- Murray Hamilton, The Graduate, 1967. "A painful experience. My fault, I guess I didn't understand Mr Robinson because I couldn't make him funny. That's why I believe it takes ten years to become an actor. Luckily, Bonnie and Clyde was just gonna be released. If I hadn't had a really good performance under me, that would have really done me great damage.” His pal, Dustin Hoffman, had got him the role - of his father! Three weeks into rehearsal”, recalled Hoffman: “Gene said to me while he was taking a leak in the men’s room: I think I’m getting fired.’ And he was and I thought I was next. I was on pins and needles, terrified that [director] Mike Nichols didn’t like what I was doing.” Thirty years on, Gene finally worked with Nichols in Postcards From The Edge, 1990, and The Birdcage, 1996.
- Robert Reed, The Brady Bunch, TV, 1969-74. “Not well known enough” to be Mike Brady. (Who can name who was!). Gene’s possible wife, Joyce Bulifant, was also rejected. Reed hated the role and said only signed on being told it was a serious, boundary-pushing look at modern family life. D’oh!
- Gregory Peck, I Walk The Line, 1970. US director John Frankenheimer (the Spielberg-cum-Tarantino of his day) wanted Hackman after making The Gypsy Moths together. Columbia wanted a bigger name.
- Barry Newman, Vanishing Point, 1970. Director Richard C Sarafian wanted Hackman for his ultra-rapid hot rod delivery driver, Kowalski. Fox suits wouldn’t hear of it. Newman, OK! Ironically, Fox (new suits?) then let Hackman rule The French Connection, which also had one helluva fast driving sequence. And more. Huge box-office. An Oscar for the guy not good enough for Sarafian’s tiny cult winner. A change of suits after that mess, no? Trousers, at least.
- Richard Boone, Big Jake, 1970. John Wayne knew the number of actors who could go against him was few. He played safe with Boone, from his Alamo dud and paid him $90,000 - $5,000 being sent direct to a school Boone helped support in Hawaii.
- Donald Sutherland, Klute, 1971. "I wanted it desperately but Jane Fonda vetoed me."
- Warren Beatty, $ (Dollars), 1971. Director Richard Brooks would have been happier with either Hackman or Al Pacino as the Hamburg bank robber - of criminals’ cash. Beatty, felt Brooks, was too handsome, too much A Star. Exactly why Columbia wanted him! (Learning its lesson, Columbia bit the bullet about Hackman starring in Brooks’ next venture... Bite The Bullet).
- Burt Reynolds, Deliverance, 1971. He wanted to be Lewis. UK director John Boorman had other ideas…
- Jon Voight, Deliverance, 1971. … “I see you more as Ed.” Now, Hackman refused. After The All-American Boy, Voight’s career was in the toilet. He said Boorman saved his life and career. While nearly killing him with danger-filled stunts.
- Joe Don Baker, Junior Bonnor, 1972. Steve McQueen agreed to veterans Robert Preston, Ida Lupino as his parents but drew the line at Hackman playing his younger brother, Curly. "He'd be good, but he sure wants a lot of money." Neither McQueen nor director Sam Peckinpah were delighted with their eventual choice.
- Jack Palance, Chato’s Land, 1972. Julie Christie redux. "United Artists thought he would never make it as a star," Michael Winner told me: January 9, 1990. Then, on April 10, 1972, six weeks before the Western opened, Gene collected his French Connection Oscar! Winner had alrdady lived exactly the same story with Julie, circa 1963.
- Jason Miller, The Exorcist, 1972.
- Lee Marvin, The Iceman Cometh, 1973. When Jason Robards was injured in a road crash, director John Frankenheimer had the choice of Brando, Hackman or Marvin for Eugene O’Neill’s Hickey. “Secretly, I really hoped to do it with Lee. He has that wonderful… tortured face. And he looked like a salesman. He told stories so well in life and he was such a good actor. I loved working with him… a really wonderful experience. For me, he was perfect.” Even when he wasn’t required, Marvin was always on the set - “almost like an assistant director,” said Frankenheimer, “trying to quiet people down while I worked with other actors.” Including the last hurrahs of Fredric March and Robert Ryan.
- Richard Kiley, The Little Prince, 1974. First offer following his French Connection Oscar - after Sinatra baled out. Director Stanley Donen called him back for his un-Lucky Lady, 1975.."I'd gotten very depressed after Scarecrow and Conversation failed to make money. I was drinking and started to say: 'Hell, I'll do movies that will definitely make money and then I'll have plenty of dough.' I took pictures to play it safe and they turned out to be very dangerous for me."
- Robert Shaw, Jaws, 1974.
- Jack Nicholson, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, 1975.
