If I didn't have a day job, I would've written something about Dustin Hoffman, who turned 75 today, because he means a lot to me. I used to be compared to him. As a teenager, I was self-conscious about my teeth, among other things, and tended to smile with my mouth closed in the Dustin Hoffman manner. I identify with, or love, characters he plays. I've grown up and grown middle-aged with the man.
Since I do have a day job, however, I simply offer this snippet from my review of “Barney's Version, along with his 90-minute appearance as the 200th guest on ”Inside the Actors Studio.“
First, the snippet:
Can I pause for a moment to say how much I love Dustin Hoffman? I don’t know if he lights up the screen but he lights up me. He shows up and I beam.
He seems to be playing more overtly Jewish these days. Here, at a dinner gathering with the rich family of Barney’s fiancée, he’s all smiles and good will and blunt charm. He says to Barney’s fiancée, “You are one sweet casserole,” and encourages them to “get to schtupping.” The father of the bride doesn’t think much of this working class man, and says something vaguely and unnecessarily insulting, which he doesn’t think Izzy will understand. But Izzy gives him a look. It’s a look I’ve seen Dustin give in other movies. It’s as if both injury and civility are competing for control of his face. It’s a look that says: “I am smart enough to recognize your insult, I am sensitive enough to be injured by your insult, but I am strong enough to look you in the face and civil enough to keep smiling.” It’s the most human of faces. It’s why Dusty is my guy. Long may he act.
What's fascinating about his appareance on ”Inside the Actors Studio“ is how much he talks to the students rather than to the TV audience. Also, how many of his iconic scenes were less character-driven than Hoffman-driven. They were his feelings: banging his head against the wall in ”The Graduate“ (to keep from laughing); the ”I'm walkin' here!“ scene, which, in his head was, ”We're filming here!“ The polite ending of ”Kramer vs. Kramer“ originally came from Hoffman and Streep and Robert Benton was shrewd enough to see it. The constant ”Yeah“ of Raymond in ”Rain Man" was Hoffman's inability to improvise, which Barry Levinson, whom Hoffman calls as close to an actors' director as possible, suggested he use as Raymond's signature line. He's aware of the mistakes that led to accolades. He tells the acting students to use them. He tells them acting is very hard and he tells them it's not hard: that they don't have to feel everything their character is feeling. He says this even as he, Dustin Hoffman, seems to feel everything. He displays, throughout the long, long interview, the most human of faces.