He's not your stereotypical movie star, this unprepossessing, almost runty fellow with the mournful hound-dog eyes and the oversized nose. Producer Joseph Levine, on first encounter with him, mistook the man who was to become the star of one of his most popular films, "The Graduate," for a window washer—and, with the impish streak that's been his hallmark since his childhood as the classroom show-off, Dustin Hoffman took out his handkerchief and started to clean the window. Hoffman's big break, in "The Graduate," had been a long time coming. He'd been hoping for it for nine years—ever since arriving in New York in 1958 and, in his words, "plummeting to stardom." He had grown up in Hollywood, where his father was at one time a set decorator and his mother—though she hoped he'd become a concert pianist—was sufficiently star-struck to name him for silent-screen cowboy Dustin Farnum (and her other son for Ronald Colman). Hoffman, however, wasn't bitten by the acting bug until his college days, when he enrolled in the Pasadena Playhouse. Among his classmates was Gene Hackman, who remains one of his closest friends. The two deserted Pasadena for New York at roughly the same time and scrounged around through various odd jobs, waiting for lightning to strike. Which it did for Hoffman in 1967 with "The Graduate." After that film, nobody was likely to mistake Dustin Hoffman for a window washer. Yet, with a daring some called recklessness, he went on to insist on challenging roles playing eccentric characters. Today, at the age of 37, he occupies a premier position in a rare company, that of the character actor as superstar. More than any other major performer today, Hoffman has built his career on what he lovingly calls "uglies." On stage and in films, he has played a hunchbacked homosexual ("Harry, Noon and Night"), a spinsterish Russian editor ( "The Journey of the Fifth Horse"), a Keatonesque boiler watcher ("Eh?"), a grungy piece of Manhattan flotsam ( "Midnight Cowboy"), a slightly mad, would-be painter ("Jimmy Shine"), a partner in a one-day romance born in a singles bar ( "John and Mary"), a dissident rock star at the ages of 17, 25 and 40 ("Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?"), a protean Western hero who, while aging from childhood to a feisty 121, acts out every frontier cliché: boy adopted by Indians, gunslinger, cavalry scout, snake-oil salesman ("Little Big Man"), a passive mathematics teacher who erupts into violence ("Straw Dogs"), a bourgeois Italian bank clerk with Romeo delusions ("Alfredo, Alfredo"), a myopic inmate of a penal colony ("Papillon") and, late last year, the reincarnation of controversial comedian Lenny Bruce "Lenny". All this has boosted his price per picture from the $20,000 he received for "The Graduate" into the $1,000,000 ball park, counting a piece of the box-office action. The money, in turn, allows him to hold out for the roles that genuinely intrigue him—next of which will cast him as Carl Bernstein, half of the reporter team that broke the Watergate scandal, in "All the President's Men." (The other member of the duo, Bob Woodward, will be played by Robert Redford.) Never a big spender, Hoffman has allowed himself one extravagance: the purchase of an East Side New York brownstone furnished with his main indulgence, antique furniture. There he lives with his ballerina wife, Anne—she's a guest dancer with the Andre Eglevsky Ballet Company and teaches at both the New Jersey and the New York Schools of Ballet—and two children, girls aged eight and four. (The elder is Anne's daughter by a previous marriage.) Hoffman's devotion to his work and family is approached only by his loyalty to his friends—mostly old friends, such as Hackman and Murray Schisgal, the playwright whose farce "All Over Town" Hoffman spent most of last summer and fall nurturing into a late-December New York opening. Schisgal hadn't had a big success since "Lav," and Hoffman believed part of the reason was inadequate direction. So he took on the job himself, making his Broadway directorial debut—having, with typical Hoffman perfectionism, auditioned more than 1500 actors to fill the script's 18 roles. The work paid off: "All Over Town," after a shaky start in Washington, met with immediate critical success on Broadway. New York Times critic Clive Barnes described Hoffman as working "with all the aplomb of a master chef whipping up a soufflé." To find out what makes Dustin run, Playboy assigned free-lance writer Richard Meryman—whose interview with retired Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Elmo Zumwalt appeared in our June 1974 issue—to track down Hoffman. It wasn't easy. First he was incommunicado, soaking up background—and then shooting on location—for his role in "Lenny." Then there was the casting for the play. Finally, Meryman pinned down his quarry in New York. His report: "We met at a Manhattan sound studio, to which Hoffman had earlier run from his home, for the exercise. He dried himself off with paper towels, finished a final dubbing chore for "Lenny" and we started off for his office building, walking—loping would be a better term—through the constant spontaneous theater afforded by New York City streets. Hoffman was wearing dark glasses, faded blue bell-bottom jeans, white tennis sneakers. Struck between his belt and his back was a large envelope someone had thrust into his hand. "Very soon it was clear that Hoffman was constantly, involuntarily at work, filing away every sight and sound as grist to be used in some present or future professional mill. We passed a shoeshine parlor and Hoffman said, 'Hey, there's a Hainsworth'—one of the characters, a black homosexual businessman, in the Schisgal play. Hoffman went into the shop and asked the portly man, who continued to strop his customer's shoes, if he had ever acted. The shoeshine man, impassive, said he hadn't, but Hoffman talked him into reading for the part, anyway. The customer, who had been staring at Hoffman, asked: 'You ever been an actor?' Hoffman, nodding gravely: 'Yeah.' "We stopped at a shop frequented by Hoffman. Heading toward a large, plain lady clerk, he called out: 'How you doing, Louise?' As customers stared, he hugged the lady—who towered over him—looking up and saying, warmly, 'Isn't she lovely? Look at her. Isn't she lovely?' Making his purchase, he called back cheerfully to the lady, who was now dimpling with pleasure: 'Promise, now. No sex until I see you next. You'll need your strength.' "Hurrying on down the street, Hoffman paused and wordlessly bought a bouquet of roses—destined, it turned out, for his secretary, Theresa Curtin—from a sidewalk vendor. We crossed another street and suddenly we heard voices screaming: 'I don't give a shit about----' 'Neither do I, you motherfucker!' 'I don't give two shits either, you lousy asshole.' A white cabby had nearly clipped a black bicyclist. 'Aw, go fuck yourself,' screamed the cabby, again menacing the cyclist with his taxi. The bike rider spat on the cab's hood, shouted, 'You're a fuckin' cock, man,' and pedaled off into the traffic. Hoffman, stopping rigid in his tracks, had focused his whole being on this street drama. Even after the combatants had departed, he remained motionless. Then he said, 'I loved it. You're not going to get a better lesson on how that scene should be played. Nobody was really acting tough. The guy on the bike was playing it, "I don't care. I don't even have to demean myself to talk to you." Stopping and spitting—that was a good move. I liked that. And what's most exciting, in dramatic terms, is that the fight does not take place. That's New York. Everybody's acting a part. It's all make-believe.' "By this time, we were near Hoffman's office. He pointed to a black man talking to somebody on the street. 'Your thought I was crazy, asking that shoeshine guy if he were an actor,' Hoffman said. 'But you know what that guy over there used to do? I asked him, and he used to be in the troupe that became Sammy Davis' Will Mastin Trio. Show me somebody who's in menial labor and I'll show you somebody who was an actor.' We passed into the lobby and entered that elevator. As we started up, I asked Hoffman if he had total recall of all the mannerisms and incidents he witnesses. He admitted, rather sadly, that sometimes he wishes he weren't always observing, that he could simply be in a scene, enjoying it. But that, apparently, is not Dustin Hoffman. Hoffman watches—and remembers. Although, he added, he has no memory for directions and frequently gets lost. Turning suddenly to a woman passenger, a total stranger, he inquired: 'Do you ever get lost?' She smiled, startled, wordless. The elevator door opened and Hoffman was off, pell-mell, with me in tow. "Hoffman's office, in a suite that he shares with his associate, actor Stanley Beck, is a jungle of hanging ivy and avocado plants, which Hoffman loves to root in glasses of water at home. Nearly every flat surface is piled with books: 'A Pictorial History of Burlesque,' Sören Kierkegaard's 'Either/Or,' Dave DeBusschere's 'The Open Man,' 'Your Child's Self-Esteem.' Hoffman's long, exquisite French Provincial desk is covered with papers, folders, scripts and such oddments as an antique cigar-cutting machine, lettered Hoffman House Cigars 5¢. At last, behind the desk, Hoffman sat down and we began to talk. Since ' Lenny,' his most recent motion picture, was uppermost in my mind, I started by asking him about his reactions to that role."