- John Wayne, Rooster Cogburn, 1974. The idea was fair - a sequel to True Grit. But if Wayne proved too ill, what would be the point of someone else in his titular Oscar-winning rôle? Marlon Brando topped producer Hal Wallis’ eye-patch list of Hackman, Charles Bronson, Richard Burton, Clint Eastwood, Burt Lancaster, Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, Anthony Quinn George C Scott and some of Duke’s old co-stars: Kirk Douglas, Charlton Heston, Rock Hudson, Robert Mitchum, Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn. This was director Stuart Miller’s second feature. The “6ft 6ins somafabitch no-talent, ” as Duke termed him, never made a third.
- John Wayne, The Shootist, 1976. Duke’s finale… Hackman, Charles Bronson, Clint Eastwood and Paul Newman passed. George C Scott was signed but not sealed when John Wayne showed interest in the dying gunfighter JB Brooks... and it was bye-bye George, baby! Despite Wayne - dead in three years - was suffering heart, lung and prostat problems.
- Peter Finch, Network, 1976. After tenuous thoughts about real TV News anchors (John Chancellor and the venerable Walter Cronkite), the film’s Oscar-winning writer Paddy Chayefsky wrote to Newman. “You and a very small handful of other actors are the only ones I can think of with the range for this part.” The others were Hackman, Cary Grant, old pals Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart, Sterling Hayden and Robert Montgomery - for the “mad prophet of the airwaves,” Howard Beale. (“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore”). Finchey won the first posthumous acting Oscar. Ironically, the second was also for an Aussie, Heath Ledger, for The Dark Knight... 33 years later.
- Richard Dreyfuss, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, 1976.
Spielberg tries again… Gene's name came up when Dreyfuss tried to increase his salary after two years waiting for the magic to start. The way the Hackman marriage was going it was not the right moment to be out of town for 16 weeks in a blimp hangar in Mobile, Alabama. Spielberg had told Dreyfuss the story during Jaws and when the director hinted it could he him, Dreyfuss started bad-mouthing every actor alive. “Pacino has no sense of humor. Nicholson's crazy! I talked every actor out of the role! At first, Roy Neary was a lifer in the military, suitable for Gene Hackman. Dreyfuss said “You need a child.” He added: “This is the only project of mine that will be watched 100 years after we are all dead because of it’s nobility - it’s a grown up film about something enormously benign.”
- Al Pacino, Bobby Deerfield, 1976. Dabney Coleman suggested a titular Hackman when bringing the script to his pal, Sydney Pollack. But the director first thought of using a real superstar driver (Steve McQueen or Paul Newman (who had originally bought the rights). Instead, the director went off to make Three Days of the Condor with his mate, Redford. When he came back, Newman had lost interest. “I thought Al gave an extraordinary performance” opposite his lover, the “brilliant” Marthe Keller.
- Robert Duvall, The Great Santini, 1979. Hackman is the reason his agent Sue Mengers says she quit agenting. "At one point he said: 'I don't want to work for awhile.' And I said: 'Great, Gene, what's a while? Three months? Six months?' He said: 'I don't know and if I give you a date, then it's not open-ended. Then it's just a holiday.' I admired that..." Six months later he was more tempted by Santini than True Confessions and Mengers told him: 'They'll wait for you. What do you want? Another three months? They'll wait three months. Maybe, they'll even wait four months.' And Gene said - I'll never forget it - 'If I give a day now - even if I do a picture in six months - every day when I wake up, I'll say to myself, 'OK, only X number of days until I have to think about working.' He was not ready to commit. "
- Roy Scheider, All That Jazz, 1979. When director Bob Fosse was convinced (by his health) not to try and play his screen self, Broadway choreographer Joe Gideon was chased and/or avoided by… Hackman, Alan Alda, Alan Bates (“too British,” said Fosse), Warren Beatty (keen, but Gideon must not die at the end!), Robert Blake, Richard Dreyfuss (“afraid of the dancing”), Elliott Gould, Jack Lemmon (“too old”), Paul Newman (“Dumb of me… a terrible oversight”), Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino, George Segal, Jon Voight. Scheider just grabbed the “outrageous, assaulting, melodramatic, very funny, stupid, silly, simplistic, vulgar… a wonderful movie!” Exactly.
- Donald Sutherland, Ordinary People, 1980. "I would've loved it. I didn't turn it down, we couldn't make a deal. I wanted some points and they were willing to give me some, but not enough to make the picture feasible. Just one of those deals that fell apart."
- Harrison Ford, Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981.
- Robert Duvall, True Confessions, 1981. "Gene had been doing pictures back-to-back and he hadn't been happy with them," commented agent Sue Mengers. "He wanted a chance to renew himself and just get away from the movie business. I said: 'Gene, I totally understand'."
