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Film

Wes Anderson on the difficulty of working with Gene Hackman

Since the mid-1990s, Wes Anderson has directed ten feature films, all of which have been met with much success. His recognisable style, which includes a pastel colour palette, symmetry, quirky characters, and meticulous set design, has led the director to be considered a modern-day auteur. Despite the critical success of his first two films, Bottle Rocket and Rushmore, it was Anderson’s third effort, The Royal Tenenbaums, released in 2001, that brought widespread attention to the director.

Starring Gene Hackman as the Tenenbaum patriarch, the film follows his attempt to reconcile with his wife and children, played by Angelica Houston, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Stiller and Luke Wilson. Anderson’s unique take on dysfunctional families was well-received by audiences, generating a box-office gross of over $70million worldwide. The dark and absurd sense of humour that prevails alongside genuinely emotional moments makes it one of Anderson’s most memorable and beautiful films.

In an interview with The Talks, the director discussed his filmmaking process, agreeing that his creations exist in self-contained worlds. He stated that “there is some psychological thing where some artists like to make order and organising and shaping something gives them some kind of feeling of accomplishment. But I also think there are some artists who are more interested in expressing something chaotic.”

Furthermore, Anderson discussed the controlled nature of his filmmaking. He said:  “A lot of the time we have built something to play our scene, and we really haven’t built anything outside of the frame. This is the way we’re going to do it, because that’s all there is and that’s all there is going to be! And we’re probably not going to have another choice when the time comes. But over the years I may have gotten more planned with how these movies are going to be filmed. It works better for me. I hope that the actors don’t feel trapped.”

Despite the incredible performance given by Gene Hackman in The Royal Tenenbaums, the star actually clashed with Anderson on set many times, finding his method of directing difficult to work with. Anderson described Hackman as “one of the most challenging and best actors [he] worked with”. He expressed that the actor “was not a relaxed, comfortable person in my company, but he did like a complicated shot where you have to be here and here and where there is a challenge for him. He liked the idea of doing a scene where you do something here and then you have to run around the back of something and appear somewhere else, like theatre.”

It has been reported that Hackman frequently insulted the young director on set, going as far as allegedly calling him a c*nt, leading Bill Murray to come to set on his days off to supervise and ‘shield’ Anderson from the actor. Hackman’s co-star Houston even claimed that she heard him tell Anderson to “pull up your pants and act like a man”.

Despite the tensions between Anderson and Hackman, the director looks back on his time filming with The Conversation star fondly. In a reunion panel for the 10th anniversary of The Royal Tenenbaums, Anderson said that Hackman was “one of the things that pulled everybody into this movie. Anytime we are together and talk about the movie we always talk about him. He’s a huge force and I really enjoyed working with him. Even though he was very challenging with me, it was very exciting seeing him launch into these scenes.”

The Royal Tenenbaums marked one of Hackman’s final film roles before his retirement from acting. His performance won him a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy.