10 Movies (and 1 TV Show) That Almost Starred Gene Hackman

Evening Standard, Getty Images
Evening Standard, Getty Images

With a career that spans more than 40 years, 100 on-screen credits, and two Oscar wins (plus an additional three nominations), Gene Hackman has earned the right to be picky. Though he officially announced his retirement from Hollywood in 2004, movie fans around the world have long hoped to see him make a comeback. In the meantime, and in honor of his 90th birthday, we’re looking back at 10 famous movies—and one beloved sitcom—he almost starred in.

1. THE GRADUATE (1967)

In 1967, longtime friends and one-time roommates Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman found themselves as co-stars in Mike Nichols’s The Graduate, with Hoffman cast as floundering recent college grad Ben Braddock and Hackman as Mr. Robinson, the husband of Hoffman’s much older lover. Though Hackman was older than Hoffman, it was by just seven years—which didn’t seem old enough, and led Nichols to get rid of Hackman and recast the role just a few weeks into filming. Nearly 20 years after the film’s release, in 1985, Hackman admitted to the Chicago Tribune that, “It still hurts. I was going to play Mr. Robinson, Anne Bancroft’s husband. But Mike Nichols didn’t think I was doing it well and so—one, two, three, I was fired. Mike’s a nice guy, but he’ll fire you without blinking an eye.”

Though Hackman admitted that getting the axe didn't do much to hurt his career—Bonnie and Clyde came out the same year and really helped to raise his profile—he said it was still “painful. Every time I look at the television schedule and see The Graduate coming on, or sometimes when I see Dusty [Hoffman], I think about it. And, you know, getting fired from The Graduate can stick with you."

2. ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST (1975)

If Kirk Douglas had his way, he would have played the role of R.P. McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest—just as he had on stage, when the book was adapted as a play in 1963. But by the time the film finally got off the ground with Miloš Forman as director more than a decade later, Douglas knew he was too old for the role, but had two specific actors in mind: Hackman and Burt Reynolds. Ultimately, the role went to Jack Nicholson, who won his first of three (and counting) Oscars for the film.

3. CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977)

A photo of Gene Hackman, circa 1972
William Lovelace, Daily Express, Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Though it’s hard to imagine Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind without Richard Dreyfuss in the starring role of Roy Neary, he was far from Spielberg’s first choice. Spielberg had his eye on Steve McQueen, who reportedly said no because he couldn’t cry on cue. Spielberg then offered the part to a host of the biggest actors of the time—Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson, and James Caan among them. They all passed, leaving the door open for Dreyfuss.

4. APOCALYPSE NOW (1979)

Five years after starring in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation, Hackman was the director’s first choice to play Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore in Apocalypse Now ... but there was a catch. “The Apocalypse Now situation was touchier because I have such regard for Francis Ford Coppola as a director,” Hackman told the Chicago Tribune. “But he wanted me to work for points (a percentage of the gross, rather than for a salary), which I don’t think I should do.” Instead, it was Robert Duvall who got to famously declare: “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”

5. ORDINARY PEOPLE (1980)

In 1980, Robert Redford made his directorial debut with the emotionally charged story of a family dealing with the death of their eldest son; Donald Sutherland and Mary Tyler Moore played the parents, and Timothy Hutton played the younger son (and won an Oscar for his efforts). But Sutherland’s role was originally going to be Hackman’s—until money got in the way. “I liked the script but couldn’t come to an agreement regarding the—how can I phrase it?—the compensation,” Hackman told the Chicago Tribune. "If I thought about it, I suppose I would have to have some regrets. So the thing to do is not think about it, don’t you think?”

6. BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985)

Gene Hackman arrives at the premiere of 'The Royal Tenenbaums' in 2001.
LUCY NICHOLSON, AFP, Getty Images

We’re not sure exactly how close Hackman got to landing the role of Doc Brown in Back to the Future, but in 2015, we learned that he was on the list of contenders to play the lovably mad scientist. Michael Klastorin and Randal Atamaniuk’s book, Back to the Future: The Ultimate Visual History, included a memo—dated August 21, 1984—that included more than 40 possible names to fill the role. Some of them are crossed out, some of them are bracketed, and some of them—like Christopher Lloyd and Gene Hackman—have a checkmark next to them, which seems like a good sign. (See a copy of the memo here.)

