Feature by: Jack Foley
SCREEN legend, Dustin Hoffman, admits that he 'lost his spark'
for filmmaking a few years ago due to the faltering quality of
the movie iindustry - but he's back with a bang and has decided
to have fun with it.
In London to promote his latest movie, Meet The Fockers, Hoffman
candidly admitted that 'the whole culture is in the crap-house'
at the moment.
"How many films do you go and see now where you sit there
and after five minutes say 'oh I get it, this is the third act,
it's just going to be two hours of the third act'. There is no
first two acts," he explained.
"And it's not just true in movies, it's hurt the theatre.
Theatre was much more satisfying when I first started coming to
London but now, on Broadway as well, it's the effects and everything
that dominates. It's the way it is. We're not at a good time now,
I don't think, culturally."
Having made a name for himself as a revered character-actor in
key films such as The Graduate, Midnight Cowboy, Tootsie and Rainman,
Hoffman said he began to tire of the industry and subsequently
called it a day.
"I just lost a spark that I had always had, because I love
and have always loved being an actor" he continued.
"I loved having the chance to become something, whereas
before I thought I couldn't do anything.
And if I had been an unsuccessful actor, I would have been a very
happy unsuccessful actor for the rest of my life.
"I wouldn't have been happy not getting enough parts, but
I would always have been happy that I was doing something, even
if it was in a church for no money, because I just like it.
"But then that stardom thing happens and you get compromised.
I don't believe when people say that success doesn't corrupt them
because I think success corrupts everybody.
"I think you get caught up in it, no matter how you fight
it. It gets to you. The people do... the agents or whatever. It's
'you can't take that part, it's not a starring role'. Or 'they're
not paying you enough'! Or the director is no good.
"At first I was somewhat successful, because after The Graduate
I didn't work for a year because I wanted to go back to off-Broadway,
it unnerved me and that's the truth.
"And then Midnight Cowboy came along and it was a supporting
part and I said 'oh, I like that, it's different from The Graduate,
I'll get rid of that leading man thing with one part'.
"And then suddenly, one's own narcissism or whatever it
is, takes over and 'hey, star', whether you like it or not, you
continue to perpetuate it.
"So somehow it reached a point a few years ago where I didn't
like the parts that were being offered, the business had changed
I think since Jaws, where they carpet bombed the country with
3,000 theatres and it all became... you know, you can't blame
studios because it's just a part of the cancer that exists.
"But they're not interested in the kind of films that I
and people of my generation had seen... we were influenced by
the French Wave and the Italian Wave after the Second World War.
"They were artists and doing good work and it wasn't there
to be the top three of the weekend, those expressions didn't even
"So somehow it got worse and worse and worse, I got older
and I think the older you get the less access you have to the
better roles, or the leading roles, because they are guys in their
20s or 30s.
"And I thought, well I'll just stop and I'll try writing,
and maybe I'll start directing, and I did this very quietly. And
you don't realise the time that goes by. It was like three years,
or something, and my wife said, 'do you realise, you haven't done
anything for three years', and I was like 'three years! Really!'
"And I was not aware of the depression that had set in because
if you're a writer, you like to write; if you're a painter you
need to paint and if you're an actor you need a job.
"And then my wife said something
to me that kind of altered me, which was 'why don't you throw
all those rules out that you've had since the beginning? Don't
worry about the script, don't worry about the part, don't worry
about the budget, sometimes you think they're not spending enough
money on it...'
"She said 'by this point you should know whether you're
going to have a creative, fulfilling experience by the director
and the people you're going to work with, so why don't you just
try doing that? Even if you're getting paid minimum'.
"Which is basically what, say, I
Heart Huckabees was. I liked David O Russell's work but I
said 'yes'. I barely looked at the part.
I loved what Marc Forster did with Monster's
Ball and I knew he had done it in about 18 days.
"And Johnny Depp is an actor I have admired for years because
I had felt that he had tried to avoid stardom - that he felt that
it would somehow compromise him. It felt like he was always taking
sometimes edgy and non-commercial kind of roles, and I just think
there's something grand about him.
"So the thing I was offered was a supporting part and the
scenes were basically with him and I jumped and I've been having
the most fulfilling time I've had since I first started getting
work off Broadway.
"And Fockers is basically a supporting part, too."
His role in Meet the Fockers allowed Dustin Hoffman the opportunity
to appear alongside Barbra Streisand, with whom he had gone to
the same theatre school with when first starting out, as well
as with Robert De Niro.
And he admits that the whole experience was fun, particularly
as the director, Jay Roach, allowed him to be as expressive and
spontaneous as he wished to be.
"The director said he wanted us [Barbra Streisand and Hoffman]
all over each other," he chuckled.
"He said that the fun of it is that the De Niro character
and the Blythe Danner character are the protestant stock, in terms
of stereotype, that they withhold themselves emotionally, whereas
you are the ethnic side and you let it all hang out - there are
"We worked in such a way that, for myself, I'm not trying
to get to De Niro's character, I'm trying to get to Bob. And I
know Bob doesn't like his space invaded, so the first thing I
told the director I wanted to do was 'don't tell him'.
"You know, when we meet and shake hands, I said I wanted
to feel his pecs, cos I know he works out, and I want to give
him a nice kiss on the neck, and I don't want him to know it's
happening. And I succeeded a few times in really getting beautiful
blushes out of him!"
Likewise, Hoffman went about constructing his relationship with
Streisand in a believable fashion, so that their relationship
would seem more real.
"What we didn't want to do, and what I personally have never
liked, is seeing so-called amorous situations on-screen that,
to me, are always bullshit, that are faked - tongues down each
others' throat, the camera pans on the ground and you see the
panties and the set-up and it slowly goes up to the bed and he's
on top of her, and then suddenly she's on top of him.
"We all know the reality of it is that there's 150 crew
members there and you're pretending. So, to me, it's always a
faux or a fake aspect of human behaviour; it doesn't happen like
that in real life.
"I've been with my wife for 30 years and married for 23,
but I said that the sexuality that exists between my wife and
I exists in a prolonged foreplay which goes on during the day,
which is a touch under the table, or a hand on the leg, not in
an acutely erotic way but in an affectionate way.
"It's a look, I don't think there's just the few senses,
the five senses like we used to think, I think there's something
in just a look, or a smell, I love the neck, I love to just snuggle
into the neck and smell her neck...
"So I said to Barbra that's real to me and she said 'do
whatever you want', and I said 'you do to me what is real to you'.
And I loved every time we worked together that there was an openness,
which I love doing with my wife and my daughters.
"I'd do real stuff because I wanted it to be real. So even
if you didn't like the film, just know that that aspect of it
was one of the most genuine aspects that existed."