Hoffman dishes on his directors, for better or for worse

05:00 AM, Dec 25, 2012

Dustin Hoffman looks over the stockinged leg of actress Anne Bancroft, his seductress in 1967's 'The Graduate,' directed by Mike Nichols. AP/


Written By by Susan Wloszczyna, USA TODAY

In 1982’sTootsie, actor Michael Dorsey loses a job as a tomato in a commercial because he refuses to sit down (his excuse: ‘It was illogical”). That was pure Dustin Hoffman. His uncompromising attention to detail in his performances has earned him a reputation for being difficult, especially in his dealings with filmmakers. It’s a label he believes is grossly exaggerated.

I’ve done, whatever, 60 movies,” he says. “I’ve had maybe four or five directors I had trouble with. They went public and I have never gone public. I’ve never responded. It’s not my style. So you only hear their end of it.”

As for the others, he likes to quote Barry Levinson, who has willingly directed him in four films: “Barry said to me, ‘Why is it that when people ask me how was it to work with you, I say it was the best experience I ever had, and I go through a list of how wonderful it was, and they don’t print one sentence of that?’ “

Now that Hoffman is seated in the director’s chair for Quartet, here are reflections on some of his more memorable collaborations with filmmakers, for good and bad:

Bob Fosse,Lenny (1974). The late director and choreographer was “was one of the ones I had difficulty working with. One reason was, he didn’t do that film because he thought Lenny Bruce was funny. He had never seen him. He had heard some of his records, and you don’t get the best of Lenny Bruce off his records. He was great because of what he did spontaneously. What Bob liked is when he heard that when Lenny met Honey, whom he later married, she was living with another woman at the time, and they were a duo. Lenny and the two women is what attracted him to the project, he said.”

John Schlesinger, Midnight Cowboy (1969) and Marathon Man (1976); and Mike Nichols,The Graduate (1967). “The Graduate, we did it word-for-word. We could have done it on Broadway. Nichols rehearsed for a month, which is brilliant if studios let you do that. If a crew is hired already, they are paying them and they want them to film every day. Schlesinger had writer Waldo Salt use a tape recorder on Midnight Cowboy. Jon Voight and I improvised every scene we had.”

Sydney Pollack,Tootsie (1982). “I had a tough time with the late Sydney Pollack. Robert Redford (who was directed by Pollack seven times) said to me, ‘I wished you would have talked to me before you worked with Sydney.’ I said, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘I would have told you how to play him.’ Certain women in certain marriages, they have to play their husbands the way that Redford said you had to play Pollack. ‘But, honey, it was your idea.’ That is what Redford meant. Sydney was a great director. The disagreement we had was an arm wrestle of control. He wasn’t collaborative.”

Barry Levinson, Rain Main (1988),Sleepers (1996), Wag the Dog (1997),Sphere (1998). “He was extraordinary. He would come to work and loved to tell stories. We are all sitting on our chairs, and the first AD (assistant director) says, ‘Barry, we’re ready.’ He said, ‘Yeah, but I didn’t finish my story yet.’ The most important thing every morning was the story, or the stories he was telling. The point is, we came under budget and he relaxed us.”

Warren Beatty,Dick Tracy (1990). “I worked on that for only three days. Warren is a great director. But he is his own worst enemy. He always says, ‘You shouldn’t wait until the script is ready before you start shooting,’ but he does. He is one of the most generous people. After we did Rain Man, he called up and just wanted to talk about it. He is effusive when he likes something. He is a good man. He has his own demons, I would think. I said: ‘Warren, direct more. Come on. You’re one of our finest directors.’ “

• Michael Mann, HBO’s series Luck (2011-2012). “I was still doing Luck when I decided to direct Quartet. Michael graciously let me use the cutting room at his offices. First of all, I asked him to read the script. He gave me some really good advice. He said the four main characters (who are planning to perform the famous quartet from Verdi’s Rigoletto) had to sing. The first draft followed the play it was based on. They were mimicking to a recording of themselves from 30 years ago when they sang better. He came to see an early first cut when he happened to be in London. He is just an extraordinarily paternal person. He might seem tough, but that is a defense. You can’t ask for a better friend. Sometimes people give off the opposite of what they are.”