7. MISERY (1990)

Though the role of novelist-turned-captive Paul Sheldon in Misery might seem like the kind of part any actor would kill for (no pun intended), a long line of well-known actors said no to the film. In his book, Which Lie Did I Tell?, legendary screenwriter William Goldman recounted some of the names on that list, including Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Robert Redford, Harrison Ford, and William Hurt (who apparently told them no twice).

8. THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991)

Though Hackman has stayed mostly in front of the camera, in the 1980s he decided he wanted to see what it felt like to sit in the director’s chair and, along with Orion Pictures, purchased the movie rights to Thomas Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs for Hackman to both direct and star in. “It's one of the most cinematic books I've ever read,” Hackman said. “As I read it, the movie was clicking in my mind.”

Hackman planned to take the role of Jack Crawford, with John Hurt as Hannibal Lecter. But in 1989, on Oscar night, Hackman had a revelation: Sitting in the audience, where he was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for Mississippi Burning, Hackman realized that he didn’t want to follow up one unlikable character with another. So he sold his part of the rights to Orion, and still has yet to direct a film.

9. THE FUGITIVE (1993)

In 1989, Hackman and director Andrew Davis clicked while making The Package, in which Hackman played a Green Beret tasked with transporting a prisoner, played by Tommy Lee Jones, back to America. When the time came for Davis to begin casting for the role of Chief Deputy Marshal Sam Gerard in The Fugitive, he considered Hackman—and John Voight, too—but eventually opted to re-team with Tommy Lee Jones who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for the film.

10. JACKIE BROWN (1997)

Gene Hackman attends the Next House ESPN The Magazine party in 2005 in Jacksonville, Florida
Evan Agostini, Getty Images

Jackie Brown may be the headliner in Quentin Tarantino’s adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s 1992 novel Rum Punch, but bail bondsman Max Cherry is integral to the twisty plot. And Tarantino had a pretty short list of possible contenders: Hackman, John Saxon, and Robert Forster. He went with Forster, which turned out to be a smart move, as the actor received the movie’s only Oscar nod.

11. THE BRADY BUNCH (1969 – 1974)

Remember that “beloved sitcom” we mentioned? Well, it’s none other than The Brady Bunch. Yes, you read that right. In his 2010 book, Brady Brady Brady, The Brady Bunch creator Sherwood Schwartz wrote that, “there were a number of men I wanted to interview [for the role of Mike Brady], including Gene Hackman. Paramount wouldn’t even okay Gene Hackman for an interview because he had a very low TVQ. (TVQ is a survey that executives use to determine the audience’s familiarity with performances. TV executives don’t admit to the existence of TVQs, but it is commonly employed in casting.)” Maybe it was all for the best—at least for Hackman. “The year after The Brady Bunch debuted, unknown Gene Hackman with no TVQ starred in The French Connection and won the Academy Award for Best Actor, and has been a major star ever since,” Schwartz added.

15 Clever Breaking Bad Easter Eggs Hiding in Better Call Saul

Patrick Fabian, Rhea Seehorn, Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, Michael Mando, Giancarlo Esposito, and Tony Dalton in Better Call Saul.
Patrick Fabian, Rhea Seehorn, Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, Michael Mando, Giancarlo Esposito, and Tony Dalton in Better Call Saul.
James Minchin/AMC

As evidenced by Breaking Bad, Vince Gilligan and his cohorts have an eye for detail that’s nearly unrivaled. If anything, Better Call Saul—which is originally set several years before the events of Breaking Bad—only proves the point. The series, which is about to kick off its fifth season, focuses on Jimmy McGill (soon to become Saul Goodman) and is full of references to its progenitor, some of which are pure fun, and some of which add a deeper meaning to what we already know. Here are 15 clever Breaking Bad Easter eggs hiding in Better Call Saul.

**Warning: Plenty of spoilers ahead for both series.**

1. Being Kevin Costner

In a throwaway moment in Breaking Bad, Saul mentions to Walt that he once convinced a woman he was Kevin Costner (“If you’re committed enough, you can make any story work”), and in the finale of the first season of Better Call Saul, we see the exact moment he was referring to. In case we thought that Saul was just making the story up for the sake of a pep talk, here’s the proof otherwise.

2. Neighborhood mainstay

If the diner where Jimmy first meets with the Kettlemans looked familiar to you, it’s for good reason. Loyola’s Diner featured in Breaking Bad as a mainstay of Mike’s—he met with Jesse there, as well as Lydia. It’s also, incidentally, a very real restaurant in Albuquerque. And while we’re on the subject of Mike and food, he’s been shown to be fond of pimento cheese sandwiches in both series.

