Dec
26

The Joy of Being Dustin Hoffman

This article was written by Jeanne Wolf and appeared in Parade Magazine on December 21st. It is an insightful read into the mindset and life of many a starving artist- only this one made it!
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My wife says the one thing that differentiates me from a lot of other people, or at least is an essential part of my character, is that I don’t have a censoring gene,” Dustin Hoffman says with an impish grin. “My friends just wait for me to reveal what’s on my mind. They know for sure that I’m going to say something inappropriate.”

Hoffman, now 71, has been saying surprising lines onscreen for more than 40 years, since his Oscar-nominated debut in The Graduate. He starred as the confused college grad Benjamin Braddock, who famously asked an older married woman (played by Anne Bancroft), “Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me…Aren’t you?”

The self-described “short, funny-looking guy with acne” went on to win the Academy Award twice and score seven nominations. His films include Midnight Cowboy, Kramer vs. Kramer, Tootsie, Rain Man, and Lenny. This year he lent his voice to animated movies, including the hit Kung Fu Panda and The Tale of Despereaux. In his latest film, the romance Last Chance Harvey, Hoffman plays a lonely guy who finds late-in-life love with Emma Thompson. And proving he still likes to be a bit inappropriate, he looks at me and says, “Don’t worry, there’s no big bedroom scene. We didn’t have enough money for the special effects to make me look great naked.”

Hoffman grew up in L.A. His mother was a jazz pianist, and his dad was a set decorator. Ironically, Hoffman stumbled into his acting career by accident. “It was only because I couldn’t do anything else,” he says. “I was flunking out of college. And I didn’t want to go into the service because my brother had gone in, and he said, ‘Whatever you do, Dusty, don’t go into the service.’ I happened to take an acting course when I was 21. It was the first experience I had in my life where there was no clock. Time didn’t matter. I had never felt that before.” After two years at the Pasadena Playhouse, Hoffman moved to New York City.

“Then, for 10 years, I was an unemployed actor,” he remembers. “I roomed with Gene Hackman, who was friends with Robert Duvall. They were also unemployed. We’d have little parties because we didn’t have any money. You know, the Chianti bottle with the candle on it. Everybody comes over and brings stuff. And if someone were to say, at any of those get-togethers, ‘See those three guys there? They’re going to wind up being movie stars,’ the place would have laughed. And we would have laughed the loudest, because we were beat up by all the rejection.”

The lead role in Mike Nichols’ 1967 film The Graduate made Hoffman an overnight star. That soon was followed by Midnight Cowboy and a second Oscar nomination. Though anxious to keep proving himself, he was never willing to compromise. He gained a reputation for delivering knockout performances—and also for being a pain-in-the-neck perfectionist.

“It got in the press that I was difficult,” he says. “That was my signature—they want everyone to have a signature. Warren Beatty’s reputation was that he screwed around a lot. And yet he will tell you, ‘Hoffman screwed around more than I did.’ ” Whatever the count, that early wildness has given way to a calmer, more relaxed, and definitely funnier Hoffman.

“It’s true,” he says. “I am a happier person now. I’ve changed a lot. I had a big break-through after I took a couple of years when I didn’t want to do movies. I went back to work with total passion. You change as you go. Time alters you. It’s been a flip from the time when I was a shy, unhappy teenager. Now I can appreciate my own joy and my sense of irony.”

Instead of becoming daunted by the shadow of his own legendary image, he’s learned to be more playful as he’s gained wisdom. At a recent gala honoring Hoffman and Clint Eastwood, the audience got restless as speeches went on and on. When Hoffman finally came to the podium, he said, “A thought went through my mind as I was sitting at my table: What if I died while I was waiting to receive my Lifetime Achievement Award?” The room roared with laughter.

Leaning back in his chair recently in the office of his L.A. production company, Hoffman smiles about that night, then turns serious as he reflects on the meaning of his life and career.

“I guess making things fun is the only revenge you have against mortality,” he says. “Of course I think about mortality. So many of my colleagues and friends have died that I’m forced to think about it.” He pauses—figuring out how he wants to describe his attitude toward death. “What we would all like is to kind of choose when we’re ready to go, and we’d not have any fear. The best part about death is that it’s not selective. It’s comforting to know that everyone dies. Death is the pure democracy.”

Hoffman has always tried to have his family with him when he works. He has six kids—two with his first wife, actress/dancer Anne Byrne, and four with his current wife of 28 years, Lisa.

“When I got married for the second time, my wife and I made a deal,” he says. “We agreed that we wouldn’t let work separate us. We’ve stuck to that. I sometimes say that we’re wealthy gypsies. I was holding my kids when they were babies on the sets of my movies. A couple of my children even saw me dressed as a woman in Tootsie. Lisa knows me. We can read each other. We’ve always had this loving connection.”
Hoffman remains proud of his grown-up children. “They get mad at me for telling everyone about their accomplishments or for finding cute girls for my sons,” he says. “But even though they love to hate me for it or cruelly imitate me, I can’t stop bragging. They are my true credits.”

How do his children express their affection? “We’re a tactile family,” he says, “and I never get over the fact that even though my kids are no longer ‘kids,’ they like to kiss me for no reason or when we greet each other. When they’re leaving, they say, ‘Bye, Pop,’ and they grab me and kiss me on the cheek. I’ve never taken that for granted, even though they don’t even know that they’re doing it.”

I ask Hoffman if this love from his family and his need to keep changing at 71 is what has brought him to his current point—mellow but not satisfied. “Mellow?” he says, surprised. “Let me think.” He pauses, then polishes the description of himself: “OK. I’ll say, ‘Satisfied but not satisfied.’ ”

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