Gene Hackman was voted one of the least likely to succeed in his class at the Pasadena Playhouse.

The other "least likely" was Dustin Hoffman."I was not considered one of their most promising students," Hackman, 57, said in an interview in the current issue of Connoisseur. He will continue to disprove the prediction this fall when he stars in four promising new films.

Hackman, 6-feet-2, muscular, fit, speaks with the slight twang of his native Midwest. He grew up during the Great Depression in Danville, Ill.

"A great many actors and writers have their roots in Midwestern towns," Hackman said. "It seems to generate a rich fantasy life."

For him, acting was an escape from daily life.

"Acting was something I wanted to do since I was 10 and saw my first movie," he said. "I was so captured by the action guys. Jimmy Cagney was my favorite. Without realizing it, I could see he had tremendous timing and vitality.

"Guys like Errol Flynn were a problem for me. I would come out of the theater and see myself in the mirror of the lobby and be stunned that I didn't look like him."

Hackman joined the Marines at 16, worked at all sorts of jobs after he left the service, enrolled in the Pasadena Playhouse at 22, then headed for New York and an acting career.

He married Faye Maltese, a bank secretary who he met at a YMCA dance in 1956. The couple had three children and remained married until 1986.

His first film role was in "Lilith," starring Warren Beatty. He played Beatty's older brother in "Bonnie and Clyde" and earned his first Oscar nomination.

It was the role of Popeye Doyle in "The French Connection" that won him stardom and an Oscar as best actor.