3. Address unknown

David Costabile as Gale Boetticher in 'Breaking Bad'
Ursula Coyote, AMC

In Better Call Saul, it’s shown that Jimmy's office is at 160 Juan Tabo Boulevard (which is a real nail salon). Those of you with a head for directions might also recall that that’s the same street that the ill-fated chemist Gale Boetticher lives on, at 6353 Juan Tabo Boulevard. Breaking Bad fans were thrilled when the karaoke-loving chemist appeared in Season 4 of Better Call Saul (with hopefully more to come).

4. The Ignacio connection

Michael Mando as Nacho Varga in Better Call Saul
Michael Mando as Nacho Varga in Better Call Saul.
Michele K. Short/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

When he’s kidnapped by Walt and Jesse after refusing to help a busted Badger, Saul spits out a variety of nonsense in an attempt to stay alive. He also drops a name: Ignacio. So who is he talking about? As we learn in Better Call Saul, this refers to Nacho, who’s become one of the secondary leads on the show. “Nacho” is a nickname, short for Ignacio, which makes sense as a connection given how closely he’s been working with Jimmy/Saul.

5. Cheap tricks

Bob Odenkirk and Rhea Seehorn in 'Better Call Saul'
Michele K. Short, AMC/Sony Pictures

There’s another callback to the first time that Walt, Jesse, and Saul meet. Despite still having his hands tied behind his back, when Saul agrees to help Walt and Jesse, he tells them to each put a dollar in his pocket in order to secure attorney-client privilege. It seems that Saul got that idea from Kim, who, when she decides to help Jimmy after discovering he’s falsified evidence, tells him to give her a dollar for exactly the same reason.

6. Old afflictions

Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill and Mel Rodriguez as Marco Pasternak in 'Better Call Saul'
Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill and Mel Rodriguez as Marco Pasternak in Better Call Saul.
Michele K. Short/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

In yet another reference to that fateful first meeting, we learn that Saul isn’t bluffing when he tells Walt and Jesse that he has bad knees. He says the same thing when cops apprehend him in the first season of Better Call Saul. As to why he’s got bad knees to begin with, it all comes from his time as “Slippin’ Jimmy,” when he used to stage falls in order to earn a little bit of money.

7. Car talk

Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul in 'Breaking Bad'
Ursula Coyote, AMC

Saul Goodman drives a white 1997 Cadillac DeVille with the vanity plate “LWYRUP.” Jimmy McGill’s ride is much more modest: a yellow Suzuki Esteem with a red door. That said, in the pilot of Better Call Saul, we very briefly see a white Cadillac DeVille—Jimmy parks his car next to it, in a truly blink-and-you-miss-it allusion to what’s to come. (Gus, notably, is driving the same blue Volvo in both shows.)

8. Home sweet home

In Better Call Saul, one of the retirement homes that Jimmy visits in his quest to find new clients for his growing elder law business is Casa Tranquila. If it sounds familiar, that's because it's a key location in Breaking Bad as the home of Hector Salamanca, and the place where he kills his longtime nemesis Gus Fring. It’s a nice touch to revisit the location, especially given the fact that Better Call Saul gives us the story as to how Hector wound up in a wheelchair in the first place.

9. What's your poison?

There’s also a nice bit of brand continuity with the made-up tequila Zafiro Añejo. Gus poisons a bottle to get back at Don Eladio in Breaking Bad, and we see the same blue bottle pop up in Better Call Saul when Jimmy and Kim scam a cocky stock broker named Ken. Ken, for his part, seems to be reaping a constant stream of bad karma, as he’s also in Breaking Bad as a victim of Heisenberg’s wrath. He swipes Walt’s parking spot—and has his car set on fire for his trouble.

10. The little piggy

Though Mike is hard as nails, he’s got a soft spot the size of Texas for his granddaughter Kaylee. He gifts her a pink pig plush in Better Call Saul, which crops up again in Breaking Bad under slightly less cute circumstances. He uses the doll as a distraction when an assassination attempt is made on his life.

11. Word games

Giancarlo Esposito as Gus Fring in 'Breaking Bad'
Ursula Coyote, AMC

The first letters of the episode titles of the second season of Better Call Saul are an anagram for “FRING’S BACK.” It’s a granular sort of trick that the creators have pulled off before: four of the episodes of season two of Breaking Bad spell out “Seven Thirty-Seven Down Over ABQ.” In the season finale, a 737 plane does indeed go down over Albuquerque, or ABQ.

