything. I think when you decide to do a role as an actor, you -- if you're honest with yourself, you choose all those things, both the good and the bad that's happened to you. And you try to make that come alive.

KING: So it's still you...

HACKMAN: Yes. It's still you.

KING: ... In that admiral.

HACKMAN: But the writer has done you a favor. He says, you are dressed a certain way, and that you stand a certain way or you -- you give off a certain kind of energy. And he's done a lot of your work for you.

KING: Do you like challenges?

HACKMAN: Yes. Yes, I love challenges. I love when somebody sends me -- I will play anything if I think it's interesting, regardless politically -- if it's not politically correct or if it's against my beliefs, because I think your job as an actor is to portray what you're given. And you are an interpreter in some ways.

KING: You'd play Saddam Hussein?

HACKMAN: Absolutely. I'd rather not, actually.

KING: Why do you work so much?

HACKMAN: I suppose a lot of it comes from early days when there wasn't any work. And you -- you -- you're desperate. You're like a child that thinks he'll never eat again.

KING: Gene Hackman thinks that?

HACKMAN: Not really. But there's part of you...

KING: Fonda told me, if there's a time he hasn't got a script, he feels, oh, they've forgotten me.

HACKMAN: They don't love me anymore. I'm too old, whatever. Well, I think a lot of that has to do with the way actors are kind of brought up. You're brought up in such lean times. There's months and months go by...

KING: Lowest paid profession isn't. Screen Actors guild I think is the lowest paid union.


KING: At the bottom.

HACKMAN: If you modify all of the salaries out. Yes, it's tough, but it's also very satisfying.

KING: How did you handle when you started -- when you come from that kind of thought process, when you started to make really good money?

HACKMAN: I didn't -- I didn't handle it very well, really. I took care of my family. You know, my family's never wanted for anything. But because I was so enamored of the Hollywood of old, you know, the glamour of that, although I never involved myself in that, I was really -- I was really -- oh, how do you say, I was so taken with that, and the fact that I was part of that. And that I was -- I could be anything and anyone I wanted to be. It was a long time before I settled down, before I got to the point where I could discern what was really right for me.

KING: How great were they, now that you can look back, Bogart.

HACKMAN: Yes, he was great. It's hard to separate sometimes the technique, actor's technique, from personality. There are a lot of people in the business who have a tremendous personality, and they also have some technique. Reagan.

KING: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) a great technique.

HACKMAN: Yes, absolutely. Maybe not the most talented person in the world, but compelling. Brando, Brando had both. Great, great personality.

KING: Sean Penn?

HACKMAN: And Sean Penn, absolutely. Yes, what a good actor.

KING: Nicholson.

HACKMAN: Absolutely. They have that combination of personality, technique, and talent.

KING: Hackman.

HACKMAN: I have no idea.

KING: You must know.

HACKMAN: Well, I know that I work, yes. But I'm always -- I always try to be objective about who I am.

KING: Do you sometimes see a finished product and say, I don't like me.

HACKMAN: I don't, because I try not to watch it.

KING: You don't watch the films?

HACKMAN: I try not to. Sometimes...


No never. Sometimes, I have to watch because I'm going to go off and do publicity and I need to know kind of what happened to the other people and all that. But it just makes me very nervous. Very nervous.

KING: To sit in a movie theater and see yourself?

Yes. I'm always afraid somebody's going to sit in front of me and say, "Are you kidding? Let's get out of here."

KING: But you're not nervous about doing the scene? HACKMAN: No. No.

KING: When the man says roll them...

HACKMAN: No, I believe in relaxation, especially any good art comes from relaxation. And you can't work as an actor if you're tense.

KING: True or false, you didn't want to do "Unforgiven"?


KING: Why not?

HACKMAN: I was sent the script. Then there was a note attached to it that said -- from I think Clint, actually, it said, I would like you to consider this in terms of -- think of it in terms of Police Commissioner Gates, was it, in L.A.?

KING: Gates.

HACKMAN: Gates. And I had seen Gates on some talk shows, And I didn't think he was such a bad guy. I don't know if he was or not. But it was just the wrong...

KING: He was a rough cop.

