The claims were reportedly all in the name of method acting, according to Michael Schulman a contributor to the New York Times and the author of unauthorised biography Becoming Meryl Streep.
The biography, which has been adapted in the most recent issue of Vanity Fair, claims it was Hoffman that selected Streep for the role of Joanna in the 1979 film which chronicled the divorce between Joanna and her husband Ted, played by Hoffman. Both Hoffman and Streep won Academy Awards for their roles.
Mr Shulman claims one of the reasons for Hoffman’s choice was because he knew about Streep’s recent loss of her boyfriend, the actor John Cazale, and believed she could “draw on a still-fresh pain” when portraying Joanna.
"Improvising his lines [...] he started taunting Meryl about John Cazale, jabbing her with remarks about his cancer and his death," he writes.
Mr Shulman quotes Richard Fischoff, a producer on the movie, who claims Hoffman was “using stuff that he knew about her personal life and about John to get the response that he thought she should be giving in the performance.” After the exchange, Streep apparently went “absolutely white” and “left the studio in a rage,” something Mr Shulman said moved the film from Kramer vs Kramer to “Streep vs Hoffman”.
The book alleges Hoffman also whispered Cazale’s name in Streep’s ear “planting the seeds of anguish” before the court room scene later on in the film.
Cazale, who had starred in the Godfather films and The Deer Hunter, died from lung cancer in 1978 aged 42. According to Vanity Fair, he was diagnosed a few months after Streep moved into his New York flat.
On another apparent occasion, when filming the scene immediately before Joanna tells Ted she is leaving him, Hoffman “slapped [Streep] hard across the cheek, leaving a red mark”. According to Mr Shulman, Streep charged into the hallway and continued to act out the scene.
Hoffman has not yet responded to claims in the unauthorised biography. A representative for Streep told the Independent: "Ms. Streep has no comment on this book. It was unauthorised. She made no contribution to it, nor has she read it."
The Independent has contacted a representative for Hoffman.
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