Dustin Hoffman: The Q Interview

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The Independent Culture

Dustin Hoffman's big break came in 1967 with The Graduate, which earned him an Oscar nomination. During a career spanning five decades, the 66-year-old has won two Academy Awards and has tackled parts as diverse as a street hustler in Midnight Cowboy; a Watergate journalist in All The President's Men; an autistic man in Rain Man; and, in his latest film Confidence, a mob boss. Hoffman has six children and lives with his second wife, Lisa, in New York.

Are you a man's man or a woman's man?

I have never been a man's man, I've always preferred the company of women. I think I'm more fond of the energy between men and women than anything else. I am not talking about sexually - I like the way women think. They help me more. I think they are more in the moment and our gender has a rougher time with that, don't you think?

No, women analyse things too deeply - they are the planners.

But that's what men do!

Who has been your favourite leading lady?

Maybe Susan Sarandon? We first met in 1978, when she read for Kramer Vs Kramer, and we had that immediate rapport. She didn't get the part, but we continued to see each other at events over the next 25 years - like, hey, how are you doing? And of course we did Moonlight Mile together. If you think about the people you wind up with, the significant other, and you put together all the one night stands, there are not that many before you find the so-called One. Once in a while, you'll spend a little time with someone who you think: 'I could have married that person.' Susan is one of those people.

So, she could have been Susan Hoffman?

Or I could have been Dustin Sarandon. She's a strong woman.

Which film have you been most emotionally involved in?

Probably Kramer Vs Kramer. I was getting divorced. I waited until I was 31 before I got married and I never thought this would happen. There were kids involved. I said to the director. "I have never read anything close to what I am witnessing emotionally - I really want to tell this story."

And so you did?

We sat in a hotel room for four months and we came up with the thread, which is the most painful part of divorce - when both parties want to cut that bond and can't. Because if there's anything there to begin with, it ain't cutting that easy. You can no longer inhabit the same space and you still love each other. There ain't nothing worse than that. You turn that on the other person, because it produces such pain, and you literally feel like you are losing a part of yourself. Because you are.

How do you feel about your children going into the business?

My son, Jake, is just finishing his last year at film school. He started writing scripts when he was in high school. I never said: "Don't go into it." I don't like to say don't.

About anything?

When drugs come up, he'll say: "But dad, you did marijuana!" And I say "Yeah, here's what I didn't know. I didn't know it killed a bunch of brain cells." I learned a lot of facts because I knew a moment would come when I needed them. I told him: "I didn't know that one joint is 17 cigarettes worth of tar." If you tell them no, then they go the other way.

If your children do want to go into the business, it must help having you as a father...

My daughter Jenna loves the theatre. She went to Seattle and started a theatre company. She saved up the money herself, directed Shakespeare and Pinter. She went by the name of Jenna Byrne, which was my first wife's name. The Seattle newspaper did a big feature on her company because they liked her theatre the best. She was so excited. Then word got out that she was my daughter. The off-Broadway press were certain that I had helped her. They came to each play and were vicious. So, it worked in reverse.

Is there a film that inspired you to become an actor?

I didn't want to be an actor, I wanted to be a piano player. Every time I saw a movie about music, it inspired me to stay with music.

So how did you get into acting?

I was failing at school. I needed three credits and someone suggested taking acting because nobody flunks acting.

When people describe new actors they often gauge their talent by calling them the new Hoffman. How does that make you feel?

I'm not aware of it.

Really?

Either you're going to believe everything I say or you're not, or you're going to believe 50 per cent.

You're a man, that's a tough one!

We're not talking about tonight! That's when the lies start in the generic sense. At my age I find it's a lot of fun to tell the truth. I have never been able to accept the fact that the way I feel about myself is different from the way other people view me. If anything I am more cynical now.

Even when people compliment you on your work?

Yeah, but that is about the film.

Michael Douglas recently said that he has no more ambition left. Do you feel the same way?

My icons have always been painters, writers, directors who have allowed the altering of themselves to be part of their work. I'm getting older, so what am I going to do? Am I going to pretend that I'm not? I thank God that I still have acne because that goes hand in hand with a high testosterone count. I've always hated acne, now I say, 'Come on pimples, stay with me!'

Tiffany Rose

'Confidence' is released on Friday

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