- Harrison Ford, Blade Runner, 1981. UK wiz Ridley Scott spent a long time sniffing out the perfect Deckard. From top notchers Hackman, Sean Connery, Clint Eastwood, Dustin Hoffman (keen… but on making it a totally different character, of course), Robert Mitchum, Paul Newman, Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino… to such excellent journeymen as William Devane, Robert Duvall, Peter Falk, Frederic Forrest, Scott Glenn, Tommy Lee Jones, Raul Julia, Nick Nolte, Christopher Walken. Then, in sheer desperation, choices lowered to Cliff Gorman, Judd Hirsch. Even the Virginian Morgan Paull stood a chance, having played Deckard in Scott’s tests of potential Rachaels. (He was given Holden for his pains). Plus Arnold Schwarzenegger, not yet seen as Conan, much less Terminator. And for probably the last time in such an illustrious list, the fading star of Burt Reynolds.
- Jack Lemmon, Missing, 1981. Director Costa-Gavras also asked Hackman (not right for it) and Paul Newman (fully booked up) to play the all-American parent searching for his missing US journalist son-in-law, an obvious victim of the horrendous Allende regime in Chile. Although winning Best Film and Actor at the 1982 Cannes festival, Missing was lacking the raw passion of Z. Instead, said, Chicago cri†ic Roger Ebert, Costa “achieved the unhappy feat of upstaging his own movie, losing it in a thicket of visual and editing stunts.”
- Brian Dennehy, First Blood (aka Rambo),1982.
- Jeff Goldbum, Into The Night, 1984. The third Blues Brother - director John Landis - wanted Hackman as his hero. Universal suits said he was not box-office. Nor was the film. Stuffed to the gills with directors playing cameos (from Jack Arnold to Roger Vadim), this was Landis’ first flop.
- Jon Voight, Runaway Train, 1986. After Superman, this was only the second known example of Hackman being offered same role as his old pal Hoffman - before Voight stepped in. "Hoffman was busy, Hackman busier," laughed Russian director Andrei Konchalovsky. "He'd said Yes, but was then not available in time."
- Jack Nicholson, Ironweed, 1987. As William Kennedy’s hobo Francis Phelan. Except, Gene had been here before in his favourite film, Scarecrow, 1973.
- Bob Hoskins, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, 1988. Off-the-wall casting. But then he had been Superman's nemesis, Lex Luthor.
- Paul Sorvino, Dick Tracy, 1990. Invited to be Madonna's sugar daddy, Lips Manlis, he had a life-mask made by special effectichian John Caglione Jr. "I'd just come off a picture a couple days before and was starting another in three days. I was just too tired." Warren Beatty was disappointed. "He's Everyman on the one hand and yet, on the other, he's an Übermensch. He has a broad spectrum of gifts, a combination of sensitivity and toughness. That's why he's done what's he's done."
- James Caan, Misery, 1990. "The idea of playing a victim didn't appeal to a lot of people," said director Rob Reiner explaining such refusniks as Hackman, Warren Beatty, Jeff Daniels, Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Richard Dreyfuss, Harrison Ford, Ed Harris, John Heard, Dustin Hoffman, William Hurt, Robert Klein, Kevin Kline, Ed O’Neill, Al Pacino, Robert Redford, John Ritter, Denzel Washington. Why did Caan agree? "I think he wanted the work."
- Bob Hoskins, Heart Condition, 1990. Bigoted white cop haunted by having a transplant of black lawyer Denzel Washington's heart. Gene had his own cardiac problems in 1990, a heavy heart attack leading to angioplasty surgery.
- Scott Glenn, The Silence of the Lambs, 1990.
- 27 - James Woods, The Hard Way, 1991. Interested when director John Badham chose Kevin Kline as the TV cop researching real cops. Michael J Fox taking over that role led to Gene's latest respite.
- Charles Bronson, The Indian Runner, 1991. Still resting. So, for his directing debut, Sean Penn persuaded Bronson into his first film (and suicide) since the death of his wife, Jill Ireland, in 1990.
- Kevin Costner, JFK, 1991.
- Ed Asner, JFK, 1991.
- Tommy Lee Jones, The Fugitive, 1993. TLJ won a support Oscar (and a sequel, US Marshals) as the Les Miserables-inspired cop Samuel Gerard, hunting Harrison Ford’s Dr Richard Kimble. Jon Voight had also been suggested. A few years earlier, they would have been offered Kimble.
