' ' Cinema Romantico: Gene Hackman's Imaginary Last Role

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Gene Hackman's Imaginary Last Role

After hosting “an evening with Ana Gasteyer” at the Lensic Center for Performing Arts in Santa Fe, Seth Rudetsky shared a photo to social media of he and Gasteyer with one of the New Mexico capital’s more renowned residents – Gene Hackman. The two-time Oscar winner and star of the still reigning Middling Thriller champion “Runaway Jury” stepped away from acting in 2004. That meant his last movie was “Welcome to Mooseport.” And so even if he has admirably shunned the public eye ever since, there was something dispiriting in how he went out, like if Bob Dylan had called it quits after “Saved.” Still, intentional or not, Hackman left us wanting more, and each time he suddenly pops up in a photo, like the one with Rudetsky and Gasteyer or the one at a Santa Fe bike shop in 2018, it is hard not to dream of the 92-year old returning just one more time to the silver screen. Indeed, in interviewing Hackman for GQ eleven years ago, Michael Hainey did not so ask the retired actor if he would consider making another movie, but just flat-out said, desperate, practically begging, “You’ve got to make one more movie.” 

But what movie would it be? I imagine Marvel knocking on Hackman’s door and the redoubtable actor opening it, quizzically squinting at Kevin Feige’s sweaty pitch, and then shutting the door right back in Feige’s face without saying a word. Clint Eastwood, one year younger than Hackman and having just made a movie last year, could possibly be the only person in present-day Hollywood to coax Hackman back in front of the camera. After all, he convinced Hackman to do “Unforgiven” when the actor was reluctant and helped him get his second Oscar. It wouldn’t even have to be a true supporting turn. It could just be like Joe Pesci’s one scene walk-off in “The Good Shepherd.”

The key, though, I think to unlocking the possible next role of Hackman was proffered by Hackman himself in that same GQ interview. When Hainey begged him for another movie, Hackman replied “I don’t know. If I could it in my own house, maybe, without them disturbing anything and just one or two people.” Hmmmmmm. In his own house? With just one or two people? I recalled Jeremy Strong’s December profile in The New Yorker, the one where the “Succession” actor became the butt of all that day’s social media jokes, revealing his intense method (not The Method!) and feverish adoration of Daniel Day-Lewis. Apparently Strong worked as Day-Lewis’s assistant on “The Ballad of Jack and Rose” which he took as an opportunity to be “the sorcerer’s apprentice.” “He got so engrossed in his menial tasks,” Michael Schulman wrote of Strong, “that some of the crew cruelly nicknamed him Cletus, after the redneck character on ‘The Simpsons.’ ‘His whole brain was focused on Daniel Day-Lewis,’ one person recalled. ‘I never really saw him unless he was standing outside Daniel’s trailer.’” Hold the phone.   

Standing outside Daniel Day-Lewis’s trailer? What if we cast, say, Ryan Gosling, since he is equally adept at playing comedy and drama, and cast him as burgeoning, overly serious actor who worships Gene Hackman and starts standing outside Gene Hackman’s house? (Gosling has also always struck me as a gentleman, meaning he wouldn’t disturb anything at Hackman’s home). Take it wherever you want to go, boys.

But I don’t know. The further I get into this post, the more I realize my heart isn’t it. If there is something disappointing and a little strange in Gene Hackman’s final role being “Welcome to Mooseport,” there is something inspiring, even beautiful in it too, like the late Marvelous Marvin Hagler, my favorite boxer, who famously lost his last match to Sugar Ray Leonard (even though Hagler always claimed he won), retired, and then contrary to just about every boxer since the beginning of time eschewed a rematch with Leonard or even a comeback at all and simply, magnificently stayed retired, newly and joyfully indifferent to and done with boxing. If there is nobility in sports, I always thought it resided right there, in Hagler not consumed by fine-tuning his legacy but having the self assurance that his legacy was already secure. And if any actor would have emotional and mental brawn to know their legacy was already secure, regardless of any “Welcome to Mooseport” blotch, it’s Hackman. 

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