Dustin Hoffman is notorious for causing his directors to be rushed from set to hospital. The 55-year-old actor drives directors to distraction with his attention to detail and time-consuming obsession with perfection.
Stephen’s Frears, director of Hoffman’s current movie, Accidental Hero, did not escape unscathed. None of the actors had time to rehearse before shooting began, so Hoffman brought production to a halt while he experimented with his character, that of petty criminal Bernard La Plante. Some costly days later he found what he was looking for… and director Frears had to be rushed to hospital with an artery blockage.
Frears kindly dismissed the delay, and while admitting that Hoffman cost the company a small fortune by making the filming fall behind schedule, reckons that Hoffman “did it for the right reasons. Actually, he’s absolutely wonderful.” Critics agree that this is one of Hoffman’s finest performances since Rain Man.
Virtually everyone who’s ever worked with Hoffman agrees that he’s wonderful; actually brilliant. Most say he’s the smartest actor they’ve ever met… but this does make him rather difficult to work with.
He seldom listens to a director’s directions without first advising on what he thinks is best. He frequently reminded Frears that “directors who have taken my advice end up winning Oscars.” Not that Hoffman himself gives a toss for the Oscar ceremony.
Although he’s had two Academy Awards bestowed upon him – for Kramer vs Kramer and Rain Man – Hoffman believes the nominations should be revised altogether.
“I’ve been on the judging panel, so believe me when I tell you with an informed insider’s perspective that the Oscar’s are a farce,” he says heatedly.
Bitterly, he points out how Steven Spielberg and Barbra Streisand have been deliberately black-balled by the Academy Award Association and ignored by the snobbish old heads of Hollywood.
He doesn’t need much encouragement to reveal the corruption and lies that movie companies feed the unsuspecting public through the gullible hands of the press. According to Hoffman, “leaks” to newspapers are about astronomical budgets and off-screen bickerings are usually fabrications from opposition movie companies to discredit the movie. Conversely, tales of off-screen romances are usually instigated by the movie’s public relations office to entice the cinema-goer’s interest.
Dustin Hoffman is the type of man you’d like to have on your side in a dispute. He’s fair, he’s thoughtful and he’s relentless. He’s the type of anti-crime hero Hollywood needs. Ever since his critically acclaimed screen debut in The Graduate, Hoffman’s always been you atypical Hollywood hero.
Fitting then, that he’s currently portraying a hero with a difference in Accidental Hero. As Bernie La Plante, he spontaneously rescues 54 people from an airplane which has crashed. Rather than be recognized for his bravery, the small-time criminal is intent on keeping a low profile and so disappears into the dark of the night leaving only one of his size 10B shoes behind and making room for a false hero (Andy Garcia) to accept all the credit.
One of the victims he saves is an astute TV reporter (played by Geena Thelmo & Louise Davis) who becomes intent on finding the hero who fits this shoes. A motivating factor in Geena taking this role was the opportunity to act again with Hoffman. She starred in her first movie role ever opposite him in Tootsie, and although he’s renowned for being difficult, she praises the actor whom she refers to as “the closest thing I have to a mentor.”
Much of the time the atmosphere on set was sardonic and Hoffman felt as if he was playing on the losing side in a baseball team. But in the end he’s more than satisfied with the heart-warming comedy.
He describes his character as “a working man who can’t make it on what he takes home. He wants to be a solid, respectable citizen, but he’s not very good at it. Whether it’s being a husband, a father, or a thief, he always manages to shoot himself in the foot.”
Hoffman himself is very family orientated. He’s a father first, long before he’s an actor. He entertains with endless stories about his beloved children (two from his first marriage and four from the second), who all regard him as a simple dad and nothing to show off about.
“They’re not interested in fame at all,” he reckons. “When we filmed Hook, one of my daughters was given a walk-on past. The next day I felt awful as I went home to tell her that her time on screen had been cut so none of her friends would see her acting. I thought she’d be devastated, but instead she just wanted to know whether she’d still be paid for the work she’d done! That’s modern kids for you.”
There was a time when Hoffman was more interested in making movies than being a family man. But after 1979 when his first marriage ended in divorce, he took time out to get back to basics.
Even on the set of Accidental Hero, his wife, Lisa, was his first concern… in a manner of speaking. Between takes Hoffman would lie on a back-stretching machine and tell all and sundry how he needed to flex and stretch his muscles in order to perform better in bed for Lisa who’s 17 years younger than him!
Hoffman must be proud of what he’s achieved since his early working days as a janitor and a mental ward attendant.
At 55, he’s proved that, like Jack Nicholson and Robert De Niro, he’s one of those rare breeds who retain longevity in the disposable world of Hollywood.
PERSONALITY, April 16, 1993