- Anthony Hopkins, Nixon, 1994. The JFK director Oliver Stone’s ideas for Tricky Dicky included Warren Beatty, Tom Hanks, Tommy Lee Jones, John Malkovich, Jack Nicholson, Gary Oldman and Robin Williams. Next time around, Dan Heyda - Stone’s Trini Cordoza - played Nixon in Dick, 1998.
- Dennis Hopper, Waterworld, 1994. He could not be every villain in town. (Already doubling as producer and star, Kevin Costner wanted to play both hero and villain!). Also in the frame for Deacon: Gary Busey, James Caan, Laurence Fishburne, Samuel L Jackson, Gary Oldman.n.
- Burt Reynolds, Striptease, 1996. Not interested in the kinky senator which helped begin Burt's comeback. Er, half-a-comeback.
- Robert Forster, Jackie Brown, 1997. No, sir, Quentin Tarantino had promised Max Cherry to Forster, out in the cold since his Medium Cool '70s.
- Anthony Zerbe, Star Trek: Insurrection, 1998. The ninth Trek… Director (and co-star) Jonathan Frakes was blown way by Zerbe’s audition - reciting Dante’s Inferno before seguewaying into the test script. Until then, Frakes had been hoping for Hackman or Wilford Brimley for Admiral Dougherty.
- James Cromwell, RKO 281, 1999. UK director Ridley Scott's choice for William Randolph Hearst in his all-star tribute to the making of Citizen Kane. Too pricey for cinemas, it became a smaller-budget HBO special. Very special.
- Burt Reynolds, Waterproof, 1998. Hackman, Jack Lemmon and Paul Newman were first sought for what proved the unlikeliest role of all for the doldrummed Reynolds - Eli Zeal, the elderly Jewish owner of a little grocery store in what was now an African-American neighborhood. Shot over 24 days in ’98, the film never found a distributor. The re-make rights we bought by Cloud Ten Pictures in 2010. To be continued…?
- Jon Voight, Pearl Harbor, 2001. The role was majestic, his first real president after three fictional ones: FDR The script was Looney Tunes.
- Cillian Murphy, Batman Begins, 2004.
- Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, 2006. Which of the three words don’t you understand: I Am Retired! During 25 years in Development Hell, titular casting also included Russell Crowe, Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Richard Dreyfuss, Dustin Hoffman, William Hurt, Kevin Kline, Steve Martin, Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino. Tim Curry was the sole Brit considered and the most absurd notions were... Warren Beatty, Harrison Ford and Robert Redford!
- Tom Cruise, Knight and Day, 2009. As the tepid actioner went through nine writers over the years - from All New Enemies to Trouble Man to Wichita - buddies Hackman and Justin Long morphed into Cruise and Cameron Diaz. And still flopped. Final title was, literally, senseless. Bollywood (re-) made it a giant hit in 2014 as Bang Bang… wkth Hrithik Roshan and Katrina Kaif.
- Jeremy Irons, The Borgias, TV, 2010. The Italian Caligula director Tinto Brass told me he offered Pope Alexander VI to Hackman long before Irish director Neil Jordan got his film off the ground - as a TV series.
- Bruce Dern, Nebraska, 2012.
Ten years in the making… since Nebraskan director Alexander Payne decided only one actor could be Woody, the crotchety alcoholic who thinks he’s won a sweepstake. But, hey, hadn’t Hackman retired ? Yeah, since Welcome to Mooseport, 2004. And he meant it. “The compromises that you have to make in films are just part of the beast… It had gotten to a point where I really don’t want to do it any longer.” Next? “Bruce was the first name that leapt to mind, ” said Payne - while flirting with Bryan Cranston and the two Roberts (Duvall and Forster) As the director went off to make Sideways and The Descendants, Dern was wondering when… Before shooting began in October 2012, Dern told Payne: “I’ve been turning in Dernsies all my life. Too damn old for that now , just wanna relax into a part, become that person.” Dernsie was Nicholson’s nickname for his pal. Plus, said daughter Laura Dern, that “something unique with a moment that only he can do.” Result: Dern was voted Best Actor by Steven Spielberg’s 2013 Cannes festival jury and won an Oscar nod.
- Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables, 2011. Oh, Hollywood… Since the musical’s 1985 London opening, suggestions for Jean Valjean went from the logical - Hackman, Robert De Niro, Richard Dreyfuss, William Hurt, Kevin Kline - to the preposterous: Michael Douglas, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Tom Hanks, Robert Redford, Christopher Walken. Plus close pals, rarely rivals, Beatty and Jack Nicholson. However, Tom Cruise, Dustin Hoffman and Al Pacino were far too short for the hefty hero who, in a signature scene, has to carry Cosette’s lover, away from the battle of the barricades. Put it another way, Hollywood’s last Valjean had been Liam Neeson - 6ft. 4in.