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A look at Hollywood and the movies : 'FIRM' BILLING : Trust Us--Gene Hackman's in It

June 27, 1993|JANE GALBRAITH

Gene Hackman may have won the best supporting actor Oscar for "Unforgiven" this past year, but he'd rather not be seen as a supporting player in advertisements for his latest work, "The Firm."

"The Firm," Paramount Pictures just about screams in its ads, is a Tom Cruise movie .

And, since multi-Oscar-winning actor Hackman wasn't going to get equal billing with Cruise no matter what his status or credentials, sources said he opted not to be listed in the ad credits at all. It's a curious thing, many close to the production say, since Hackman is hardly a second-banana level of star.

"This is a town of precedents and (Hackman is) so firmly established above the title, why should he be below the title?" was the explanation offered by the actor's spokesman, Dick Guttman. "He came to the project late, after they started filming, and was offered the role after (Paramount) had constructed a marketing plan built around Tom. He had the choice of saying 'no' or working out some other billing situation. It was a good decision by him and (his talent agent at) CAA."

When the actual movie unspools, however, Hackman's name appears right after Cruise's and above Jeanne Tripplehorn's, who plays Cruise's wife.

This sort of wrangling is not uncommon with box-office draws and, perhaps more importantly, is taken very seriously by the individuals involved. Some might call it ego, others just simply business. Cruise was paid a reported $12 million, Hackman closer to $2 million.

In "The Firm," Hackman plays Avery Tolar, a senior partner at an ultra-secretive Memphis corporate law firm who tries to corrupt new associate Mitch McDeere (Cruise) in assorted ways, not excluding getting tried-and-true married McDeere to be unfaithful during a business trip to a Caribbean island where the firm launders money for the Mafia.

At one point in the script process, consideration was given to changing the sex of the Avery character--viewed as the most important supporting role--to accommodate the casting of Meryl Streep. This was met with strenuous negative reaction from fans of the best-selling book in and outside Hollywood and by the book's author, John Grisham. The idea was scrapped.

Hackman's presence on the set and in the movie has, by those familiar with both, elevated the production considerably. He and Cruise were said to work well together, though neither was subsequently available to appear at the press junket on behalf of the film. Hackman did one day of publicity separately, Guttman said.

The actor was on location in Moab, Utah, shooting "Geronimo" for Columbia Pictures and was unavailable for comment.

Meanwhile, early critical reaction to Hackman's performance from press screenings of "The Firm" is wildly enthusiastic. Many who've seen the film predict his name will most assuredly come up at the Academy Awards next year. Whether Cruise will be visible at Oscar time remains to be seen.

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