On the 30th Anniversary of Hoosiers, the Movie’s Director Recalls What a Pain Gene Hackman Was
Gene Hackman in “Hoosiers” Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
The success and long afterlife of Hoosiers — released almost exactly 30 years ago and new on Hulu this month — may not be quite as improbable as the events depicted in the movie, but it’s in the same long-shot realm as Hickory High’s run to the Indiana state basketball title. You had a director, David Anspaugh, making his feature-film debut; you had a co-star, Dennis Hopper, who played the troubled assistant coach Shooter Flatch, still working his way back from a solid decade in the show-business wilderness; and you had a subject, basketball, that up to that point, didn’t exactly have a sterling cinematic history. Oh, and Gene Hackman, who starred as coach Norman Dale, drove Anspaugh to the brink of a nervous breakdown.
Yet those problems resulted in beloved film, one that earned Academy Award nominations for Dennis Hopper’s supporting role and composer Jerry Goldsmith’s score. In 2001, the movie was selected by preservation by the National Film Registry and has been honored by the American Film Institute. As far as sports films go, Hoosiers, despite criticism from the likes of Spike Lee, is in the pantheon.
Speaking on the phone from Bloomington, Indiana, where he moved in 2014 to teach film at Indiana University, Anspaugh, who also directed the football classic Rudy, talked about his movie’s legacy, butting heads with Hackman, an obsessive celebrity fan, race, and what Jack Nicholson said would’ve happened if he’d been the star.