American Actor with a Career in Film, Television, and Theatre Since 1960
Hoffman was at the forefront of American cinema's progressive period, a time that saw Hollywood's focus transfer from sprawling Technicolor escapism to character-driven modernism.
Widely considered one of the greatest actors of his time (and sometimes, usually jokingly, called the "Jewish De Niro"), Hoffman was born in Los Angeles, California to Jewish American parents, Harry Hoffman and Lillian Gold (who were born in Romania but whose parents Max and Pauline were born in Russia).
Hoffman graduated from Los Angeles High School. His first ambition was to be a concert pianist and he attended the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music. Then, with an interest in medicine, he attended Santa Monica College for a year before dropping out due to poor grades. But his time at the school wasn't wasted when he took an acting class to boost his grade point average since he was told "nobody flunks acting." Hoffman said when he was in the class, he felt totally at peace with himself.
Hoffman performed at the Pasadena Playhouse for two years with fellow actor Gene Hackman. Ironically, they were both voted by their class as the "least likely to succeed". Frustrated with the school, Hackman took initiative and got on a bus for New York City, advising Hoffman to call him if he were to come to New York City. Hoffman and Hackman would later befriend another struggling young actor named Robert Duvall.
Hoffman took Hackman up on his offer and soon after followed his friend to New York, where he worked a series of odd jobs, such as coat checking at restaurants, working in the typing department of the city Yellow Pages directory, or stringing Hawaiian leis, while getting the occasional bit television role. To support himself, he left acting briefly to teach. In 1960, Hoffman landed a role in an off-Broadway production and followed with a walk-on role in a Broadway production in 1961.
He also did the occasional television commercial. An oft-replayed segment on programs that explore actors' early work is a clip showing a young Hoffman touting the Volkswagen beetle.
Hoffman began study with legendary acting coach Lee Strasberg, and became a dedicated method actor.
Through the early- and mid-'60s, Hoffman made appearances early in his career on many television shows, including "Naked City", "The Defenders", "The Nurses", "Hallmark Hall Of Fame" and "ABC Stage 67" and the TV movies The Journey Of The Fifth Horse and The Star Wagon. Hoffman made his theatrical film debut in The Tiger Makes Out in 1966, alongside Eli Wallach.
The Graduate (1966)
In 1966, young up-and-coming director Mike Nichols, fresh off a Best Director Oscar- nomination for his film Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, began casting his next film, an adaptation of author Charles Webb's little-known novel, The Graduate. The first choice for the role of Benjamin Braddock, Warren Beatty, soon dropped out. The second choice was Robert Redford, who badly wanted the role, but agreed with Nichols that he was too charming and popular to play the role of a sweaty-palmed, sexually uncomfortable virgin.
Hungry for a role, Hoffman auditioned for the film and, luckily, he came through with the exact amount of awkwardness necessary for the role. Hoffman was cast, and the film began production in March of 1967. The cast included Anne Bancroft as the sexually promiscuous older woman, Mrs. Robinson. Though the age difference in their characters was intended to be 20-25 years, Hoffman and Bancroft were actually only 5 years apart in age difference. Hoffman was twenty-nine.
Hoffman received an Academy Award nomination for his performance in The Graduate. The film was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar and Nichols took home the award for Best Director. The Graduate was also subsequently voted as the #7 Greatest American Movie of All-Time by the AFI.
After the success of this film, another Hoffman film, Madigan's Millions - shot before The Graduate - was released on the tail of the actor's newfound success. It failed utterly at the box office.
Midnight Cowboy (1969)
The film version of James Leo Herlihy's novel Midnight Cowboy came about in 1965 and Hoffman's name immediately came up for the role of Ratso Rizzo in the film, after producer Jerome Hellman saw Hoffman in his one-man-show "Eh!".
According to Hoffman, he thought he had proactively kinked the Ratso Rizzo chain by appearing in The Graduate, by now an international smash hit. He found his Strasberg training taking over when, to prove his dedication to the role, he asked the producer to meet him on a street corner in Manhattan. Without the producer's knowledge, Hoffman dressed up as a homeless man and begged for money on the streets. When the producer arrived, he took the man for an everyday beggar and paid no attention. Hoffman walked up to him several minutes later and introduced himself. Shocked, the producer questioned no further whether Hoffman could play Rizzo or not.
In an exercise of breakneck transformation and range, Hoffman became Ratso Rizzo. In the most famous scene in the film, Rizzo and Joe Buck (Jon Voight) are walking crossing a street in New York City when a car almost hits the two of them. "Hey, I'm walkin' here! I'm walkin' here!" Rizzo exclaims, feverishly smacking the hood of the car. The quote has become one of the most famous in film history, recently voted #27 on AFI's Top 100 Movie Quotes Of All Time.
Hoffman was nominated for his second Academy Award nomination for Midnight Cowboy. Directed by John Schlesinger, the film won the Best Picture honor at the ceremony, the only X-rated film ever to do so. Cowboy was voted the 36th Greatest American Film by the AFI.
Now a bonafide star, Dustin Hoffman could now get the parts he dreamed of 10 years earlier. Instead of making large Hollywood films, however, Hoffman more often opted to take roles in smaller-scale, character-driven films.