PLAYBOY: What made you want to play Lenny Bruce?
HOFFMAN: Actually, at first I turned the part down. I didn't think the script was strong enough and I wasn't sure I was the one to play the role.
HOFFMAN: I had never seen Lenny Bruce in real life, never been a fan of his. I remember, back when I was studying acting, the comedian my friends and I all liked was Jonathan Winters. He would improvise, he would be crazy. For us actors, Winters was number one. Of course, we saw him on television, and Bruce you never really saw on TV. There was this "in" group, though, always talking about Lenny Bruce, and sometimes they would bring his records over and I would listen to them, but I just didn't respond to him on records. The next time I remember hearing about Bruce was when Cliff Gorman opened in the Broadway show Lenny, and I went to see it. I thought he was just terrific, and when I was offered the film, I said, "Why don't you get Cliff Gorman? He'd do it better than I."
PLAYBOY: Did you really believe that?
HOFFMAN: Yes; he was so facile, doing all the voices. For some reason, I envied his performance. Besides, I didn't like the film script. They sent me two more scripts and I still didn't care for it.
PLAYBOY: What made you change your mind?
HOFFMAN: It was a combination of factors. For one thing, the scripts started getting better. For another, I have a great deal of respect for the director, Bob Fosse.
PLAYBOY: Did Fosse have to talk you into taking the part?
HOFFMAN: That's an understatement. He used to see me at a party or something—and here he was, an Emmy, Oscar and Tony award winner, surrounded by people who worshiped him—and he would literally get on his knees and crawl the length of the room to me, begging. He'd put his arms out, like Jolson doing Mammy, and say, "You gotta do it. You gotta do the part."
PLAYBOY: How long did this wooing go on?
HOFFMAN: Months. Finally, I said, "Well, all right," because I believed in Fosse and the direction he was going in. So I started studying up on Lenny, reading reams of interview material that somebody had done with his wife, Honey, and with friends of his, and I looked at the film United Artists has of him, and I read his autobiography. And I began to feel an affinity with him, a realization that there was a lot of Lenny Bruce in me. My wife felt it, too. She kept saying, "Do it, do it. You're going to be able to bring a lot of yourself to the part."
PLAYBOY: In what way are you alike?
HOFFMAN: He was an observer; he watched people, watched how they acted and worked things out in his head. And I loved the fact that he would work on the floor doing 12, 15 minutes of brand-new material, free-associating. He respected the jazz musicians in the night clubs where he played so much, people tell me, that he didn't want to bore them. So he'd do something different each night, to crack up the musicians. I realized that I'd have to make use of my own spontaneity, because he was so spontaneous. And I admired his guts. There was a time—Jeez, I wanted Bob to do this in the movie so bad, but it didn't work out—when Bruce had been busted for obscenity. There was a law that you could not use certain words on a stage—although there was no prohibition against them anywhere offstage. This particular place he was playing, there was a door offstage, leading to the street. So Lenny asked for a 16-foot microphone cord, and when he began his act, he said to the audience, "As you know, I was busted for obscenity and I'm not allowed to use certain words onstage, but . . ." and he opened the door and walked outside, trailing the cord. The cops are in the room, waiting to write him up, and he's walking on the street—Sunset Boulevard or something—with this mike, talking very softly into it: "Shit, piss, motherfucker, cunt"—and it's coming out on the night-club floor! But they couldn't bust him. I thought, "Isn't that lovely?" He really won me. So I went out to California and to Las Vegas, where his mother and his friends were, and started talking with them, getting insights. I said to some of them, "It seems as though most of the time when Lenny did his stuff, it was as if you were in his home—that he was sitting on the bed, sitting on the toilet, talking to his friends, kind of bullshitting, rapping." And they came back with, "Yeah. Exactly that." And I said, "Gee, that's lovely. That intimacy is what an actor tries to get." They told me that Lenny would take long pauses—several minutes, really—just thinking onstage. And it suddenly hit me that that's exactly the kind of comedian I would choose to be—to really take time to find at that moment what is interesting. It occurred to me that if I had known him, I would have wanted us to be friends.
PLAYBOY: But wasn't there a cruel side to Lenny Bruce as well?
HOFFMAN: Yes, in the sense of a selfish side. That is in all of us and we act it out to varying degrees. He set things up. In the film, we have the situation where he talks Honey into having a sexual experience with another girl. And then, afterward, he accuses her of being a dyke. He was a tester, a heavyweight tester. Well, I've never done anything that extreme, but I'm something of a tester, too. And he was a provocateur, and I love to provoke.
PLAYBOY: Can you give us an example of your provocation?
HOFFMAN: Well, I was always a fan of Candid Camera, because it caught human beings in wonderfully farcical, absurd kinds of behavior. When I was a kid, my father and I used to be on the floor, literally in tears at some of the stuff they did. So when I grew up and went to work—I had all kinds of crazy jobs—I used to set up Candid Camera-type situations. To put people on.
PLAYBOY: How did you manage that?
HOFFMAN: I worked behind the counter at Macy's, and when a woman would come up and ask me directions or something, I would say to her: "What do you have in that bag? Let me please see the contents of that bag. I was watching you and I think you slipped something into your bag." That wasn't true, of course. I just wanted to get her angry. I had a microphone that I used to wear around my neck, because I was demonstrating games. It was attached to a small speaker. But when I was pulling one of those Candid Camera stunts, I'd hide the mike. The lady would be getting outraged. "Where's the manager? I've never been talked to like this in all my life. How dare you accuse me?" And just at that point, I would reveal this microphone and I'd point to some far wall and say, "You're on Candid Camera. There's a camera back there." And she would turn. You'd see that marvelous change in behavior. "Me? Oh, my God!" And I'd take her name down and everything. Of course, she must have wondered why she never saw it on TV. I think Lenny Bruce might have dug that.
PLAYBOY: It's been said of Bruce that he was wracked with guilt feelings. Are you?
HOFFMAN: Guilt? Before I was cast in The Graduate, an actor friend I used to hang around with said to me—I always looked like a slob—"Jeez, you're never going to get work unless you look right." So when I finally got a part on Naked City and was paid $500, I spent $150 of it on a Burberry coat. When I tried it on, I was literally sweating. I had never spent so much money on myself before. I went to pay for it and I was trembling. Such luxury! When I walked out with the coat, I was almost swooning. I felt faint. I took one step out the door—and everything went black in front of me! I looked and I could see that block after block was black. And I thought—I really did—"I'm being punished." What it was was the night of the big blackout.
PLAYBOY: Did you read Albert Goldman's book Ladies and Gentlemen—Lenny Bruce!! before you started shooting?
HOFFMAN: No, it came out a couple of days after we finished. I tried to get the manuscript from Goldman, though. I talked to him on the phone and I said, "I understand you wrote a book. I would love to see it." He was quite cold to me, as if to say, "You want a story, kid, you'll have to pay for it." I said, "I'm not out to steal anything for the film; if you were really interested in him, I would think you would want someone who is going to play the role to be as well rounded as possible." But I got nowhere.
PLAYBOY: When you were researching Lenny, who were some of the people you talked to about him?
