Jimmy Breslin

  1. Gene Hackman, The French Connection, 1971.
    Bronson, McQueen, Mitchum, Newman… “I don’t want names,” Fox production chief Richard Zanuck told director Wlliam Friedkin, “and you can’t afford them.” How about Jimmy Breslin, “a quintessential New York character and a terrific writer.” “You think he can act?” They met the the New York Newsday columnist columnist at one of his many favourite watering holes, Gallagher’s Steak House, on the West Side. “Whaddya crazy? I ain’t no actor and I don’t like cops. You put me in that movie as a cop, they’ll kill both of us .  [The story’s real cops, Eddie ‘Popeye’ Egan and Sonny Grosso, were far from pleased about the “cop hater” playing Egan]. I ain’t gonna give up my day job. You’re nuts? Can’t you find some actor?” They worked with on him for a week, improvising scenes with Roy Scheider and Alan Weeks. “Monday, he was brilliant; Tuesday, Wednesday not so much; Thursday, he didn’t even show up.” Breslin then ruled himself out. “Is there a car chase?” You bet…!   “I gotta tell ya, I promised my mother on her deathbed I’d never drive a car. I don’t know how to drive.” At a dinner party, Billy Friedkin found himself seated next to super-agent Sue Mengers, pushing her client Hackman for Popeye. “He seemed humourless,” Billy said after meting him. “I almost fell asleep at the lunch. No way this guy could play Popeye.” But with just days to go, and with him being free in both senses (his pay was a mere $25,000) “we frankly had no other choice.” After 35 takes (a full day’s work) on being unable to slap a suspect in the face, Hackman wanted out. “I don’t think you have faith in me,” he told Friedkin. He didn’t like Egan, “he’s a racist…uses his power over people to intimidate them… I’m not even sure I like being an actor. I never thought of it as a real job.” Billy’s solution? “Gene had to play an angry, obsessive man and I could provoke that anger in him and let him focus it on me… One of the great actors in the history of American film, who was not my first, second or tenth choice … It was like the Movie God took care of it.” Result: Oscars for both.


 Usual occupation: JournalistBirth year: Death year: Other name: Casting Calls:  1