HACKMAN: Was he?

KING: Yes. Well, you know, he had a reputation...

HACKMAN: Well, maybe I just didn't -- I should have done my homework. It's funny how a career can be changed that way.

KING: Now he tells you.

HACKMAN: Now he tells me. And it was the wrong image for me at that moment, because just for that reason, I hadn't done my homework.

KING: So, why do you do it?

HACKMAN: I was convinced by my agent, Fred Spector, to reconsider it. And...

KING: What was it like to be directed by Clint?


KING: Because?

HACKMAN: Yes, because he's an actor. He knows what actors respond to. He doesn't give you a lot of images. Think about this, or that, or you know, walk fast, talk quicker or any of that. He just says, "shall we rehearse or shall we shoot it, you know?"

KING: He always comes in at budget too, right. HACKMAN: Yes, he's big at that. And the crew loves him, which is important, because the director is the guy on the set, you know. And he creates the atmosphere that the actor can work in. And if you can work, and you feel confident that the guy watching you is -- likes what you're doing, good things happen.

KING: Some more moments with Gene Hackman and we'll be right back. The book is "Justice For None."


HACKMAN: All right gentleman, he's got one barrel left. When he fires that, take out your pistols and shoot him down like the mangy scoundrel he is.

Misfire! Kill the son of a bitch!




HACKMAN: I don't deserve this. To die like this. I was building a house.

CLINT EASTWOOD, ACTOR: Deserve's got nothing to do with it.

HACKMAN: I'll see you in hell, William Munny.



KING: We're back with Gene Hackman. When you -- when it's all cooking and the director's cooking and everything's going well, even then you didn't go see "Unforgiven"?

HACKMAN: I've seen it since then. Same as...

KING: But you didn't go to the premiere?

HACKMAN: I don't know there was a premiere, but if there was, I wasn't there.

KING: Were you surprised at its success?

HACKMAN: Yes, I was. When I was doing it, I knew there were a lot of good scenes in it, things that I was involved in, I felt good about. But there was a lot of things in the film that I wasn't involved in, so I had no idea. But it had a kind of a feel to it. You know, there was a kind of a, well, I don't know, a sneaky feel about it.

KING: Have you seen films in which you say, I'd have loved to have done that?

HACKMAN: Yeah. "China Syndrome." Do you remember that?

KING: Jack Lemmon.

HACKMAN: Jack Lemmon, Jane Fonda, I would have liked to have done that. What else?

KING: How about movies from your childhood?

HACKMAN: "Misfits" I would have liked to have done. I don't know which part, but I loved Montgomery Clift. I thought he was a great, great actor. From my childhood, "Captain Blood." All those swashbuckling Errol Flynn things. Luckily I grew out of that.

KING: Did you ever get to be...


KING: Never did a sword a duel?

HACKMAN: No, never did do that.

KING: Never got offered Zorro?

HACKMAN: No, I didn't watch much television. That was television?

KING: No, that was a movie too. How about villains?

HACKMAN: I liked the villains. I like like Stephen McNally (ph) and those heavy second and third leads. Edward G. Robinson, who was a great villain, and also a good guy. You know, he could kind of do it all.

KING: Have you had a chance to be villain?

HACKMAN: I think a lot of the roles that I do is villains. You know...

KING: How about "Superman?" The villain of all villains.

HACKMAN: Yeah, that was a good villain, wasn't it?


CHRISTOPHER REEVE, ACTOR: I'll mold this box to your prison bars.

HACKMAN: Don't touch that! I told you. It's kryptonite, Superman. A little souvenir from your old hometown. I spared no expense to make you feel right at home.

KING: Was that fun?

HACKMAN: Yeah, I had a good time with Chris. I loved Chris. He's a terrific human being.

KING: Christopher Reeve?

HACKMAN: Christopher Reeve, yeah. And yeah, it was a good experience. Fun.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who is that, Superman?

HACKMAN: Lex Luthor, the greatest criminal mind of our time.


HACKMAN: I hereby serve notice...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's serving notice to you.

HACKMAN: That these walls...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That these walls here...

HACKMAN: Will you shut up, please?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, take him away.