HOFFMAN: I hung out with his mother, Sally, for a month. Somebody had told me, "You want to know Lenny? Watch the mother. That's Lenny—his gestures, his hands, his rhythm. In order to know Lenny, just move in with Sally."
HOFFMAN: No, no, but I was with her practically every day and with other people who lived in the same apartment complex. Jo Jo D'Amore—he was a friend of Lenny's. And Frank Benedetto, an actor, who later became my stand-in for the movie. And I began talking with them, and they liked me, and Sally really opened doors for me, introducing me to people. She and I went to Las Vegas and she introduced me to Shecky Greene, Buddy Hackett, Jackie Gayle. Many times they'd say that I reminded them of Lenny. At first I thought they were just kind of flattering me, but they said, "No, he was like you. Kind of quiet, always liked to listen." I began to realize that they were talking about someone who was totally unlike what I'd read in the press. All the press had said about Lenny Bruce was that he was a vulgar comedian with a dirty mouth. These people, friends of his, were talking about a man who was quite human, whatever his frailties. You can tell, the way people talk about him, that he must have been a kind person. People really loved him—and still do. And he was very seductive; they said he could con anybody out of anything. Anything. This ability to be seductive, it's a key thing. I used it. In fact, I haven't given it up. I've decided to keep it.
PLAYBOY: The public is duly warned. Who else did you talk to? Did you locate Lenny's wife?
HOFFMAN: Oh, yes. She lives outside San Francisco, in Martin County, and she and this guy travel around, selling stuff to head shops. Hash pipes, jewelry, things like that. We had a nice talk, or three nice talks. I interviewed her three times. But I didn't ask her very many personal things; I didn't feel like prying, really. She's attractive, keeps herself in good shape. Honey is pretty much the way Valerie Perrine plays her in the movie. I think.
PLAYBOY: And was Lenny Bruce pretty much the way Dustin Hoffman plays him in the movie?
HOFFMAN: Yes, I believe he was. Those critics who said I was unconvincing—I think they got all their ideas about Lenny Bruce from reading Goldman's book. You might ask the real friends of Lenny Bruce what they think of Goldman. Of course, it's terrifying to play a real person. Somebody like Ratso Rizzo in Midnight Cowboy—who's to challenge your interpretation? He's a fictitious character.
PLAYBOY: Are Ratso and Lenny in any way related?
HOFFMAN: No, not really. Only in the sense that Lenny is the best role I've had since Midnight Cowboy. Or they may be related in the sense that Ratso represents that part of myself that feels inadequate, fraudulent; and Lenny is that part of myself that feels important, unique.
PLAYBOY: A moment ago, you said it was terrifying to play a real person. If it frightens you to play a real person who's dead, such as Lenny Bruce, how do you feel about playing a real person who's very much alive, such as Carl Bernstein in the movie you're making with Robert Redford, All the President's Men?
HOFFMAN: All the President's Men will be a different challenge, certainly. Usually, it's the character in a film that interests me. I still haven't met Bernstein, but this time it's the whole subject that gets me. I love all that intrigue; Eric Ambler, but it's real. And it's sort of a good step after Lenny.
PLAYBOY: In what way?
HOFFMAN: I'd done some films that were pretty much just entertainment, and then Lenny I think said some important things, about him and the way society reacted to his sort of attack. I mean, he scared a lot of people. They wanted him gone. I want to do more of that, saying things through my work. All the President's Men is important because nobody must be allowed to forget what happened under Nixon. Once the noise dies down, it could happen all over again. We almost had an invisible dictatorship. But it's also an exciting property and a good part! I'm afraid that's the real reason I'm doing it.
PLAYBOY: Are you a political person?
HOFFMAN: Not really. As an actor, you have to examine your motives, because it is so easy for an actor, who is trained in conning people, to transfer that ability to real life. I've got to admit that some of me worked for McCarthy, McGovern, Ramsey Clark, Allard Lowenstein and others because all of that free exposure kept me in the public eye. But I also did my little thing for McCarthy, McGovern and the rest, because I agreed with their ideas and I thought they were honest men—which is rare in politics. I mean, I don't think what Nixon did was all that surprising; what was amazing was that he got caught. And what was most amazing was that we elected him twice. I think, finally, one can be political in my line of work and yet be honest. Do what you believe in, but at the same time know that self-promotion is a part of it. But the best thing I can do is say things through my work—like this film with Redford.
PLAYBOY: Are you friends?
HOFFMAN: Friendly. My wife, Anne, and I are big fans of the New York Knicks, and so are the Redfords. We met the Redfords through Dave DeBusschere, and we've had, you know, like four dinners in four years. And recently, I've had several long breakfasts with Redford, talking about the film. He really cares. I like Redford—even if he is one of the good-lookers.
PLAYBOY: How are you preparing for your role as Bernstein? Redford told us he'd spent some time hanging around the Washington Post newsroom, getting an idea of what makes Woodward tick.
HOFFMAN: I'll spend a lot of time there, too. I haven't had time to plan yet—but, in a way, that's another reason I want to do the film. It will be an excuse to read, talk to a lot of people—find out how the press really works. I love the feel of researching something that actually happened—that, in a way, is still going on.
PLAYBOY: You have earned a reputation for doing more research, more preparation for each role than other actors. Is that reputation justified?
HOFFMAN: I don't really know. I guess I'm manic about my research, but it's my way of keeping fresh. In creating a character, I try to build a framework for myself. Then I can allow myself to run around inside it and be spontaneous. Sometimes the purest moments in film come out of that sort of spontaneity. There's a scene in On the Waterfront with Marlon Brando that ends with Eva Marie Saint's walking toward a church. During one of the takes, she inadvertently dropped one of her gloves. As the scene ended, Brando casually picked up the glove while waiting for the next take. Elia Kazan, the director, in his genius, whispered to the cameraman, "Keep shooting." And Brando, thinking he was waiting for the scene to be set up again, idly tried the glove on. Suddenly, we have that great contradiction: this boxer, this guy with the Mafia background, trying on a lady's glove. It's one of the great moments in the picture.
PLAYBOY: Can you think of any spontaneous incidents that have contributed to your own films?
HOFFMAN: In Cowboy, there was a moment that was pure. I was crossing the street with Jon Voight; we were being filmed by a hidden camera, and in costume we weren't recognizable. And a taxicab almost hit us. I got very angry, because I got scared—but I didn't break out of character. I got angry as Ratso, and I started hitting the cab on the hood, yelling, "I'm walkin' here! I'm walkin' here!" It was the very essence of what I wanted to convey about Ratso—his dignity. We may see him as a low-life, but he asserts himself. And I think people recognized the truth of it. After Cowboy was released, people on the street would yell at me, "Hey, Ratso." And I'd turn around and they'd holler, "I'm walkin' here! I'm walkin' here!"
PLAYBOY: To them, Ratso had become a real person?
HOFFMAN: Yes, and that's an actor's goal when he portrays a character—to personalize him and to elevate him. That's why I love comedians so much, because the really good ones become quite personal. Take Bill Cosby talking about his old grade school teacher with the chalk in his pocket. The glory of it is that it reaches everyone, when it's specific, when it's detailed, because you have your own memories of a guy at the blackboard with chalk in his pocket. No one here has had that teacher in school except Cosby, and yet we immediately recognize him, because Cosby has caught the essence. As an actor, that's your job: to put the chalk in the pocket. Sometimes you miss. But you take the risk. That's one of the things I admire about Brando. He takes risks. He was miscast in Godfather—totally miscast. I mean, he's not the kind of person you would think of casting as an elderly Italian Syndicate leader. So what does he do? He tries for some strange effects, putting cotton in his mouth, putting his voice up in a very strange register, and it's terrific, because it's so far from himself and yet he brought it home. It was real character work.
PLAYBOY: Do you feel that there is more demand for character actors, like yourself, today than for the matinee-idol type?
