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Meet The Fockers - Dustin Hoffman Q&A



Compiled by: Jack Foley

Q. It's been recorded that during the course of making this movie you had a bit of fun playing practical jokes on one of your co-stars, Miss Streisand?
A.
Streisand! Not true. Seriously?

Q. Apparently you got every one in the crew to wear badges promoting Bush to wind her up?
A.
Now, do you want the truth? Here's the exact truth. That story was published four or five days before we started working together. Good story! Truth, didn't happen.
As a matter of fact, the few little tit-bits that were printed that publicists of the film would bring to our attention were all in that vein; in other words it was going to be a war between us. You know, we were not going to get along. And they call came out before we started shooting.

Q. But it seems clear from the on-screen relationship that you did get along, so can you tell us about that?
A.
I'm a few years older than Barbra, I'm 67, but we started acting together in acting school about 1960, in New York.
It was a school where each room had a different acting teacher, so we didn't know each other, but I did start going with her room-mate, Elaine, and she kept saying 'you know Barbra?' And I kept saying 'yes, I've seen her act, she's pretty good', and she said 'she can sing, she's a pretty good singer' and I said 'yeah'.
And I learned that Barbra wouldn't sing for anyone because she didn't think singing was a serious endeavour and she wanted to be an actress, and so we never really knew each other, only through her former room-mate.
And then by what I like to think of as freak accident, we both became famous at different times and for the next 35 years we would see each other on and off, mostly off.
I mean I think the only time we bumped into each other was when I would see her in concert or something and I'd go back stage and say 'hi' because we had this history together simply of starting in the same acting school.
It is odd, I don't understand why we haven't worked together. I did a film a couple of years ago with Gene Hackman... Gene and I were room-mates in 1958, we had never acted together until then.
He introduced me to Bob Duvall; Bob Duvall and I were room-mates in about 1960. Bob and I have still never acted together. I mean, we've tried but it just didn't happen.
The same is true with Barbra and I think what existed between Barbra and I - and I know you hear this shit all the time at these junkets - there was an affection between us that was genuine. I think because we had gone through this journey together, though not intimately but somehow we had both started out poor - she actually slept on an army cot at her teacher's house, who was married and had kids.
She came from poor... as I did. I was on a work scholarship at that theatre studio which meant I didn't have to pay for acting classes if I cleaned the toilets. I called that a work scholarship [laughs]
And so we travelled this distance somehow in life and here we are, depending on what day it is, calling it the second scene of our second act, or our third act on another kind of day, but now we were going to act together.
Maybe I can conclude by saying, because it is more fun to tell the truth - even though it's the last thing to be believed, by the way - is that the director said he wanted us all over each other.
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, and they are held back, whereas you are the ethnic side and you let it all hang out and there are no boundaries.
He said I would like you, because, in the first one, the Stiller character, whose our son, has to take everything from De Niro; De Niro constantly backs him up. And we felt that one thing, if we want to find a reason to do a sequel where you don't repeat the same things, that's not going to happen here. Not only is De Niro not going to back up the Fockers, Roz or Bernie, but we are going to try to back him up and invade his space.
We are going to get to him and 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. I know Bob doesn't like his space invaded and 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 that became the comic premise.
And what the director said about Barbra and myself is 'I want you guys going at it, you know, making out, anytime you want when you're with De Niro and Blythe Danner'.
So Barbra and I sat down and talked about it and 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, unless you're very, very young and when you first start fooling around you're actually mimicking that what you saw in the movies.
I'm not degrading real passion, but what we wanted was what we felt that we hadn't seen on-screen. I've been with my wife for 30 years and married for 23, so 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...
And 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 we do like each other.
And I loved every time we worked together that there was an openness, which I love doing with my wife and my daughters.
I love talking about them, like 'oh you look hot' or 'you look great'. I like complimenting. And I said it Barbra, I said 'man your breasts look great today!' And she loves her breasts. She says 'really, you think so' [in her accent], and I'd say 'yeah, that's a great outfit'.
That's what I would whisper to her during the scene. I'd do real stuff because I wanted it to be real. So if you didn't like the film, just know that that aspect of it was one of the most genuine aspects that existed.
Look, we do grow up in a culture of compartmentalization. At least I did. Meaning sex is sex and that it's somehow compartmentalized from emotion, from feeling. Once you've realised that one is only a branch to the other, man that's an earthquake, and that's a wonderful feeling to know. I mean you grew up as a kid saying 'oh God would I love to screw her', and then to reach a point where that doesn't disappear, but you can't wait to get in bed with your wife, to go to sleep with her; you can't wait to snuggle or to cuddle, and that's what we felt was an authentic part of what we wanted to do.

