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How Richard Donner’s fake moustache gave us the best Lex Luthor

When director Richard Donner passed away in 2021, Gene Hackman made a rare public statement, and told an anecdote about playing Lex Luthor in 1978's Superman.

Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor

When beloved director Richard Donner passed away in 2021, his colleagues from the movie industry shared tributes and anecdotes about working with him. Donner was known for classic horror movie The Omen, family movie The Goonies, and the Lethal Weapon action movie series. But he will forever be most associated with the Superman movies, which contain the best Superman actor Christopher Reeve.

Another actor who made the Superman movies so good, was Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor. Hackman is, of course, one of the best actors of all time, and is known for his roles in William Friedkin’s The French Connection and Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation during the 1970s ‘New Hollywood’ era. Hackman has been retired since 2004 and has been out of the spotlight for almost 20 years.

However, the occasion of Donner’s passing prompted Hackman to give a quote to The Hollywood Reporter – one of his very rare public statements these days. “I showed up for the first day of makeup tests for Superman with a fine Lex Luthor mustache I’d grown for the role. Dick [Donner], wearing his own handsome mustache, told me mine had to go. He bargained to lose his if I did mine.”

“True to his word, he celebrated my last razor stroke by gleefully pulling off the fake whiskers he’d acquired for the occasion.” Hackman concluded, “Dick [Donner] made it fun, and that’s why the films turned out that way, too.”

The future of Superman in the DCU is currently uncertain, as we don’t know who will be playing the character in the future. But we do know that we’re getting a Superman Legacy movie, so that’s something to be excited for.

While we wait to find out who the next person to fill the famous red boots will be, check out our guides to the best superhero movies.