HOFFMAN: I think it's all shit, that the times are right for a homely person. You look at any of the films of the Thirties, the Forties, with Bogart or Tracy. There were many character actors playing leads before me. There was just that stretch in the Fifties and early Sixties, when everybody had that handsome, boyish look. I could be arrogant enough, though, to say that my time should have been in the Twenties, in the silents. I might have been able to do more then, in terms of creating a character: a Keaton character, a Chaplin character.
PLAYBOY: But don't you sometimes secretly long to be a leading man?
HOFFMAN: There's really no such thing. I've been studying acting for almost 20 years and certain things have stayed with me. One of them is what Lee Strasberg always said: "There is no such thing as a leading man. There are no leading men in life. Every person is a character. When you say, 'Gee, that guy is like a leading man,' he immediately becomes a character."
PLAYBOY: What other things from your studies have stayed with you?
HOFFMAN: I've never forgotten something Mike Nichols said when we were working on The Graduate. I was tired one day; I guess I was sloughing off. It happens. That day, I just didn't give a shit. Fuck it. I'm tired. And Mike says, "This is the one day we're given to shoot this scene and this is going to be on celluloid for the rest of our lives. I know that you're tired, but when you go to see this film, if you don't like your work in this scene, you'll always remember that this was the day you screwed off."
PLAYBOY: Does the hard work always pay off? Or do you feel that sometimes you've failed with a picture?
HOFFMAN: There are all kinds of failure, you know: economic failure, when you feel you did a good job and the public just isn't interested in the picture. Then there's another kind, where you feel you did bad work but the film is a big hit. The money's rolling in. Well, sure, one wants money, but I'd rather do good work and have it fail than do bad work and have it succeed.
PLAYBOY: When do you think you did bad work?
HOFFMAN: I wouldn't mind telling you, but I don't want to rap any directors in print; they all try their best.
PLAYBOY: Could you tell us when you personally failed in spite of the lovely job done by the director?
HOFFMAN: I don't think I've really failed in anything I've done. I may have overacted, I may have made mistakes, but not failed. In Little Big Man, for instance, I had difficulty nailing down the character for myself; I felt I just kept popping in and out of characters. John and Mary wasn't my favorite film. I think The Graduate is a very well-made film; I think Cowboy is a very good film; I think Lenny is a very good film. Straw Dogs had some interesting stuff. I think Alfredo, Alfredo, for what it is, is a very good film, although not all the critics thought so. know, I did Alfredo because they told me I could do it in Italian. I had a tutor, was studying Italian. But they lied to me and I had to do it in English. The film did very well in Italy, though, and I was accepted as an Italian. Then The New York Times reviewed it and said I was no way believable as an Italian. I met Fellini recently and he told me he loved what I did in Alfredo. I told him what the Times had said and he gestured with his hands and said, "Stronzo! Stronzo!"—which means shit. I think I'll choose Fellini to be my critic.
PLAYBOY: How do you feel about critics?
HOFFMAN: I don't really respect them. They've never met you, yet they develop very specific feelings about you. I mean, everybody likes to get good reviews. It's just another stay of execution, as far as I'm concerned. You still have to look forward to the worst, which will come maybe with the next review, when it will finally be revealed to all, including yourself, that you are a fraud. As you suspected all along. I've had my share of bad reviews. The critics murdered me from here to Sunday on Papillon.
PLAYBOY: What was your opinion of Papillon?
HOFFMAN: I thought at times my work didn't quite cut right. It was too worked at; you could see the work. But there were a couple of scenes at the end—like with the pigs—when I nailed the character. No such character as Dega ever existed; he was put together from three or four people in Charriére's book, so I just tried to paint him with my imagination. Dalton Trumbo came up with the thick glasses. When I wore them, I had no peripheral vision; if I wanted to step down, say, off a curb, I had to look down. For days I wore them out on the streets of Manhattan, getting the feel of them, and one day somebody said, "Jeez, your mouth is hanging open. Are you catching flies?" I hadn't even been aware of it. Well, I learned from that experience. You can't really create more than is there on paper, in the script. If Dega had been the main character, not Papillon, the camera would have shown you what Dega saw through those glasses; that the man was almost blind. So here I'm doing all that work and it's not supported by the text; so it comes across to some as mannered and gimmicky. So I learned not to build more of a character than they tell me the text can support.
PLAYBOY: How did the film do at the box office?
HOFFMAN: Oh, Jesus, it's huge. It's already over $45,000,000, people tell me.
PLAYBOY: Did you always have a gut feeling that you would be a success?
HOFFMAN: There was a time when success, to me, meant just being able to work, being employed as an actor. After all, before The Graduate, I had spent nearly 10 years knocking about New York, working at every kind of odd job imaginable.
PLAYBOY: Such as?
HOFFMAN: You name it. I used to get jobs through Actors' Equity, through Manpower—that's a temporary-employment agency. One time I was working on fund raising, for muscular dystrophy or leukemia or something. I remember the money better than the job; they paid a buck and a half an hour. The office was on Flatbush Avenue and I used to ride my scooter—I had a scooter then—over the Williamsburg Bridge. We had a bunch of phone books with the listings by blocks, and we'd call people up and ask them to be the head person to collect money in their tenement. Another time I worked over in the florist district stringing leis, putting little Hawaiian orchids together with wires. I had to quit after a couple of days, because I was getting all cut up with the wires. One of the more interesting jobs I had was reorganizing the morgue for Time interviews.
PLAYBOY: How did that come about?
HOFFMAN: Well, when they moved to their new building, they hired 100 or so of us, all actors from Equity, to go through their files and put all the biographical clippings in new envelopes. We had to get it done in a couple of weeks, so they were paying a lot of money—like $2.50 an hour—and we were working many, many hours. The files had gotten screwed up over the years and you'd come across a lot of famous names, wrong people in the wrong envelopes. So we put the right people in the right envelopes. And during the newspaper strike, Modell's—the Army and Navy store—paid me $15 to dress up in a Paul Revere outfit and read the news down at Times Square. That was like acting, yelling out the news and weather. I enjoyed it. With the 15 bucks, I bought myself a war-surplus jacket from Modell's.
PLAYBOY: Were any of your other jobs like acting?
HOFFMAN: The way I operated, they all were. I was a waiter, for example—a lousy one, always getting fired. But I'd put on a French accent, just to practice, to fool people. I don't speak French, and sometimes I'd get caught. Someone would ask me a question in French and I'd just have to wing it, tell him I was trying to learn English and would prefer not to speak in French. Usually I got away with it.
PLAYBOY: Why were you always getting fired?
HOFFMAN: A waiter is treated especially badly by people and I had a tendency to strike back, with humor. I'd give the customers some smartassed remark. But if I knew I was about to be fired, I'd go all out to get fired in style. One place, Rudley's—it was where Gulf & Western is now—had a terrible food selection, but it did have good paper-thin steaks. I had been told I could have anything I wanted for lunch, and one day, when the boss had left, I told the new chef I wanted a paper-thin steak for lunch. And then I ordered another, and another. I kept asking for more until I had eaten 12 of them. When the boss got back, I got my walking papers. But I thought it was a good way to go. At the Village Gate, where I also worked as a waiter, I got canned because I'd get wiped out listening to the music and I'd never get the drinks to the table. Then, during the run of Rhinoceros at the Longacre Theater, I checked coats. Met some very interesting people that way.
HOFFMAN: I remember Eleanor Roosevelt; I checked a big white ermine coat for her. She never cracked a smile, but there was something about her: an aura. She radiated. And Milton Berle came in one time and I watched him watching the play. He scrunched down in his seat with his knees up, the way a little kid does sometimes. He could barely see over the top of the seat in front of him. It was like he was five years old. I was always tired then, because I was working at the theater nights and typing for the Yellow Pages during the day.
PLAYBOY: Typing for the Yellow Pages?