Aside: Shall I tell a Scot's joke? So there's a Scotsman sleeping underneath the tree (and I wish I had the right accent) and he's got a kilt on and the lassie is walking nearby.
So she sees him with the kilt and thinks it's the perfect time to find out if he wears anything underneath the kilt. So she tip-toes up while he's sound asleep and she discreetly has a look and sees he's fully exposed. She's so excited that she takes a blue ribbon out of her hair and just ties a bow around it.
So he wakes up in a couple of hours and stretches and then feels something odd. Looks down, lifts up his kilt and says 'I don't know where you've been but wherever it is you've got first prize'. [laughter]

Q. Did the theme of the film cause you to reflect on your own first meeting with the in-laws? Or did being famous help to smooth the relationship along?
A.
Well Lisa and I, my wife, have been together 30 years, and we've been married for 23. She's my second wife.
My first wife, who was a former ballet dancer at New York City Ballet when Valentin was there, so right then I should have known we didn't have a chance, two volatile personalities, her name, she was Irish Catholic, as I imagine the Byrnes are. My wife's name was Anne Byrne. Her maiden name.
And so when you ask that question, the first time I went up to their place - we lived in New York and they were from Chappaqua (which only became infamous or famous depending on your political affiliation because that's where Clinton moved, small town, Victorian you know) and I was an unemployed actor but I never figured out because I felt the hostility at the first dinner... first two dinners [laughs]... first year... two years.
And I couldn't understand whether it was racial, or just that I was a bum as far as they were concerned; another unemployed actor waiting tables. Does that answer the question?

Q. Did any of that inform how you were not going to be in this role? Or did it remind you of any of those moments?
A.
No, it didn't. I try to go from myself all the time as I don't know where else to go from. I don't believe in characters. I don't think there is such a thing as a character. I know we say my character this, my character that but I don't think it exists. It's amorphous. I think a writer writes a character, and he's writing from prototypes, imagination whatever, and he puts in certain definitive givens which the actor has the obligation to fulfil and you fulfil them as best you can. You talk with this accent, you have this limp, you dress in this way, this guy's introverted, this guy's a murderer, you know. And you find in yourself - or at least I do - the areas that somehow I can connect with in some way, or that I have some understanding of in some way. Some are very difficult and then I am simply trying to go from myself and I'm not thinking character. Smoke and mirrors, whatever, hopefully will bring my character across.
And talking to someone else, like De Niro, I'm not talking to Jack Byrnes, he's doing his work, but I'm trying to get to Bob. I am really trying to dismantle Bob. I succeeded a few times in really getting beautiful blushes out of him and that's just the way I personally work.
Having said that my kids say that what I did on screen has more qualities with the way I am at home than in any other film that I've done. I'm not like that all the time but that's a side of myself, a large side of myself at home behind closed doors than I'd never done in a film.
And you only learn about yourself, I would imagine at my late stage, by encountering situations and then realising how you respond to them.
I have a 34-year-old daughter who got married to a flaming red-headed freckled Irish man by the name of Shamus Culligan and they had a child who is now five weeks old and I look every day hoping he's not going to have red hair like his father - but I know he's going to! And they've decided not to circumcise him and I find it all great [laughs].
It's just broadened me, I can't explain it, I'm in new territory. I can go out with Shamus and get loaded, we can talk about circumcision for hours! Is it good, is it bad? It has no effect on me. I mean I wasn't brought up religious, I have no feelings about...
I mean, I don't understand it to begin with. I think that's one of the reasons why the film was successful because we are tribal ultimately, you know. It is Romeo and Juliet, we stay with our own and particularly if it's another ethnicity, it's never good enough for ours. And it's beyond me because, by this point, I think we're all mutts, we're just mixtures, aren't we? I mean I've never met a pure person who was really... I guess they exist.

Q. You mentioned your age earlier, but show no signs of slowing down, but with recent roles you seem to be choosing roles where you can have fun with the characters?
A.
I stopped working a few years ago because I just lost a spark that I had always had, because I love and have always loved being an actor. 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.
And 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 didn't like... 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 can't blame studios because it's just a part of the cancer that exists. I mean the average film is $65-70m, they spend that much... they're into it for $120-130m, I mean who wants to be a studio head? Figures like that can collapse them! So they're not interested in the kind of films that I and people of my generation had such... 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 exist. 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. So unless you've got a gun or are a generic kind of star, you know, who the audience knows is going to see the same action hero every film, suddenly your age, by definition, makes you the supporting role. You are supporting the lead unless you are developing your own stuff, where you find something.
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. You can't just act... you can, you walk around doing 'to be or not to be' to your dog, you know...
And my wife said something to me that kind of altered me, which is the essence of your question. And it 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...' So I said 'what?' And 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.
Neverland, I loved what Marc Forster did with Monster's Ball and I knew he had done it in about 18 days.
He's Swiss and he grew up in the hills and he never saw a film until he was 13-years-old.
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. I would say the leads are probably Stiller and De Niro, but Barbra and I are basically supporting. Barbra only worked for 30 days, I did more.