12. Sentimental value

Given that Saul’s Breaking Bad office has a lot of strange objects in it, it’d be easy to miss the octagonal desk. As it turns out, the offices of Saul Goodman aren’t the desk’s first home: it’s seen in the background of Kim’s office in Better Call Saul. It’s retroactive, sure, but it’s still nice to know that Saul has some mementos around.

13. Movie night

Bob Odenkirk and Rhea Seehorn in 'Better Call Saul'
Ursula Coyote, AMC/Sony Pictures Television

There’s also a little sentimental value in the name of Saul’s holding company, Ice Station Zebra Associates, which he uses to help Walt launder money in Breaking Bad. As we discover in Better Call Saul, Ice Station Zebra is Kim’s favorite movie, due to her father’s affection for it. Though Kim is physically absent from Breaking Bad, small details seem to tie back to her all the time.

14. Set dressing

Krazy-8, may he rest in peace, also shows up in Better Call Saul. The van that he drives has the logo for Tampico Furniture on it, and he’s wearing a uniform with the logo as well. Tampico is where Walt, as he recalls in Breaking Bad, bought Walter Jr.’s crib. Unfortunately, those fond memories aren’t quite enough to save Krazy-8’s skin.

15. Beware of bugs

Before Mike leaves Philly for Albuquerque, a bartender tells him to be mindful of tarantulas. The spider plays a key role in Breaking Bad later on, as a young boy’s pursuit of the bug puts him in Walt’s path—and Todd’s path, by proxy. Determined to make a good impression on Walt, and knowing that there can’t be any witnesses to what they’re doing, Todd shoots the boy in one of the most shocking and cold-blooded moments in the entire series.

An earlier version of this story ran in 2018.

This Land Is Your Land: The Story Behind America's Best-Known Protest Song

American singer Woody Guthrie, circa 1960.
American singer Woody Guthrie, circa 1960.
Woody Guthrie: Getty Images. Landscape: iStock/mammuth

Few songs are more ingrained in the American psyche than "This Land Is Your Land," the greatest and best-known work by folk icon Woody Guthrie. For decades, it's been a staple of kindergarten classrooms "from California to the New York island," as the lyrics go. It's the musical equivalent of apple pie, though the flavor varies wildly depending on who's doing the singing.

On its most basic level, "This Land Is Your Land" is a song about inclusion and equality—the American ideal broken down into simple, eloquent language and set to a melody you memorize on first listen. The underlying message, repeated throughout the song, makes the heart swell: "This land was made for you and me."

But there's more to "This Land Is Your Land" than many people realize—two verses more, in fact. Guthrie's original 1940 draft of the song contains six verses, two of which carry progressive political messages that add nuance to the song's overt patriotism. These controversial verses are generally omitted from children's songbooks and the like, but they speak volumes about Guthrie's mindset when he put pen to paper 80 years ago.

 

Guthrie wrote "This Land Is Your Land" in a divey hotel room in New York City. He'd just landed in Manhattan after years of rambling across the country and meeting impoverished people affected by the Dust Bowl and Great Depression. Throughout his travels in the late '30s, Guthrie was haunted by Kate Smith's hit recording of Irving Berlin's "God Bless America." Guthrie found Berlin's song to be jingoistic and out of touch with the reality facing many of his fellow citizens. So he set about writing a response.

Guthrie originally titled his rejoinder "God Blessed America"—emphasis on the past tense—but eventually changed his tone. Instead of doing a sarcastic parody, he wrote a song that pulls double-duty, celebrating America's natural splendor while criticizing the nation for falling short of its promise. In the "lost" fourth verse, Guthrie decries the notion of private property, suggesting America is being carved up by the wealthy:

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me.
The sign was painted, said: 'Private Property.'
But on the backside, it didn't say nothing.
This land was made for you and me.

The sixth and final verse in the original manuscript references the poor folks Guthrie saw living on government assistance during the Great Depression:

One bright sunny morning in the shadow of the steeple,
By the relief office I saw my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there wondering if
God blessed America for me?

When Guthrie first recorded the song in 1944, he included the verse about private property but left out the one about the relief office. That original recording was lost until the '90s, however, so for years, all anyone knew was the version Guthrie recorded for 1951's Songs to Grow On. Guthrie's rendition on that album features neither the "no trespassing" verse nor the one about the relief office, which he never actually recorded.

