“He’s angry throughout the picture”: William Friedkin Had to Deliberately Make Gene Hackman Angry After Actor Refused to Go to the Dark Side

Despite a terribly challenging environment on-set, Gene Hackman gave a great performance in The French Connection

William Friedkin Had to Deliberately Make Gene Hackman Angry After Actor Refused to Go to the Dark Side


  • William Friedkin directed Gene Hackman in one of Hollywood’s greatest films: The French Connection
  • However, it was a terrible experience for both, especially Hackman, who had to endure the director’s wrath
  • Nevertheless, Gene Hackman delivered an amazing performance in the film
Show More
Featured Video

While William Friedkin is best known for directing one of Hollywood’s most terrifying films, The Exorcist, the prolific director also has an impressive filmography that has showcased his skills as a filmmaker. Friedkin was famous for his out-of the box approach to his craft along with his unique methods of drawing the best out of his actors.

William Friedkin
Hollywood director William Friedkin

IN 1971, Friedkin directed Gene Hackman in one of Hollywood’s greatest films, The French Connection. This experience proved to be quite a challenging one for both actor and director as the director’s maverick methods to get Hackman into character, made him irritable throughout the film.

Also Read: The Exorcist: Believer Sequel Still in Works Proves Studios Need to be Exorcised to Stop Ruining William Friedkin’s Legacy


William Friedkin Got On Gene Hackman’s Nerves In The French Connection

The late William Friedkin is popularly known for his unique filmmaking techniques that may not always be welcomed, but ultimately works wonders. In his gritty 1971 cop drama The French Connection starring Gene Hackman, The Exorcist director wanted the Oscar-winning actor to embody the characteristics of a ruthless foul-mouthed cop who brings down criminals brutally.

Gene Hackman
William Friedkin used unique methods to make Gene Hackman get into character in The French Connection

Hackman though, being a man of very liberal views, was hesitant to used racist terms or portray violence of any sort. His reluctance prompted Friedkin to adopt some alternative methods of motivation which included constantly irritating Hackman and getting under his skin before every shot. Recalling the experience in an episode of George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight, (via YouTube), Friedkin said,

“Gene did not really want to go to the dark side of that cop because Gene is very liberal, he didn’t take really well to using the N-word, and beating up suspects and all that, which was the truth about that cop. And Gene didn’t want to go there. Gene and I had a constant tug of war. Where I had to get him angry and he’s angry throughout that picture.”

Friedkin’s constant goading resulted in Gene Hackman inadvertently succumbing to method acting on set, with the actor delivering a brilliant performance in the film.


Also Read: “The worst 40 minutes of film I’ve ever seen”: William Friedkin Absolutely Despised ‘The Exorcist’ Sequel for One Reason That Tainted His Legacy

William Friedkin Once Slapped A Priest To Get A Perfect Shot in The Exorcist

There nothing that William Friedkin will not try, to ensure that every scene in his films are perfect. From using sounds of bees and pigs to create the background score for The Exorcist, to nagging Gene Hackman in The French Connection, the prolific filmmaker has proved that he will stop at nothing to achieve excellence in his craft.

The Exorcist
A scene from The Exorcist directed by William Friedkin

In a very interesting story from the sets of The Exorcist, The 12 Angry Men director narrated an experience with an actor, who happened to be a priest in real life. After 25 or 30 takes, when the priest had still not performed the scene to Friedkin’s satisfaction, the director took a risky and eccentric approach to ensure that his vision was delivered. In an interview with George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight, the director narrated the sequence of events between him and the priest.


“I asked him if he loved me and if he trusted me and he said, ‘You know I do, Bill’ And I told the cameras to get ready and I hit him as hard as I could across the face, I [called action], and he went right into this scene, the shock of it brought forth the tears and afterward he embraced me and thanked me.”

While this method of motivation will not hold water in Hollywood anymore, it made William Friedkin stand out as a director who was willing to stick his neck out and even court controversy to ensure that he made a brilliant film.

Also Read: The Exorcist: William Friedkin Made One Major Change to the Ultimate Horror Movie That Was Actually Based on a Scarier Real Life Story 


Written by Sharanya Sankar

Articles Published: 1053

Sharanya Sankar, Writer for Fandomwire
Having completed her Masters degree in Journalism and Mass Communication, Sharanya has a solid foundation in writing which is also one of her passions. She has worked previously with Book My show for a couple of years where she gained experience reviewing films and writing feature articles. Sharanya’s articles on film and pop culture have also been published on Film Companion, a popular film-based website. Apart from movies and pop culture, her interests include music and sports. She has contributed over 650 articles to Fandomwire so far.