In the mid-1970s, Gene Hackman had entered a period of predominantly having a mustache, basically only getting rid of it to reprise the role of Popeye Doyle in “The French Connection II.” Lex Luthor, however, doesn’t even have hair on the top of his head (though “Superman” got around that quite a bit). Telling a guy to ditch his mustache can be a nuisance, and in the 2001 DVD documentary on the film’s making, Hackman recalled how director Richard Donner played him like a fiddle:
“I told him I wanted to keep the mustache. And he said, ‘Well, let me think about it, and when you come on the set we’ll discuss it.’ The first day I was in England … he says, ‘Well, what about the mustache?’ And I said, ‘Well, I don’t know, I’d really like to keep it.’ He says, ‘If you shave your mustache, I’ll shave mine.’ And I said, ‘Okay.’ So I went back to makeup and we did all these things, I shaved the mustache off, and I came back on the set and we were doing the makeup test and I said, ‘Dick! You’ve gotta shave your mustache off.’ And he says, ‘Okay.’ And he took it and he peeled it off. And he had set that up, I loved him for doing that.”
That story makes Richard Donner sounds like a hoot, and when you’re an actor of Hackman’s caliber stepping into a superhero project like this that’s brand new and could seem frivolous, having someone playful like that at the helm makes for a perfect guide. And that connection clearly meant a lot to Hackman, as he refused to return to production on the sequel after Donner was ousted. That’s real loyalty.