It's unclear why the 1944 recording with the "private property" verse was never released, or why Guthrie edited out the radical stuff for the 1951 version. (He also chopped out both controversial verses when he first published the lyrics in the 1945 pamphlet Ten of Woody Guthrie's Songs.) It may have had something to do with the mounting anti-communist furor that would lead to the Red Scare of the late '40s and early '50s. As a pro-union communist sympathizer, Guthrie and his fellow rabble-rousing folky buddy Pete Seeger had already faced industry blacklisting in the early '40s.

"We did one program on CBS Radio, and a newspaper reported out, said, 'Red minstrels try to get on the networks,'" Seeger told NPR. "And that was the last job we got."

Woody Guthrie, circa March 1943.
Woody Guthrie, circa March 1943.
Penn State, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Regardless of which verses are included, "This Land Is Your Land" is terrific for singing. That was by design. Guthrie likely stole the melody from the Carter Family's 1935 tune "Little Darling, Pal of Mine," which itself was patterned after an old gospel hymn titled "When the World's On Fire" (sometimes called "Oh, My Loving Brother"). "This Land" was a perfect fit for classrooms and campsites, where the song would take on new life.

 

In the early '50s, famed American folklorist Alan Lomax came up with a nifty plan for preserving the nation's musical heritage. He approached legendary music publisher Howie Richmond with the idea of including rural folk songs—the kind he'd been documenting for the Library of Congress—in school music textbooks. Richmond, who had become Guthrie's publisher in 1950, loved the idea, and to sweeten the deal for textbook publishers, he lowered his usual licensing rates and offered "This Land Is Your Land" for just $1.

That's how "This Land Is Your Land" went viral and became nearly as ubiquitous as the national anthem, even without the radio play and jukebox real estate of Smith's "God Bless America." While the versions distributed to America's impressionable youth lacked "no trespassing" and "relief office" verses, the song's original lyrics were never forgotten. Following Guthrie's death in 1967, artists like Seeger continued performing the "lost verses," lest people forget the anger that inspired the song.

But regardless of Guthrie's intentions, "This Land Is Your Land" has come to mean different things to different people. That's part of what makes it so timeless. When President Ronald Reagan used the song at his victory party in 1984, after it had been used by Walter Mondale's campaign, both sides were probably trying to evoke feel-good patriotism. The same goes for Reagan's advisors and allies who were invoking Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A." during rallies and in newspaper articles. Reagan himself name-checked Springsteen and his "message of hope" during a rally in Hammonton, New Jersey. The president either didn't know or didn't care that "Born in the U.S.A." was another song about loving your country but hating how poorly it treats some of its citizens.

Ironically, the Boss had begun performing "This Land Is Your Land" in the early '80s. On the version included on the Live 1975–85 box set, Springsteen gives his audience the backstory about Irving Berlin and refers to "This Land" as "just about one of the most beautiful songs ever written." And, when given the opportunity to perform the song with Pete Seeger at Barack Obama's pre-inauguration concert in 2009, he readily agreed to sing all the verses at Seeger's insistence.

Over the years, "This Land Is Your Land" has been covered by everyone from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to former Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, who performed the song in Zuccotti Park during an Occupy Wall Street protest in 2011. Lady Gaga sang a snippet to open her Super Bowl halftime show in 2017, causing fans and critics to speculate about whether she was making a political statement. She mashed it up with "God Bless America," so it's a safe bet she knew the history of the song.

 

There may be even more officially recorded versions in years to come. Much like what has been done with ubiquitous songs like "Happy Birthday" and "We Shall Overcome" (which Seeger toured with and taught across the country at rallies and protests throughout the '50s and '60s), there is a push to have "This Land Is Your Land" enter the public domain. The Brooklyn rock band Satorii filed a lawsuit in 2016 challenging the copyrights held by the Richmond Organization and its subsidiary, Ludlow Music, and maintain that since Guthrie only wrote the lyrics and not that pilfered melody, he shouldn't have been able to register the song in the first place, nor should Ludlow have been able to own the copyright. The suit is ongoing.

Whether it enters the public domain, as one imagines Guthrie would have wanted, or doesn't, "This Land Is Your Land" isn't going anywhere. The song has been adopted and modified by Native Americans, Swedish anti-Nazi troubadours, and people all over the globe who find truth and comfort in Guthrie's words, however they choose to interpret them.

"The whole idea of a land is your spot on Earth, you know," Woody's daughter Nora told NPR. "A spot where you can claim safety, sanity."

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