Clint EastwoodGene Hackman

Clint Eastwood Once Described What He Liked Best About Gene Hackman’s ‘Unforgiven’ Villain


Gene Hackman is one of the most celebrated actors of his generation. John Wayne hated Hackman’s acting , but audiences didn’t — he starred in several movies that won big at the box office . Unforgiven was one of those successes. Hackman plays a brutally violent small-town sheriff opposite Clint Eastwood’s reluctant hero. Eastwood, Unforgiven ’s star and director, once described what he liked best about Hackman’s villain, and it’s something most people can relate to.

In addition to Eastwood starring as William Munny and Hackman as Little Bill Daggett, Unforgiven also counted Morgan Freeman (Ned Logan), Richard Harris (English Bob), and the expertly-cast Saul Rubinek (W.W. Beauchamp) and Jaimz Woolvett (The Schofield Kid) among its cast.

The Schofield Kid recruits Munny to collect a bounty on outlaws who assaulted a prostitute. Munny brings Logan into the fold, and the three get to work. Hackman’s Little Bill runs the town of Big Whiskey, Wyoming, and dispenses justice as he sees fit.

The tale of morality and mortality ultimately sees Munny ride off into the sunset (so to speak), but Hackman made quite an impression as Little Bill. Eastwood once described what he liked best about Hackman’s portrayal, and why the villain was so unsettling.

Clint Eastwood said he liked Gene Hackman’s character because “he had dreams and didn’t see himself as a bad guy”

The villains in some movies lean into their evil. The Emperor in the original Star Wars trilogy, Voldemort in the Harry Potter series, Jigsaw in Saw , or Vincent D’Onofrio’s Carl Stargher in The Cell , for example.

But Hackman’s L ittle Bill Daggett never sees himself as a villain, which is why he’s such a disturbing character, as Eastwood once described to the American Film Institute (via YouTube ):


“He didn’t wear the usual costume of a bad guy; he was a sheriff who had noble ideas. He had this small town, and he ran it with a lot of strength. … What I liked about the character is, he had dreams. He was building a house and he wanted to sit on the porch and smoke his pipe and watch the sunsets. He had dreams like everyone else does, and he didn’t see himself as a heavy, he didn’t see himself as a bad guy. He thought he was always doing this on the side of right.”


Clint Eastwood describes what he liked about Gene Hackman’s Unforgiven villain

Despite the predilection for violence and a perhaps morally questionable approach to law enforcement, Daggett never believed he did anything wrong. Little Bill always felt his actions were justified. No matter what he did or what harm he caused, he went on living his life, which is what made the character so disturbing to Eastwood.

Hackman and Eastwood scored big with nine nominations at the Academy Awards for ‘Unforgiven’

Hackman’s convincing, unsettling, and at times likable turn as a menacing sheriff in Unforgiven hit all the right notes.

Hackman earned the fifth Academy Award nomination of his career, and he won his second Oscar for his performance.

Eastwood grabbed two Oscars for Unforgiven — best director and best picture. It was the first time in his storied career that he earned nominations from the Academy. The movie also won for best film editing, and it picked up an additional five nominations.

Hackman played a disturbing and menacing lawman to a T in Unforgiven , and he earned both Eastwood’s and the Academy’s praise for it.


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