Story Time

Gene Hackman tortured Wes Anderson on set of The Royal Tenenbaums

Wes Anderson has cemented his reputation as Hollywood’s most eccentric major director with the release of The French Dispatch, his tenth feature picture. His films are centered on esoteric issues and inspirations, ranging from Stefan Zweig’s writings to the life and career of art dealer Joseph Duveen, and they attract A-list celebrities who want to be a part of this odd and literary environment.

Since the debut of The Royal Tenenbaums in 2001, which included a powerful ensemble cast including Bill Murray, Gene Hackman, Danny Glover, Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, and Gwyneth Paltrow, the filmmaker has been able to attract extraordinary talent.

The Royal Tenenbaums was Anderson’s third film, and it portrays a dysfunctional family which grudgingly gathers beneath their old house for various reasons. Anderson’s picture is one of his loveliest and most compassionate, delving deep into the deepest corners of human nature, showing both its existential horrors and its most innocent joys.

Jason Schwartzman was originally cast in the role of Mordecai the Hawk.

Though it took nearly a decade for Anderson to rejoin with his “Rushmore” co-star in “The Darjeeling Limited,” he had intended to do so much sooner. Jason Schwartzman was cast in the role of Mordecai, which was subsequently played by a hawk in the film. “We had a character that was called Mordecai, which in the movie was the name of a bird, but Jason Schwartzman was supposed to be a boy who lived across the street from the Tenenbaums in some embassy or something in an attic,” Anderson revealed.

While the on-screen antics may have appeared to be a fun time, the scenario behind the scenes was significantly more chaotic, as Wes Anderson and Gene Hackman argued over artistic and professional disagreements. “It was written for him against his wishes,” Anderson said Matt Zoller Seitz, author of The Wes Anderson Collection, as Hackman continued to express his disinterest on set.

“Sinking Wes Anderson’s spirits on set by repeatedly insulting him, there have been multiple reports stating that Hackman called the director a ‘c***’ on the set of the film, with Bill Murray even coming in on his days off to help shield Wes Anderson from the bitter star,” according to Far Out Magazine.

Huston noted, “I was a lot scared but I was more concerned with protecting Wes,” and that no one associated with the film has “heard or seen Gene since this movie.” Anderson and Paltrow both confessed they were “scared” of working with Hackman. She went on to say that the tumultuous Hackman had told the director to “pull up your pants and act like a man.”

Anderson stated that the entire ensemble helped in protecting him from the difficult performer. “You did defend me, all three of you did at various times,” he remarked before adding, “[well], he did call me a worse name,” which Baumbach filled in with, “He called you a c*nt, didn’t he?” Anderson flushed and shrank in his chair, as if he didn’t want the audience to think the cast and crew didn’t appreciate Hackman. In fact, at the conclusion of the evening, Anderson tried to rescue the situation by returning the discussion to Hackman, saying, “Can I say something? I kind of feel, through my own fault, we kind of made Gene look bad. Do you think we gave enough balance to him?”

Despite the problematic conduct, the director recalls the experience warmly. “He 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,” Anderson remarked. During production, Hackman informed Anderson that he expected ‘Tenenbaums’ would be his final picture, yet he went on to make many more before unofficially retiring in 2004.

Clearly, having Hackman participating in the project was not pleasurable for anyone, but production was finally completed, and the crew was able to maintain a safe distance from the actor.