Gene Hackman, now retired, is spending his time writing novels now.
His latest, Escape from Andersonville, is about a prison escape set in the Civil War.
What’s easier, acting or writing?
In terms of the stress there’s just no comparison. For me, at least, writing a novel is a great pleasure. There is stress but it’s a different kind of stress: more mental than physical. In a film you’re working nights and 16-hour days. Here I am saying poor me, when I’ve been paid pretty well for that work, but it’s a fact. It doesn’t matter how much you’re being paid. At my age I just feel I don’t want to do that any longer. So, the writing is really a godsend.
Any parallels between the two?
Sure. One of the processes I always go through when I start to read a script for a movie is I ask myself some simple questions: Where are you going? Where have you been? What do you want? Starting there in writing a novel seems to help a great deal. If I know what a character wants and something about his background and where he’s going, I can proceed. The kind of films that work best are where there’s a lot of conflict and a lot of back and forth between two strong characters. It’s similar to writing in that the result becomes a process of how much conflict one can deal with in the course of a chapter or, in the case of a movie, in the course of five minutes of a long complicated scene. That part of the film business is very attractive to me. You’re using all your skills and physically you have to have a great deal of energy. Some actors will pump themselves up with pushups or running in place and straight into a quiet dinner scene. That bubbling energy inside permeates the process.
Did you do pushups?
No. I walked around a lot especially if it was a quiet scene. I didn’t want to get trapped into something coming out that wasn’t full of intent.
Writing is a much more solitary activity than acting, no?
That is a difference and sometimes that’s good, sometimes bad. But I’m someone who needs a lot of concentration in films. I got to the point where I wouldn’t be affected by all the banging and clashing and whispering that goes on on a film set. Sometimes when I’m writing I’ll just sit there and do what we used to call in acting class a sensitive moment. I go through a process of asking myself what do I have on and how does it feel around my neck and what am I looking at. I find that works for me to personalize the process.