Q. They're thinking about doing remakes of The Graduate and Tootsie? Do you think Hollywood is running out of ideas or do you welcome new takes on classic stories?
A.
Um, well yes, you do run out of stories after a number of years, don't you. I mean look at the movies that started when sound first came in. They were basically plays but on the screen. There's only so many stories. When we worked on Rainman, and I was in from the beginning, suddenly we woke up one day and I said - cos we were having great trouble with it - 'hey, it's Midnight Cowboy, it's the same movie, structurally, right?'
Jon Voight learns what love is. Tom Cruise learns what love is. Start the movie off with both of them, let the audience understand them, and about 15 minutes into the movie, bring in Ratso Rizzo who will be the catalyst to this man, you know, and bring in Raymond in Rainman and he will be the catalyst, and both Ratso and Raymond, their arc won't be the same.
So in a sense there's only so many structures, and I do think, yes, they do get eaten up - that's part of it. I think this massive kind of filmmaking where you spend this kind of money and you have to play to the demographic, and they go right through the numbers to the computers (where else are they going to go?) and they have to get that first weekend.
Do you know the first performance, they can tell you what the gross is going to be basically off of Friday night. That tells them what the weekend is going to be, then they'll lose about 40% or 50%. And they're pushing it to the kids because it's the kids that go the first weekend. And how many films do you go and see now where you sit there and after five minutes '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, you know.
The whole culture is in the crap-house. There's a line that will lead off! But you know 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.

Q. But do you think The Graduate will stand up to a remake?
A.
There's nothing wrong with remakes. I didn't see the thing they put on the stage. But if anyone came up with a good idea there's no reason not to have a remake. I mean who's going to argue that Godfather II wasn't a great work of film? Some people prefer it to Godfather I, I mean it was magnificent. Mike Nichols was asked after The Graduate, I remember, 'what happens to these guys?' And he said 'they turn into their parents'.
I was once in a conversation with Nichols a few years ago and I said, 'so if you ever did a sequel what would Benjamin be doing?' And he said 'Benjamin would probably be doing TV commercials'. So he was looking the whole opposite side of what Benjamin was supposed to represent, which was a counter-culture. It's just the idea.
I think Fockers, I'm not sure whether it's a good film or bad film, but the idea is a legitimate idea to do a sequel, if you can have your comeuppance, and if you can somehow put on the screen, you know, this split in the culture, which basically comes down to intimacy as opposed to non-intimacy, which is a part of the film. In other words, aren't we more naturally intimate than not? And isn't non-intimacy not that far away from hostility? And fear, which is kind of a defence, because if we're intimate with people we don't know we can get hurt.
And suddenly you have characters on-screen that are saying to you... hey, you've got a room full of people here, right here, we don't know each other, we've never seen each other before, we may never see each other again, we're grouped in here by fate - six and a half billion people on the planet and look at the common ground - we're all dying. Yes, we're here temporarily, whatever your ages are.
Now to this moment I don't understand why there isn't more of that feeling with the human race. I don't follow any religion, because if we were really open to that, I mean nothing bonds us closer than that - that we're on this lifeboat together in these stormy seas, particularly today.
But you were asking about sequels. Most studios, I guess, do sequels to make money. They say even if it does half as well as the first... but do I believe in it? Depends on why couldn't there be. I like the idea of Tootsie, although I've never been able to come up with it. But I love what I wanted to do in Tootsie that we weren't able to do, so for me that gives the reason for the sequel and I've played with it in my head.
It stimulates me, because I'm not coming from a money point of view, I'm coming from 'oh well, I think he had one character'. I'm not going to go on and name them but there are certain actors who became famous by playing one character and then suddenly they woke up one morning and they no longer existed. They were off the map. They had no work. And I said I think that happens to this character - he's exposed and Tootsie exposes himself, and I think 25 years later, if that film started now I think he's right back teaching acting, and I think he's probably a little angry and a little bitter because he had that taste of fame and it's gone, and here he is now. I could believe that, that he still has this desire to taste it again, whatever device is set up. You know, go to this country, do it in England, they don't know. They don't remember that you faked being a woman on a soap in America 25 years ago, you know. And I start thinking of Dorothy, maybe 25 years later, maybe sounding a little bit like Margaret Thatcher, and then I think what I would love her to be and what's the most fun. And I think I would love to see her on a talk show, to be a talk show hostess.
You know, Ellen DeGeneres has a talk show in America and she's very openly gay. And she's embraced by the community and she doesn't, at least so far, talk openly about her sexual preferences. So, in my feeling, I think it would be wonderful to be a heterosexual man, you know, getting away with being a gay woman and thereby finding out the commonality that exists between people, genders, no matter what their preference is. That there's more that joins them together than separates them.
And there were scenes that Elaine May, who didn't want her name on the thing, but who had more to do with the success of Tootsie than any other writer, and she had ideas that Sydney Pollack, the director, didn't want. I thought we could do all the stuff in the sequel because he is a man and there's so much he doesn't know. She had a scene where I'm dressed as a Dorothy and I go to visit Jessica Lange, who thinks I'm her best friend, and she opens the door and she has her wine, and I say 'how are you?' and she says, 'oh God, I've got the heaviest period I think I've ever had' and I say 'oh that's too bad', knowing suddenly I'm in territory I don't know that much about and she continues 'do you ever get these really heavy flows' and I said 'oh yes of course', and she asks how long they ask with me and I say 'months...' [laughter]
To have a show and to be pretending that not only you're a woman, but also that you're gay and to know so little about either, I love the idea.

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