KING: And you get to do it camp.

HACKMAN: Yeah. Very broad, yeah.

KING: Was that -- is that extending -- is that acing too?

HACKMAN: It is. You have to be very careful. The little man on your shoulder, you know, you have to really listen to him.

KING: Don't go too far.

HACKMAN: Yeah, don't go too far. You know.

KING: Is -- comedy's a serious business, right?

HACKMAN: Yeah, yeah, you're right on the edge all the time. It's difficult.

KING: "Royal Tenenbaums." Enjoy it?

HACKMAN: I enjoyed a lot of it.

KING: Wacky.

HACKMAN: Yeah, wacky film. Good character, though. Wonderful character to do.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BEN STILLER, ACTOR: You stay away from my children, do you understand?

HACKMAN: My God, I haven't been in here for years.

STILLER: Hey! Are you listening to me?

HACKMAN: Yes, I am!


HACKMAN: You know, I loved that guy -- I love people who lie.

KING: We were talking before we went on about Denzel Washington and your work with him in "Crimson Tide." What was that movie like to do? Which was as good a military thriller as you could conceive. I mean, you had to like that script right away.

HACKMAN: Yeah, no, I did. I liked it, and I liked the idea of working with Denzel. And Tony, the director. Tony Scott. It was good. It was very intense on the set. Tony runs a very tight set. He shoots with long lenses, which...

KING: Meaning?

HACKMAN: Meaning the camera could be against that wall, and you'd be over 20, 30 feet away, doing a close-up. Because he likes that distortion that the long lens gives you. So it's a little difficult when you're doing an intimate scene and the camera's way over there, especially if you've done a lot of films and you're used to the camera being right there, you know, right on you. And you can kind of talk, you know, right past the camera.

KING: Did you know in that film you were cooking?

HACKMAN: Yeah, a lot of the scenes, I knew they just worked. Especially when I accidentally punched Denzel.

KING: Actually hit him?

HACKMAN: Yeah, accidentally. That was tense.


HACKMAN: Give me the missile key.


HACKMAN: That was real tense.

KING: Were you in a sub?

HACKMAN: No, we were on a set. We saw -- we used the sub one night out in Long Beach. We were just -- when we were boarding the sub. But the rest of it was all done in the studio.

KING: Do you have a favorite?

HACKMAN: I always say this, that my favorite was not a film that worked commercially. It was called "Scarecrow," that I did with Al Pacino. I love Al, I love his work.

KING: Great guy.

HACKMAN: I just think he is one of our great, great actors. I loved working on that.

KING: Why didn't it work?

HACKMAN: I don't know. It was a little bit obscure, the film. It was a little strange. Two guys on the road hitchhiking. It didn't -- wasn't much of a story, really. It was just -- it kind of wandered a bit, I suppose.

KING: Ever do a film you thought would do good, that didn't?

HACKMAN: Yeah, I thought "Runaway Jury," which we did just a couple of years ago...

KING: Why didn't that do good?

HACKMAN: I don't know.

KING: Grisham book.

HACKMAN: Yeah, Grisham book. Dustin Hoffman, John Cusack, Rachel Weisz.

KING: Public's funny, right?

HACKMAN: Yeah, public's funny. Yeah. It's peculiar. You just have to have the right chemistry. And there's demographics involved too. You know, 18 to 25, that's who you're after.

KING: Gene Hackman's new book is "Justice for None." And we'll be back with Gene right after these words.


HACKMAN: What do you hope to achieve if you win? You're going to bring Jacob Wood back to life? No. You'd just ensure that his wife goes to the cemetery in a better car. And that the heel that she snaps on the way to the gravesite belongs to a $1,200 shoe. You get your name in the papers. But Jacob Wood and all the other gun violence victims remain rotting in their crypts.



HACKMAN: No one will dance with me. It's the dress, I told them white would make me look fat.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What about me? I'm as pretty as the rest these guys.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dance? Not you. Barbara.

HACKMAN: Don't leave me. Don't leave me here. I don't want to be the only girl not dancing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, just make your way towards the door. We'll be out of here in just a minute.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Care to dance -- Baby?