HOFFMAN: Yes, for Reuben H. Donnelley, the people who print the phone book. We had to type all those things out on a sheet. Don't ask me what, I don't want to remember. I was the only guy there, with 70 or 80 girls in a room, and I would act up. Jesus, I was terrible. I'd pass notes and carry on. I was dirty, I was dirty.
HOFFMAN: I don't know, really. There were a lot of New York Catholic girls there and I wanted to taunt them for some reason. I always had this desire to strike when I saw a vulnerable area. One day they had an atom-bomb drill and we were all supposed to go out and stand in the hall. We were, like, on the 16th floor on Lexington Avenue, and I couldn't see the purpose of standing in the hall on the 16th floor. If the bomb's going to be dropped, you'll die in the hall just as surely as in your chair. I refused to get up and these girls—who were like cattle in the sense that they'd always do what they were told—couldn't believe it. But I just sat there. I said, "I'm not moving." My heart was pounding, I'll tell you, because I knew it was my ass. I needed the job.
PLAYBOY: What happened?
HOFFMAN: I was reported and the boss called me in. He was one of the Hartford station-wagon boys, with a wife named Grace, kids Scott and Kimberley, and a dog, Spot or Prince. Well, I tried to impress him with the fact that I was bright and he caught that and started telling me he had a son just like me. He started swearing a little bit: "Those goddamned drills, I don't blame you, they're just a bunch of shit ..." and he said shit with a wink, you know, and I caught the drift. He wanted to win me. I guess it was a step toward breaking the alienation I suppose existed between him and his son. He talked to me about 40 minutes, and when I came out, there were all the girls, waiting like spectators at a hanging, to see me get mine. So I put a big grin on my face going out the door, and I said to the boss, "Right, OK, OK, well, thanks a lot"—practically calling him Ralph, you know, and maybe someday we'll play some golf. I mean, that was my best moment. I had had 50 jobs, maybe, up to that point, and that was my finest hour, walking back to my typewriter past all those shocked faces.
PLAYBOY: What other jobs did you use as springboards to stardom?
HOFFMAN: I had a lot of fun working in department stores. Gene Hackman is a good friend of mine and he helped me pull off a couple of stunts. One time, when I was demonstrating toys at Macy's—where I did those Candid Camera stunts—Gene was unemployed and he came in with his kid, Christopher. I guess he was about two years old then. You know, people around Christmas are really crazy, buying things. They're like they're playing slot machines. They just go by and feel things and say, "How much?" with this glazed look in their eyes. So when Gene set Christopher down on the counter, I sold him—for $16.95, as a walking, talking doll with real hair. And a lady said, "I'll take him," and went to touch him. When she felt the real flesh she jumped back: "Aaggh!" Then there was the time Gene helped me impress a girl. I was in Macy's toy department then, too, demonstrating hockey games, and I had my eye on this girl named Elaine. Her best friend was Barbra Streisand, who was only about 16 then. Anyway, Elaine worked demonstrating tape recorders. This one day, I had a date with her for lunch, but I was on a hot selling streak, and I didn't want to lose a sale. So Gene showed up and I asked him to keep her entertained for a few minutes. Suddenly, I got an inspiration: "Gene, make believe you're a degenerate or something, so I can save her from you and make a big impression."
PLAYBOY: And did he?
HOFFMAN: Gene put a big, dopey-looking grin on his face and moved in on her where she was demonstrating the tape recorders, saying, "Why don't you have lunch with me?" He was dressed so badly, looked like such a creep that customers moved away. When I went over, I gave him a couple of shoves before I realized he was playing it like a brain-damaged character. Elaine said, "Please, Dustin, just ignore him. He's a sick man." So we go down the escalator and she grabs my arm—it's very crowded, Christmastime—and says, "He's following us." And there he is, watching us with that dumb grin and slowly pushing people out of the way like a big bear. Follows us all the way into the employees' cafeteria. There, we have an audience. You have to understand, we were frustrated actors, out of work. I start yelling, "Get your ass out of here, fella, and stop bothering this girl," and shoving Gene around. Which is great. I'm five feet, six, and he's over six feet. And I pull him into the men's room, and when we get inside, we break up. We're yelling, "Uh! Uh! Oow! Ooow!" and pounding the walls, and the place is full of guys holding their cocks in their hands and looking at us like we're crazy. And we mess each other up a little bit, pull shirttails out and stuff, and go back out. Gene goes, "Uh, uh, uh," and Elaine bursts out crying. Then Gene does a brilliant thing: He starts up the down escalator. Elaine is crying: "How could you do it? The poor man is sick." And when Gene and I start laughing and she realizes it's all an act, she just runs off. It was a solid one-acter; lasted about 45 minutes.
PLAYBOY: What inspired Gene to play the scene as if he were mentally disturbed?
HOFFMAN: The crazy character always gets the best reviews. But I was the one who had worked in a mental hospital.
PLAYBOY: Where was that?
HOFFMAN: It was New York Psychiatric Institute, which was affiliated with Columbia University. It was a state hospital and yet it really was like a private hospital. No amount of money could get you in; what admitted you to that hospital was that you were an interesting case, something that would provide good training for the young doctors who were doing their residencies. Every patient had his own room and every patient saw a doctor almost every day. It was a great experience for me. All my life I had wanted to get inside a prison or a mental hospital, like most kids want to go to a zoo. I wanted to get inside where behavior, human behavior, was so exposed. All the things the rest of us were feeling and stopping up were coming out of these people, as if through their pores. I used to go home—I was living with Bobby Duvall and a bunch of opera singers on 109th Street and Broadway—and develop characterizations for them, based on real people. I was about 21 then.
PLAYBOY: What did your job entail?
HOFFMAN: I was an attendant, which meant that I went to work every morning at six-thirty or seven and worked all day, eight or nine hours, cleaning up the patients' mess, their excrement, playing Scrabble, cards, ping-pong with them; taking them to hydrotherapy, to workshops, to dances, playing volleyball. I played piano for some of them, like the Doctor. The Doctor had been a brilliant pathologist at the hospital, but he had had two or three strokes and had been reduced to less than a child. He had to be fed, changed. His wife was a doctor, too, and every day she would come to visit him at lunchtime. You could see they'd had a terrific marriage. She'd always ask, "Did he eat? How's his appetite?" She never gave up hope. He could talk only in gibberish, like baby talk. "Gegadabadoo?" he'd say. And I'd say back to him, "Vegavegava." And he'd laugh. But, anyway, I'd play the piano for him. He loved the song Goodnight, Irene. He could almost sing it: "Goo-nigh, Irene, goo." And one day he was sitting on the sofa, singing, and suddenly the door opened and he stopped. It was his wife. And he stood up—he'd never done that before—and rushed toward her, shuffling as best he could, and they met midway in the room, like in a movie. He was crying. I'd never seen him cry before. Crying buckets. And she asked, "What is it?" And he looked at her and there was a moment of such lucidity in his face; he was totally focused. And he said, "I can't. I can't. I can't." And I broke down. I quit soon after that. I couldn't do it anymore. But I'll never forget that scene. You put it in a movie and nobody would believe it. I might put it in a movie, though, at that. He's dead now, and to be able to make him live again, even in a film, would be nice.
PLAYBOY: During all this time, did you get any work in the theater?
