Just a Minute With: Gene Hackman on his retirement

LOS ANGELES (Reuters Life!) - Two-time Oscar winner Gene Hackman, who is considered one of the finest actors of his generation, says his acting days are over.

Gene Hackman is seen in Beverly Hills in a 2003 file photo. REUTERS/Andy Clark

The 78-year-old star of movies including “The French Connection” and “Unforgiven,” who hasn’t made a film in over four years, has reinvented himself as an author.

Hackman and co-writer Daniel Lenihan just published their third novel, a Civil War thriller titled “Escape from Andersonville.” The two talked to Reuters about writing the book and how their partnership works.

Q: Gene, have you now officially retired from movies?

HACKMAN: “I haven’t held a press conference to announce retirement, but yes, I’m not going to act any longer. I’ve been told not to say that over the last few years, in case some real wonderful part comes up, but I really don’t want to do it any longer.”

Q: Do you miss it?

HACKMAN: “Yes, I do. I miss the actual acting part of it, as it’s what I did for almost 60 years, and I really loved that. But the business for me is very stressful. The compromises that you have to make in films are just part of the beast, and it had gotten to a point where I just didn’t feel like I wanted to do it anymore.”

Q: What do you like about writing so much?

HACKMAN: “I like the loneliness of it, actually. It’s similar in some ways to acting, but it’s more private and I feel like I have more control over what I’m trying to say and do. There’s always a compromise in acting and in film, you work with so many people and everyone has an opinion (laughs). But with the books, it’s just Dan and I and our opinions. I don’t know that I like it better than acting, it’s just different. I find it relaxing and comforting.”

Q: Dan, how did you and Gene first team up?

LENIHAN: “It was over diving which is a big part of my profession, doing underwater archeology. Gene was doing “The Firm” and was referred to me, and we became friends. Then a couple of years later we decided to try and write together.”

Q: Do you ever fight and argue when you’re writing? How does the partnership work?

HACKMAN: “No, we discuss the work heatedly and how something might go, but I don’t think we’ve ever had a knock-down fight.”

LENIHAN: “We each appreciate what the other’s contributing. Often we’ll reach an impasse and we’ve actually tossed out several books that didn’t work out, so we pretty much agree.”

Q: Dan, what surprised you most about Gene when you began working together?

LENIHAN: “First, that he was so interested in writing and that he could write so well. And I was surprised that he takes so many risks in the writing. He’s also very attentive to complexity of character and I’ve learned from that.”

Q: You always said you never read your reviews as an actor. What about book reviews?

HACKMAN: (laughs) “I try to ignore them. We’ve never been reviewed by, for instance, the New York Times and their book review section, and I think it might be devastating.”

Q: Is there a fourth book on the way?

HACKMAN: “We’ve started a couple. We threw out about 170 pages of a contemporary novel that we were working on. We just got to a point where neither of us was very interested in it. So we’ll probably do another historical fictional account. We’re just not sure what yet.”

Q: Having written three books now, what advice would you give a neophyte?

HACKMAN: “Write what’s in your heart. To be fulfilled as a writer, you have to write something that you care about.”

Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Patricia Reaney