KING: Now, how do you look at yourself?

Are you a star?

You've won supporting and main actor roles. You're as well known as any film actor. Your name goes above the title, but are you a star?

HACKMAN: No. You know, Warren Beatty is a star. You know, Robert Redford is a star. Brad Pitt. I never think of myself that way. I love the idea of if I could have worked in the old days, you know of the studio system. I would have been killed, probably.

KING: You wanted to be a character actor?

You'd like to been fourth star in all those MGM movies?

HACKMAN: Yes. I would have liked to have done that. Yes.

KING: Because?

HACKMAN: I don't know.

KING: You never wanted to be?

HACKMAN: I never did. I never had the aspirations to be a star. I wanted to be an actor. A movie actor, a theater actor, that's all I ever wanted to do.

KING: Why are some people -- some actors, better in one venue than the other?

Like someone told me once, I'm trying to think who -- Eli Wallach and Tony Randall, Gary Cooper, one of the great screen actors. Well, Gary Cooper wouldn't walk on the stage.

HACKMAN: There's something about being big -- on stage, where you have to project, you have to get into the back row. Where a lot of times films -- if you've been in films a long time you start modulating down low, and trying to be sincere and all that. That doesn't work in the theater. You have to give it out.

KING: And the camera has to like you, right? HACKMAN: I think so.

KING: You can't make it like you.

HACKMAN: I think that the camera knows, some way or another, it knows who you are.

KING: And separates the wheat from the chaff, do you think it does?

HACKMAN: Yes, except that because the way they edit film a lot of times, you can get a performance out of somebody. Maybe not for 20 years, but you know, once in a while, you can get a great performance out of what I would call an amateur actor.

KING: Which you couldn't do in theater. Because theater is the actor's art. Once the curtain opens, the director's useless.

HACKMAN: You're up there where the wind's blowing.

KING: All right, selection process. How do you choose what you do?

HACKMAN: I'd like to be able to say I choose it always on script, but that's not always the case. Many times, it has to do with if you need to work, if you haven't worked for a while, you take things that might be on the border. But I would say script, director, co-star.

KING: Script first?

HACKMAN: Yes. Then location.

KING: Have you done -- is there a fifth thing, money?

Would you do something purely -- you don't like this script, you're not crazy about the co-stars, but my God, this is a lot of money.

HACKMAN: Yes, I would do that. Not anymore, but I have done that.

KING: Did you like -- I love the one you did with Kevin Costner, you were secretary of defense,

HACKMAN: "No Way Out."

KING: "No Way Out."


HACKMAN: My actions have been inexcusable. Scott, Scott! Give me the gun. This is the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my life, but I swear I'll do everything I can to help you out, everything!

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: What a movie that was. That was intense. He's a good guy.

HACKMAN: He's a good guy. Yes, he's a very good guy. I worked with him after that too. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- had a small part. Interesting film.

KING: You worked with Sharon Stone in a western?

HACKMAN: Yes. "The Quick and the Dead."


HACKMAN: You try to leave town, my men will kill you. You refuse to fight, my men will kill you. You had your chance to quit, now it's gone.


KING: What are you doing next?

HACKMAN: I don't have a project, Larry. If you have a script, I'll read it.

KING: There's no script in front of you. No one's calling Gene Hackman?

HACKMAN: No, it's probably all over.

KING: So this is like...


KING: What about another book?

HACKMAN: We're working on a civil war story in...

KING: Begin in the back. Back history.

HACKMAN: Back history. And about 200 pages into that.

KING: You keep going back.

HACKMAN: Yes. Maybe I'll catch up, I don't know.

KING: What do you think you would have done, if you didn't do this.

HACKMAN: You know, I did a lot of things. I sold shoes, I drove truck, I drove a cap, I jerked sodas, I don't know.

KING: What profession?


KING: I don't know -- what profession.

HACKMAN: I would have ended up selling insurance or something like that I suppose.

KING: And major -- you had angioplasty, heart problems?

HACKMAN: Angioplasty.

KING: Did you have any heart problems?

HACKMAN: Oh, yes I did. Yes. I thought you were talking about plastic surgery for a second.

