‘Royal Tenenbaums’ Cast Remembers: Gene Hackman Was a Grump
To celebrate the tenth anniversary of The Royal Tenenbaums, the New York Film Festival followed a special screening of the film with a Q&A session with writer-director Wes Anderson and members of the cast, including Bill Murray, Angelica Houston, and Gwyneth Paltrow. Among the stories the actors shared that evening (Paltrow was dating her character’s incestuous love-interest Luke Wilson!), one topic came up several times: how terrified everyone was of Gene Hackman, who reluctantly played the Tenenbaum patriarch, Royal.
Hackman was apparently not too interested in the film, and Anderson hassled him for over a year to take the part:
Gene passed for a year and a half. He was sort of forced to do the movie and that was not fair, really. I just kept asking him and bothering him. I just wore him down. I didn’t really have that much access to him, I don’t know how I went about that. Eventually he just kind of caved.
Hackman’s reluctance left him in a grumpy mood for the majority of the filming, which intimidated the rest of the cast. Houston, whose first scene with Hackman required her to smack him, recollected, “I was particularly terrified, because I could tell he wasn’t in a very good mood that morning,”
Despite his gruff nature, Paltrow and Murray enjoyed working with him:
“I loved working with him,” said Paltrow. “I loved being in the same scenes as him. He was kind of a bear of a guy, but I also found something very sweet and sad in there. I liked him a lot. I think he’s one of the greatest actors who ever lived. To be in his presence and watch him do his thing. It’s like — you know, you’re Gene Hackman, you can be in a bad fucking mood.”
“I’ll stick up for Gene too,” said Murray. “I’d hear these stories, like, ‘Gene threatened to kill me today.’ ‘He can’t kill you, you’re in a union.’ ‘Gene threatened to take all of us and set fire to us.’ ‘It’s a union shoot, it’s New York, he can’t set fire to you.'”
Who wouldn’t be both excited to hang out with him and also expect him to punch you in the face? Maybe Hackman was taking a method approach by trying to alienate his cast members as much as Royal himself drove away his family. (Or, you know, maybe he’s kind of a jerk.)