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William Friedkin went on drug busts to research The French Connection

William Friedkin, the Exorcist director who died recently, explained how he got such authentic performances from Hackman and Scheider in The French Connection.

The French Connection

William Friedkin‘s The French Connection was praised for its documentary-style filmmaking and naturalistic acting, which felt fresh and new at the time it was released in 1971. In a DGA interview given in 2003, Friedkin explained how he got such good performances from his two stars – Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider.

William Friedkin explained that it was his lack of rehearsal and usually using the first take which made the performances seem more spontaneous. “One of the ways I was able to get naturalistic acting, and still do, is that I really don’t rehearse. If the roles are cast well, and you’ve talked to the actors about what you want to do, and you reach a kind of consensus about how it should be played – then very often you get what you want in one take.”

Of course it helps that Hackman and Scheider are two of the best actors of all time. “What I’ll do today is just talk to the actors and the crew, usually well beforehand, and when we’re all in agreement, we’ll do a take. Almost always it’s the first printed take that works the best, that was the most natural.”

Hackman’s Popeye Doyle and Scheider’s Cloudy Russo were heavily based on two real-life NYPD detectives. “In this particular film, Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider had spent two or three weeks with their two prototypes [that their characters were based on],” Friedkin said. “They went out on raids with these cops, as did I, before I did the film. In fact, the scene where they come in, bust up a bar and grab all the stuff, I saw that three, four nights a week.”

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Friedkin says that he was even given a gun and told to watch an exit during the raids; “Usually Eddie Egan, who was the character who Hackman played, he would give me his gun in a situation like that. He would say, ‘Here, watch the back.’ And I would be standing in the back with a .38 and he did that with Hackman and Scheider and they got to know what it was like to do a frisk properly. Gene and Roy improvised that scene from having seen what Eddie and Sonny [Grosso] did.”

Friedkin’s death was announced on August 7, 2023. Along with the Best Picture winning The French Connection, he was of course also best-known for The Exorcist – one of the most influential horror movies of all time. Check out our guide to the best thriller movies and the best horror movies.