KING: No, we don't do that.

HACKMAN: I did, 12, 14-years-ago, I had severe angina. So they do that.

KING: I had bypass. You had angioplasty, and it took with the stints and everything.

HACKMAN: Yes, everything. Yes.

KING: Were you scared?

HACKMAN: No, not really. I didn't really know the extent of it at the time, I guess that's why. It happened very quickly. I was in the same day.

KING: What do you fear?

Do you worry about your health?

Are you...

HACKMAN: I try to take care of myself. I don't have a lot of fears. I have the normal fear of passing away. You know, I guess we all think about that, especially when you get to be a certain age. I want to make sure that my wife and my family are taken care of. Other than that, I don't have a lot of fears.

KING: Few other things, where were you on 9/11?

HACKMAN: I was in a chartered plane in Toronto, just getting ready to take off. And the pilot said, "We have a little hang-up in New York, you'll have -- we'll probably have to stand down for 20 minutes or so." Then we were three days there.

KING: Where were you?

HACKMAN: In Toronto.

KING: How did you -- who told you what happened?

HACKMAN: Well, we taxied back to the terminal and...

KING: You must have been wondered what's going on.

HACKMAN: What's going on? Yes. And I went into the terminal and started watching television, and of course.

KING: Do you remember your reaction?

HACKMAN: Yes. I think I probably reacted the same day a lot of people did. At first I thought it was an accident, when the first plane went in. Then we stood and watched the second one on television. And then you knew immediately it was no accident, and that -- I must say, I couldn't put my finger on who or what had done that, right away. Terrorists -- it didn't occur to me. I don't know why.

KING: You wonder what goes through someone's mind who takes your own -- their own life, takes other lives.

HACKMAN: Yes. Yes, what kind of dedication is that? You know thats..

KING: You must have had in this long career, played erratic people or people perceived as erratic. They don't look in the mirror and think they are erratic.

HACKMAN: Yes, you play them in an honest fashion, though. You play them in a way that everything that you're required to do is the absolute truth.

KING: You play a lot of angry people?

HACKMAN: Yes. I do.

KING: Do you like anger?

Do you take to it well?

HACKMAN: I like it because it -- it's dramatic. It's tense. It's what we live for as actors. You know, you get things going.

KING: You know, you rev it up.

HACKMAN: Yes. You rev it up.

KING: Do you use methods for that?


KING: The things that make you angry?

HACKMAN: There's a whole process, sense memories, and effective memories, where you go back and you get yourself relaxed and you think in terms of where you were and what you were wearing, and what the temperature was.

KING: And use it?

HACKMAN: Yes, you use that.

KING: The civil war novel, got a title?

HACKMAN: Not at this time. "Mississippi." We called it "The Mississippi Story."

KING: You were in that great movie on Mississippi, right.

HACKMAN: yes, "Mississippi Burning."

KING: His book is "Justice for None," with Daniel Lenihan. I'm half way through, it's a terrific read. His earlier on also written with Mr. Lenihan was, "Wake of the Perdido Star," that was published in 1999. He's Gene Hackman, we'll be right back.


HACKMAN: You've got a stupid smile you know that, pal? Can you see it? Huh, good.

Did you smile when the bulldozer ran over the black kid's body?

Did you?

Did you smile when the bodies were covered over, did you?

Get up here. Come on! Did you smile that same stupid smile, huh?

Did you?




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's talk about where you're at, OK? You blew 200 grand of these limo guys' money on a football game in Vegas, and you didn't tell them. Now, why?

HACKMAN: They don't seem like the type of guys that would take it with any understanding or restraint. First thing they'd do is break my legs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've got that on the brain but if you were so scared, why did you take it to Vegas to begin with?

HACKMAN: I needed a half million dollars to buy a script.


HACKMAN: Blockbuster but quality. No mutants or maniacs. This is going to be my "Driving Miss Daisy."

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: What about working with a co-author?

HACKMAN: That's different. That's -- even though you're simpatico in a lot of ways, you also -- you have to give up your ideas. You have to give up some of your ideas. You just can't be rigid. Which is true in acting too. To some degree. But it's a fascinating process. Because you're doing it by yourself.

