James Gunn says he’s not a fan of Gene Hackman’s ‘campy’ Lex Luthor in Superman

‘I wish he seemed like a greater threat,’ DC boss said of ‘Superman’ villain

Jacob Stolworthy
Friday 16 June 2023 14:54 BST
James Gunn appears to criticise Gene Hackman's Lex Luthor performance

James Gunn has named his least favourite performance of Superman villain Lex Luthor.

The director, who is now one of the bosses of DC alongside Peter Safran, was discussing the forthcoming Superman film, which is in active development.

Gunn broached the subject on an episode of the podcast Inside of You, whose host is Michael Rosenbaum. Rosenbaum played Superman villain Lex Luthor in the TV series Smallville.

During the interview, Rosenbaum asked Gunn to make him a “promise” when casting a new Luthor.

“He'll have gravitas, he'll be Lex Luthor – he won't be playing Lex Luthor [while] he's more acting like [another] character, or goofy or...”

Here, Rosenbaum performatively shouted the word “crazy”, adding “He’ll be something that’s grounded and real.”

The actor then said: “I’m not saying anybody’s done that,” to which Gunn replied: “Maybe someone has done that.”

After the podcast episode went live, many jumped to Jesse Eisenberg’s defence after it was asummed that he was who Gunn was referring to. Eisenberg played the role in 2016 film Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Gunn denied the allegations, however, and tweeted “I was not referring to Jesse” in response to a tweet that read: “What is with the diss to Eisenberg? He’s one of the best actors of our generation.”

He then revealed that he was actually referring to Gene Hackman, who played Lex Luthor in Richard Donner’s 1978 film Superman and its 1980 sequel Superman II.

Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor
Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor (Warner Bros)

“In reading these replies, sometimes it seems like people are looking for things to get outraged about & have little sense of history,” he said, adding: “Although Donner’s Superman movies are some of my favorites, I’ve spoken out publicly before & even written about it in EW [Entertainment Weekly] back in the early 2000’s, perhaps unwisely, that Lex Luthor is not my favorite part of those films.

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“The portrayal can lean campy & I wished he seemed like a greater threat & I wished he’d played it bald throughout. I regret having intimated that I didn’t like ANY Lex on Michael’s show, but there it is.

“For the record I think Hackman is one of the five greatest actors of the Seventies & Eighties, and he starred in some of my favorite movies. I just didn’t love him as Lex.”

For the new Superman film, titled Superman: Legacy, Gunn is reportedly screen-testing Nicholas Hoult, David Corenswet and Tom Brittney, with Rachel Brosnahan, Emma Mackey and Bridgerton’s Phoebe Dynevor in the running to play Lois Lane.

Meanwhile, fans of The CW series Superman & Lois have been left infuriated after it was revealed the fourth season will arrive without seven of its main cast members due to budget cuts.

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