HOFFMAN: Some. Some. A little TV. I taught acting classes in an unused dance studio. I directed a community-theater group in New Jersey. And I taught acting at the Boys' Club up in the East Bronx. It was like The Blackboard Jungle at first, literally. Chairs were being thrown around. So I used to set up scenes, improvisations, give the kids a chance to work out their emotions. I'd give them a word and they'd make up a scene. I'd say, "Spaceship" or "Football," and then, after a couple of minutes, change to another word, such as UN. They'd improvise the first thing that came to their minds. One day I saw some posters in the school advertising Brotherhood Week. There were these two kids—one was black and the other was Puerto Rican—and I gave them the word brotherhood to play on. They were stopped for a minute. Suddenly, the black kid says to the P.R. kid, "Hey, man, where's that five dollars you owe me?" And the P.R. kid says, "Hey, man, I don't owe you no five dollars." And back and forth they went: "No, man, aw, shit, I don't owe you no fuckin' five dollars." I'm trying to think what this has to do with brotherhood. I thought maybe they were going to put their arms around each other and say something corny. Then finally the black kid says, "Look, sucker, you give me that five dollars you owe me or I'm going to get my big brother to kick the shit out of you." And that was Brotherhood Week.
PLAYBOY: How old were the kids in the class?
HOFFMAN: The youngest was seven, eight, the oldest about 15. Some of them were really naturals, very talented.
PLAYBOY: How about you? Were you a natural actor at that age?
HOFFMAN: I never thought of being an actor when I was a kid. I was more of a comedian. By the time I was four, maybe even three, I had already become a clown.
PLAYBOY: Why was that?
HOFFMAN: I think it was because I was the baby of the family, the youngest of the five people living in the household. There was my brother, Ronny, my mother, my father, my grandmother and me, and I was always pushing out to get attention. I think I was born stubborn. They tell me that I refused to eat for almost two weeks after I was born and my mother had to go home from the hospital without me while the doctors changed formulas until they finally hit on something I would drink. Anyway, my brother was a serious young man who was an A student in school. I, from the beginning, was getting kicked out for disrupting my class. The first grade I was kicked out of—I was kicked out of a number of them—might have been the fourth. Third grade, even. I would take my dog to school, right into the classroom, just to see what the reaction would be. He was a Scottish terrier named Sandy. And I would daydream and the teachers would be furious. My children have wonderful teachers, the ones I've met. I remember my own teachers as being terrible and old and cruel. One day we were studying geography, something about the Rocky Mountains. And the teacher knew my mind was wandering and she asked suddenly: "Dusty, what is the name of those mountains?" Some kid in back of me, looking to get me, whispered, "George Washington." And I said, "The George Washington Mountains." Of course, the whole class went into hysterics, and I had this terrible feeling of humiliation—and at the same time I was delighted. Here I was, being completely wrong, getting a bad mark, being disciplined—and at the same time getting some perverse enjoyment out of it, because it made everybody laugh and I was the focus of attention. Soon after that, I started getting kicked out of class a lot.
HOFFMAN: I would engineer things. I'd say, "When the clock hits 24 after one, everybody drop your books." And the other kids would pass it on and at 24 minutes after one you'd hear this tremendous crash as 30 books hit the floor. The teacher would turn from the blackboard and say, "Hoffman, go to the vice-principal's office." She just knew I was back of it. As I said, I didn't have any definite feelings about being an actor then—I never took an acting course until I was in college, and then just as an easy way to earn a credit—but, looking back, I realize that my fondest memories of school are of those things that were oral. Roll call was one of the big points of the day for me. You could hear your own name called and you could say "Here." I always wondered about the guys who said "Present." I always thought they were kissasses. Some of the guys would say "Yo." They were the gentiles, I guess. That was the real gentile world, the "yo" world.
PLAYBOY: How did you get along with the girls in your class?
HOFFMAN: I was quite adventurous when I was five or six. I mean, in terms of playing doctor, show and look and see and smell and touch. Today, it remains my favorite game. And getting in bed. I have great memories of all that; it has not since been equaled, actually. Those were real orgies. Three or four of us. And sometimes the family dog. In junior high school, suddenly I became cute—because I was the shortest kid in school. I got the part of Tiny Tim in my school Christmas play, because when they lined us all up, I was the shortest. Once a week, instead of gym, we had dance class. That was in the seventh, eighth grade. I felt uncomfortable because I was so short. So I'd just sit and watch while everybody picked partners, and then I'd go over to the one girl nobody had asked to dance, the most unattractive girl, the heaviest one or the gawkiest one, and ask her. I would really enjoy that.
PLAYBOY: Because you were making her feel good?
HOFFMAN: That and the fact that we were being laughed at. I kinda liked that. I much preferred it to being ignored.
PLAYBOY: Did anything begin to happen for you in high school?
HOFFMAN: No. I was never able to make the bridge from "He's cute" to "He's sexy." I tried. I tried. I was very selective. It had to be a girl. I remember dialing the phone and not being able to get to the last digit, I was so afraid of rejection. And I was extremely horny. There was nothing else on my mind. I could not get through a conversation with a girl, because I was just all X-ray eyes—you know, trying to see through her clothing.
PLAYBOY: What did you look like?
HOFFMAN: I was short, as I said. I had braces. And I was all nose. My nose seemed to be all over my face. If people think it's big now, it was the same size when I was a kid, and the rest of my face was half the size it is now. It's filled out since. I can remember being so self-conscious about my nose that if I was talking to a girl in the schoolyard at lunch or something. I made sure I was talking to her full on. And I'd never walk away in profile. One time in English we had to give book reports and I picked Gene Fowler's biography of Jimmy Durante, Schnozzola. I loved that book; it was so moving. Presenting my book report, I started to talk to the class about Durante's nose and how it was so painful for him in his early years—and suddenly I broke down, right in front of the class. Could not go on. I started to sweat all over and tears were streaming down my face. I remember hearing some of the kids laugh. And I ran out of class; I didn't go back to school the rest of the day. I guess that was one time I got more attention than I'd bargained for.
PLAYBOY: You've told us several stories about your need for attention. Do you relate that need entirely to the fact that you were the youngest in your family? Was your family situation unusually competitive?
HOFFMAN: Well, my father has always been a very competitive person and I would say my mother is, too. My father and mother and brother and grandmother went out from Chicago to Los Angeles before I was born. My father got a job digging ditches along the Hollywood Freeway. And he worked as a prop man for Columbia Pictures. He got my brother into pictures—he was an extra in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington when he was three or four. Dad was a great hustler, and I mean it in the best sense. He was not a dishonest man; I mean, he hustled in terms of trying to get ahead, working his way through night school to become an accountant, and so forth. His father had died going back to Russia, trying to get his parents out; he was killed by the Bolsheviks. My father, who was, I think, the oldest of three or four children, became the head of the family at 13. He went to work then, tending bar. He was very ambitious, a very hard worker. He brought us up to get our work done first; then we'd have time to play. He's still competitive. I can't beat him in tennis yet. He's five feet, two, a hell of a tennis player. Plays with Pancho Segura.
PLAYBOY: Both of your parents are alive?
HOFFMAN: Yes; they just bought a home at La Costa, which is a big tennis community. He's very health-oriented. Likes to drink his beer, though. When he comes to New York, he always wants to go with me to McSorley's, and we'll sit by the potbellied stove and drink beer and eat cheese. Last time, a couple of years ago, we were tying it on a little bit at McSorley's and I said, "I got your number, Dad. I know what you really want. I know what your ambition is." And he said, "What?" And I said, "You just want to outlive Ronny and me." And he got all red. I think I nailed him. Not that he wants my brother and me to die young. He'd love us to go to 80, 90. He just wants to be around himself.
PLAYBOY: You've started your own family now. Do you see yourself operating in any of the same ways your own father did?
HOFFMAN: Not really. I'm not saying that I didn't have some of the old Victorian attitude, that your wife takes over from your mother and cooks for you and takes care of you and raises your kids and lets you go out and beat your chest and make your mark in the world. When we were first married, Anne moved around with me wherever I went. Lately, she's been working herself, dancing, and I love the fact that she has her own life. When she goes away and dances. I'm home with the kids. I like trading that responsibility. But I know, if she had not demanded an equal artistic life, it would not have happened for her. I hope our children feel that there is an equality between Anne and myself.
PLAYBOY: How did you meet Anne?