KING: Why did you decide to write?

HACKMAN: It was peculiar the way this started. It was a lark. The first book, we were just kicking around ideas.

KING: Now, Lenihan, we should explain who he is.

HACKMAN: Daniel Lenihan, he lives in Santa Fe. Works for the parks department. Is a writer in scientific magazines about diving. He taught me to dive for the film "The Firm."

KING: The scene in Hawaii, right?

HACKMAN: Cayman Islands, actually.


HACKMAN: Just follow me and don't worry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What about (UNINTELLIGIBLE)? I thought we were under a lot of pressure.

HACKMAN: We are under tremendous pressure. If we don't get this dive in before the bank, we can't do it. You can't dive and then fly within 24 hours.


HACKMAN: So we were kicking around about Stevenson, Melville, Jack London, Hemingway, that kind of thing. We could do that, you know. So I went home and I wrote kind of an audition chapter, if you will, of a sea tale. And he liked it. And I liked his work also. So we collaborated on the first book.

KING: When you collaborate, how does it work? You write, he writes? He writes, you write?

HACKMAN: We never sit down together. That would be death. We write for five, six, seven, eight days by ourselves and then we exchange pages, critique each other's work. Sometimes lightly, sometimes in depth. Then we decide where we're going from there. We have -- also have a fairly good outline before we get started. We know where we're going.

KING: And the first one was about -- "Wake Of The Perdido Star." Was about -- set in the past?

HACKMAN: Yes, it was 1805. Started in New England. The young man and his family, going to Cuba. And to -- I'm having trouble. I'm having what we talked about earlier. This Alzheimer's moment. I don't have Alzheimer's.

KING: But you loved President Reagan.

HACKMAN: I did, yes. I'm a Democrat but I also loved the idea of that man. He was so committed to America. A beautiful American.

KING: You never worked with him, right?

HACKMAN: I didn't. But I met him. It's funny. We have an occasion to meet a lot of famous people, being in this profession. And I was sitting outside the Oval Office thinking, well, I'll get this over with and go to lunch, or whatever. When I got in the Oval Office, I was like, hey, this is really something. I was very affected by it and by him.

KING: It hits you.

HACKMAN: It does.

KING: So "Wake Of The Perdido Star" was about a voyage to Cuba?

HACKMAN: A voyage to Cuba and then they were trying to get their estate back. The mother was Cuban. And the young man in the story finds himself on a ship going around the world.

KING: And you find yourself -- you must have, if you write a second one, enjoyed it?

HACKMAN: I did. I enjoyed it a lot. The new one, "Justice For None," is a period piece also. Takes place in 1929.

KING: Why do you go on back?

HACKMAN: I'm afraid to write about now. I don't know anything about computers. I can barely use the telephone.

KING: Neither do I. I don't have a cell phone. Do you?

HACKMAN: No. I don't have a cell phone.

KING: I've never sent an e-mail.

HACKMAN: My wife sends it.

KING: I resist it. But "Justice For None" which I told you I'm halfway through is a terrific yarn.

HACKMAN: Thank you so much.

KING: You've really hit on something here. Do you think there's a film in "Justice For None?"

HACKMAN: I think so. KING: I think there is. Well, with your, for want of a better term, clout, wouldn't that lead producers and the like to look at it at least? Which is hard to get for the novelist, to even get the look.

HACKMAN: That's true. I would hope so. Somebody read it the other day and said, "the Coen brothers will pick this up in a minute." I don't know, it's one of those crap shoots.

KING: Gene, I don't know what to say except thanks.

HACKMAN: Thank you, Larry.

KING: The new book is "Justice For None." The co-author is Daniel Lenihan. We have spent a wonderful evening with a great actor, pretty good guy, too, Gene Hackman. Thanks for joining us.


KING: Thanks for joining us on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE. More news on your most trusted name in news, CNN. Good night.


On CNN TV E-mail Services CNN Mobile CNN AvantGo CNNtext Ad info Preferences
   The Web     
Powered by
© 2005 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us.
external link
All external sites will open in a new browser. does not endorse external sites.
 Premium content icon Denotes premium content.