Gene Hackman

Reveling in 'Royal' dysfunction

OSCAR QUOTIENT

PROS: Though pic’s reviews were mixed, perf was labeled a standout.

CONS: Is it a lead or supporting role?

When Gene Hackman huddled with director Wes Anderson a couple of years ago in New York, the veteran actor was intrigued by the idea for a film called “The Royal Tenenbaums,” but despite a pleasant and productive meeting, he still had reservations about the project.

“At first I was kind of leery,” Hackman explains, “because I don’t particularly like people writing things for me. I like the challenge of taking something that is already written and trying to fit into that character.”

Although Hackman discouraged the wunderkind lenser of such indie fare as “Bottle Rocket” and “Rushmore” from tailoring the lead for him, Anderson went ahead and did it anyway. The result is the usual Hackman mastery of character woven into an offbeat story that has drawn kudos from several critics.

Hackman plays the estranged patriarch of a family of geniuses who decides he wants to atone for his myriad missteps and make peace with his wife and children.

“The fact that he desperately wants to get back to his family is a basic instinct that we all have,” says Hackman in explaining what attracted him to the part. “It’s the realization that family is the most important thing, especially when we get older. You recognize your mortality and you want to make amends.

“I’ve had some similar situations in my life, after getting divorced. This became somewhat of a reflection of the things that happened to me.”

Even though the finished script Anderson sent him was faithful to the ideas and issues they discussed in their first meeting, the project almost didn’t happen for Hackman. He was busy shooting David Mamet’s “The Heist” and felt he couldn’t make a decision at that time, so he urged Anderson to find somebody else.

Like he did after their first meeting, the director refused to heed that request, finally landing Hackman.

“The process of making this film was fairly smooth and without any real pain,” Hackman says. “With a lot of projects, you try to make them work because they’re not written well. For a variety of reasons, they seem to resist you. This seemed to work from the beginning.”

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