HOFFMAN: I was rooming with Maurice Stern, who is a very fine opera singer, and playing the piano—for fun, not pay—at the Improvisation, over on 44th Street. People in music, in show business go over there to try out their new routines. Maurice used to take classes in sculpture at Carnegie Hall. He was a sculptor, too. And he'd go across the street from Carnegie Hall to do his laundry. Maurice could always seek out the good-looking girls and he told me. "Dustbone," he said, "this laundromat has beautiful girls."
HOFFMAN: Oh, people used to call me Dustbone. I think Duvall initiated it. Anyway, it turned out the girls at this laundromat were ballet dancers out of work. Anne worked there. And Maurice met her and he came home and told me, "There's this beautiful girl and I tested her." He always tested them. He would empty out his laundry and ask the girl if she would put it in the machine, and if she touched his dirty underwear, he figured she liked him. Then he'd take her out. But if Maurice couldn't score with a girl within a week, he'd drop her. And here he was on his first week with my future wife! He really liked her. She was about 19 then, in New York to study ballet. She had been dancing since she was 16, first with the Grand Canadian Ballet and then as a principal dancer with the Pennsylvania Ballet. So this particular night, I had a date with a girl named Phyllis, who, ironically enough, later became a girlfriend of Wilt Chamberlain's. I consider that one of my special achievements, the fact that Wilt and I would satisfy the same girl.
PLAYBOY: That's the long and the short of it?
HOFFMAN: Someday we'll meet in stud heaven. Anyway, I was with Phyllis at the Improvisation, and Maurice comes in with Anne. And there she was, my fantasy girl. Maybe the unattainable. Who the hell knows what it was? My heart was pounding. Phyllis had to go to the bathroom and Maurice went to make a phone call, and there we were, alone together, for about five minutes. There was this long pause, and she tells me I said to her, "So you're a dancer?" There was another pause and she nodded and said, "So you're an actor?" And I nodded. That was the end of the conversation. But before she left, I did my Jimmy Dean number. I had written one song, a ballad—it's a good song—and I went over to the piano and played it, with this sensitive look on my face. Maurice always hated it when I did that. "Don't pull that sensitive shit," he'd say. But Anne fell right into the trap. Maurice told me later that she said to him, "That's the most sensitive boy I've ever seen in my life."
PLAYBOY: So you started dating her?
HOFFMAN: I had to wait two days until Maurice's week was up. Luckily, unless they're both keeping something from me, he had to move on to greener pastures. Anne and I dated for a while, and then we broke up because she had to go back to Philadelphia. But I told Duvall within the first week: "I'm going to marry that girl." We bet $100. He's never paid me, come to think of it.
PLAYBOY: You may have known you'd marry her within the first week, but you took your time about it, didn't you?
HOFFMAN: Yes, we went together for seven years on and off before we got married. After the first three years, I broke off the relationship. That was about the time The Graduate came out. But we started seeing each other again: I couldn't keep the relationship broken off. And when it came time to do Little Big Man and I was going to be away for four or five months, I just did not want to be away from her. So we got married. And I like it. I like being married. I like having children. I like wearing a ring. I like saying, "This is my wife." If it's old-fashioned, I kind of like that. I also like antique furniture.
PLAYBOY: Still, dozens of girls throw themselves at you whenever you're in public. How do you feel about that?
HOFFMAN: I like it very much. To put it simply, it's terrific.
PLAYBOY: But you don't take them up on it?
HOFFMAN: Not individually. Only in groups.
PLAYBOY: Seriously, what happens if you do?
HOFFMAN: You pay the price.
PLAYBOY: What's the price?
HOFFMAN: Your own peace of mind. Also, you see it for what it is. You are interchangeable with any other star who might be there at X point in time on that spot. The same girls would fling themselves at any star. Although there'd probably be more of them if I were one of those good-lookers, like Redford.
PLAYBOY: Is this something that all actors get trapped in?
HOFFMAN: I don't know if they all feel it's a trap. A lot of them feel it's a hell of a great way to go. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with it. It would be very hard for me to handle. You know, marriage is tough enough. It's hard work, maintaining an emotional life with one other person; to try to keep it, you have to keep learning about each other, unfolding. It's not a very romantic way to put it, but it's like pulling the leaves off an artichoke. I like artichokes.
PLAYBOY: What keeps your marriage unfolding—keeps it fresh?
HOFFMAN: We eat two artichokes every day. Also, there's the absence of boredom. Our relationship is constantly changing. From joy to hysteria to hostility to fatigue—but never boredom.
PLAYBOY: Are you more difficult to live with when you're working, when you're deeply involved in playing a character? Do you become, for example, Lenny Bruce at home?
HOFFMAN: I'm not easy to be around when I'm working. I'm also not easy to be around when I'm not working. I've often wished I could drink martinis like other people. Gulp a couple down and suddenly the whole day is forgotten. I can't do that.
PLAYBOY: Why not?
HOFFMAN: I don't like the taste. It burns my tongue. And also, if I drink a little wine or something. I get tired. Frankly speaking, when I'm working, I'm just unable to function in any kind of normal way when I get home. It's not so much that I'm taking home the character as that I'm taking home the disappointment, the fatigue. It's draining, working 13 or 14 hours at a stretch, doing maybe a two-minute scene.
PLAYBOY: How does your wife react to the kind of attention you get when you're out in public? Is it hard for her?
HOFFMAN: Sure. I see her up against it all the time and I don't envy her. People constantly come up and dismiss her as if she doesn't exist. You know, a lot of times people block out the fact that she is my wife; they take it for granted that she's my secretary. Of course, we're not a perfect-looking couple; she's four inches taller than I am. At the same time, Anne appreciates the fact that when she walks down the street by herself, she has a kind of anonymity. So she says she kind of has the best of two worlds. When she wants to be noticed, she can be: but she can also be by herself.
PLAYBOY: How do you feel about being recognized when you go out? Do you find it, as Redford said he does in last December's Playboy Interview, somehow diminishing?
HOFFMAN: Well, there are some good things about it. People open themselves up to you when you're famous. I don't know if it's just because they want to be able to say they met you or what, but you can be walking down a street in a strange town and suddenly meet somebody who will show you all over the city. I mean, that can be terrific. Also, being famous has given me the opportunity to meet some people I've always admired.
PLAYBOY: Such as?
HOFFMAN: I made a point of meeting Frank Capra, because his was a name I'd heard in my house all my life. My father had always loved his movies. I met Muhammad Ali and liked him very much. I liked the sweetness, the child in him. He wound up playing with my kid for more than three hours, while the rest of the adults talked. Willie Sutton was one of the most interesting people I ever met. That was like meeting a real legend. He looks like Bert Lahr, you know; sounds like him, too. He's one of the few real clowns I've ever met. The clown is his own man; he's out there all by himself, taking chances. While I was making Papillon, Anne and I met Paul McCartney. I liked him; he's a 16th Century minstrel out of his natural period, reincarnated. Just likes to sit there, down on his haunches, playing for the court. And Joe Heller; I love to listen to him, share things with him. Meeting Willem De Kooning was terrific, spending an evening with him. He reminded me a little bit of what I think Carl Sandburg may have been like. Young; maintaining a boyhood about himself. Sexy in the real sense of the word: alive. And Lillian Hellman—she has to be at the top.
PLAYBOY: Why is she at the top?
HOFFMAN: She doesn't fuck around. She's straight out. She wears her sadness and her guts right on her sleeve. I really like that.
PLAYBOY: How about the other side of the coin? Do you, like Redford, resent the lack of privacy celebrity brings with it?
HOFFMAN: Sure. I want to be private. It's lousy, having a fight with my wife on the street, as people do—we're arguing and suddenly we realize we're being looked at, recognized. We can't even have a decent fight—have to duck into the subway. I mean, you know, who would like that? But I'm not recognized every time I go out. I do feel there is an indescribable kind of aura that you can choose or choose not to emanate and therefore be recognized or not. I don't know what it is, you just don't walk self-consciously.
HOFFMAN: It's hard to explain. You see, there's a lot that stars feel that other people don't feel, except maybe very pretty girls. Very pretty girls walk down the street and they must feel just like stars do, because they constantly wonder, "Are people looking at me?" And a lot of that is that they want to be looked at. They're really stars every day of the week, these girls.
PLAYBOY: Are you implying that sometimes you want to be looked at?
HOFFMAN: Definitely, and sometimes without even realizing it.
PLAYBOY: Do you do something to call attention to yourself in such a situation?
HOFFMAN: You mean besides humming Mrs. Robinson?
PLAYBOY: Are you serious?
HOFFMAN: Oh, yeah. It happened on my honeymoon. Anne and I had gone to London, where I was sure people would be all over me the way they were in New York. There, I was getting hit on constantly. But I walked the streets of London for three days and nobody recognized me. The fourth day, Anne and I were walking along and she stopped me. She had this queer little smile on her face. "Dusty," she said, "stop that." "Stop what?" "Don't you know?" "No." "You were humming Mrs. Robinson—very loudly."
PLAYBOY: Your role opposite Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate made you famous almost overnight. Can you recall how it felt to you then—being recognized everywhere you went?
HOFFMAN: A funny thing happened right after The Graduate. The movie had been out only a week or so and Joe Levine had very nicely sent me and my brother and his wife to Nassau. I was sitting on the beach, where the sand seemed to stretch for miles, and way down the beach I saw a tiny figure moving, like that opening shot in Lawrence of Arabia, where you see that camel slowly coming toward you out of the desert. The figure kept coming, and since there was nobody else on the beach, I realized he was heading toward me. It must have taken him more than 10 minutes. Finally, he reached me—he was a young guy in his 20s—and he said, "Are you the guy who was in The Graduate?" I said, "Yes." He said, "I saw the film." I said, "Oh." He said, "I didn't think it was so much." And he turned around and walked back. But what really summed up this whole recognition thing for me was what happened one night when my wife and I were walking out of a movie on Second Avenue. These two girls were walking past and one of them looked at me and said, "Aren't you, uh, uh"—snapping her fingers—"uh, uh. . . ." And I said, "Sometimes." And she said, "I thought you were." That struck me as being at the heart of it all, somehow. There are, though, some measures of privacy that I insist on. I don't want to be interviewed in my house. I don't want an interviewer to look at my furniture and write it up. I don't like to have my children photographed. They're certainly entitled to their privacy.
PLAYBOY: What else would you like to give your children, besides privacy?
HOFFMAN: The first thing I would want for them is freedom. The biggest thing I can give them is themselves, the chance to develop their own individuality. Let them form their own taste, different points of view. My older child comes home and starts asking: "Daddy, is there a God?" And I say, "Are you asking me what I think? Sometimes I think there is; sometimes I don't think there is." "What does Mommy think?" "Mommy is more of an atheist." "What's an atheist?" and I explain that. And she says, "Well, there's a God." I ask, "How do you know?" She says, "I just know. We been talking about it on the bus." "I see." I like the fact that my opinion is questioned. That the answers are to be found everywhere. Kids are the best show in town. It's proof of a lot of deadness that exists in people today—that they're looking at the TV or listening to the new stereo or polishing the car or this or that and not watching their own children. Children are more interesting than anything. I walk my younger child to school everyday—the school is near my office—and I don't like leaving the school. I would like to sit down on those little chairs, at those little tables, and play. And a child's love is like a drug. To have a child throw his arms about you—it's instant stoned. People talk about the rush heroin gives you: I would say children give you that rush.
PLAYBOY: What else gives you a rush?
HOFFMAN: There are certain things I do in life that I feel terrific about. A very few things. I get up early in the morning—I sleep only five, six hours a night and I always wake up first in the house. And I'll do my little things: feed the cat and dog and let 'em out, read the paper, make coffee. I love the mornings. Then, if I sit down and read a script, or 50 pages of a book or something. I feel terrific. I really feel a sense of well-being, because I've done something. I'll go check all my avocado pits and if I see some growth, I'll transplant one. My wife often tells me I seem to have to be doing something in order to feel good. "You can't just say 'Fuck it' and not do anything," she says. And she's right.
PLAYBOY: A psychologist might say you have to keep busy to prove you're alive, because you're afraid of death.
HOFFMAN: I don't know. It's true that I've reached the age at which I realize my time is limited. Something happens to your body, say at the age of 26 or 27; from that point on, your body is slowly breaking down. That's sad. It seems to me, though, that the people who live the least full lives fear death the most. You have to understand the lark of it: that life is really a game and you must treat it as a game. I came pretty close to dying once, and life is better.
PLAYBOY: How did that happen?
HOFFMAN: I had just had my first rehearsal for The Subject Was Roses and I was very excited about it. It was my first big break. The girl I was going with then was a dancer, too, like Anne, and she offered to cook a surprise dinner for me at her place, to celebrate. And suddenly there was this terrific explosion and scream and I ran into the kitchen. Here was this great big pot of boiling, flaming oil. She'd been making beef fondue and she had put too much oil in the pot and it blew up. Flames were going up the walls and I said to her and her roommate, "Get out of the way." And I grabbed these pot holders and tried to get the pot out to an open area and it spilled over on me. I was on fire. I didn't pass out; I was running up and down the hall, trying to put myself out. I was burned all over my arms and legs, some splatterings on the face. It was first, second, third degree; in one area the bone was charred. Well, I talked the doctor into letting me stay out of the hospital so I could remain in the play. For eight days I went to rehearsals all bandaged up. People would ask: "Why are you rehearsing with your hands on top of your head?" I'd say, "Oh, I always rehearse this way." The truth of the matter was I couldn't lower my arms because of the pain, the blood throbbing. I didn't want to take drugs to kill the pain, because I didn't want them to slow me down. Finally, the doctor got nervous and sent me to a surgeon and the surgeon took one look and said, "You've got to go into the hospital immediately. We've got to operate on you in the morning." And I looked at him and said. "Well, I'm going to lose this big opportunity, onstage, the lead role." He said, "Well, you can lose your life." I broke down, right in his office. The next thing I knew, I was in the hospital. I was very angry. I cursed all night long in the hospital—actually, talked out loud to God, called Him every name in the book. "Don't take me now, you bastard. I'm not ready." Here I was, a 27-year-old unemployed actor, and my fever was up to 106 or something and they were trying to ice me down. I heard two doctors whispering down at the end of the corridor and I called one of them over and asked, "I want to know what my chances are." And he said, "You really want to know the truth?" I said. "Yeah." And he said, "You can go either way." Incidentally, that same doctor still works at that hospital and he called me up not long ago; he'd looked up my records, just out of curiosity. My card, he said, read "terminal." Anyway, I tried all night to get the job: to stay alive. And I got the job. For the next month in that hospital, as people kept dying to the right and left of me—I made friends and lost them—I said to myself. "Jesus, this has been a lesson to me. I will never take it for granted again, just living. I will never waste another minute." And yet, by the second week I was out of the hospital. I found myself forgetting that pledge. I think the most chilling aspect of life is that it's really impossible to live every minute.
PLAYBOY: Did that experience make you lose your fear of death?
HOFFMAN: No, I still fear death. But less. Last year my dearest friend, my manager Walter Hyman, died suddenly. Since then, the meaning of death has changed for me. I fell if that's the worst there is—being dead—it's not so bad. Walter's there. I hope to live to be old, because I don't think I'm going to have it all put together for a long time. My friend Murray Schisgal says to be human is to be fucked; to know that you're fucked right off the bat. Once you know that, then get on with it. And, I guess, to really fear death is to fear life. Life stinks, but that doesn't mean you don't enjoy it.