In Arthur Penn's Little Big Man, we find Hoffman playing the character Jack Crabb from teenager to 121 years-old (an acting World Record, says Guinness World Records). Crabb is a man who, on his death bed, recalls his life of struggle and adventure. A precursor to films like Forrest Gump, the film found Crabb in the middle of historical events, such as the battle at Little Big Horn, alongside General Custer.
According to IMDb, Hoffman sat in his dressing room for an hour screaming at the top of his lungs in order to achieve the 121 year-old rasp.
Mostly comedic, the film was widely praised by critics, but was overlooked come award season but for a Supporting nomination for Chief Dan George.
Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?(1971)
Overlooked to this day, Who Is Harry Kellerman...? featured yet another Hoffman role completely different from the rest. In the film - directed by Ulu Grosbard - Hoffman plays a Dylan-esque singer/songwriter who finds himself in life-crisis when a man named Harry Kellerman begins to spread ridiculous lies about him.
The film, though, did garner co-star Barbara Harris rave reviews and an Academy Award nomination.
In his second film since The Wild Bunch, director Sam Peckinpah created one of the most startling depictions of societal violence ever on film. Hoffman (against his will, committed by contract) portayed David, an American who moves with his girlfriend to her hometown in rural England, surrounded by violent men with lustful intentions.
Often (falsely) dubbed as England's answer to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the film is arguably Peckinpah's least commercial film. It depicts graphically the primality of physical and sexual violence to a shocking degree, a quality that polarized audiences and critics alike.
The film has found a cult audience since the acceptance of Peckinpah as a revolutionary of film directing.
Alongside Steve McQueen and under the direction of Patton director Franklin J. Schaffner, Hoffman made his largest film to date. Papillon told the story of inmates on an island prison who plot their escape.
Domestically, the film brought in more than four times its budget.
In director Bob Fosse's highly experimental Lenny, Hoffman portrayed pioneering stand-up comedian Lenny Bruce in a jarring performance, covering Bruce's onstage charisma and his tragic fall from grace. Hoffman was able to mirror Lenny Bruce so closely thanks to archived audio and extremely candid video recordings.
The film was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor (Hoffman). This would mark Hoffman's third nomination in seven years.
In 1976, Hoffman would star in two of the most enduring pictures of the decade:
Only four years after the events of Watergate occurred, director Alan J. Pakula put to celluloid the story of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's investigation and ultimate unveiling of the truth behind the Watergate scandal, an investigation that would eventually cause President Richard Nixon to resign from office.
Hoffman portrayed Carl Bernstein and Robert Redford portrayed Bob Woodward in the film, which garnered eight Oscar nominations, though none for Hoffman or Redford. The film remains one of the greatest films about journalism ever made.
Reteaming with John Schlesinger, the director of Midnight Cowboy, Hoffman starred in Marathon Man, a film about the human psyche under the stress of confusion, torment and torture. The film was based on William Goldman's novel of the same name, which he adapted into a screenplay himself.
Marathon Man found Hoffman re-facing the themes of distress and anger that he encountered on Straw Dogs, though this film was more conventional. Legendary actor Sir Laurence Olivier starred in the film as the Josef Mengele-inspired Dr. Christian Szell (AKA "The White Angel"), a sadistic Nazi who tortured countless Jews in Auschwitz. Hoffman's character finds himself in the middle of Szell's plans to smuggle diamonds out of America.
In the film's most famous scene, Olivier tortures Hoffman while repeating the seemingly non-sequitur question: "Is it safe?" The quote was voted as the 70th greatest quote in the history of film by AFI. To achieve his character's exhausted look in this scene, Hoffman deprived himself of sleep for two days. Lawrence Olivier famously commented upon this example of Strasbergian acting by suggesting that Hoffman "Try acting. . . It's much easier!"
For scenes in which Hoffman was to appear breathless, he would - in typical Dustin Hoffman fashion - run a half mile until the moment Schlesinger called "action".
After this film, Hoffman said that he would no longer play "young" roles like being a college student in Marathon Man (he was 40 at the time of it's release).
Originally to be his directorial debut, Straight Time was a pet project of Hoffman's ever since he read Edward Bunker's source novel. Hoffman opted out of directing the picture and instead handed it over to Harry Kellerman director Ulu Grosbard. Hoffman starred as a thief who, upon being released from prison, decides to go straight. His plans are unfoundedly thwarted by a parole officer who, in turn, causes Hoffman to revert back to a life of crime. The film was based on Bunker's experiences (Bunker is most famous for his role as Mr. Blue in Reservoir Dogs).
In his first true failure, Hoffman found himself in Michael Apted's Agatha. The film tagline describes it as "a fictional solution to the real mystery of Agatha Christie's disappearance." Vanessa Redgrave starred as Agatha Christie.
Controversy arose when the script was adjusted to accommodate Dustin Hoffman's starpower. Agatha producer David Puttnam left the production and swore he would never again work with Dustin Hoffman.
Kramer Vs. Kramer (1979) With Kramer Vs. Kramer, Hoffman would finally get his due. Directed by Robert Benton, Kramer featured Hoffman as workaholic Ted Kramer, whose wife leaves him unexpectedly to raise their son alone. Hurt and stunned, Ted is forced juggle his priorities: success in advertising and single parenthood. In tradition feel-good fashion, he comes to see what's truly important and finds himself growing up far too late. When his ex-wife returns to reclaim their child, he finds everything he's fixed breaking all over again.
Hoffman starred alongside Meryl Streep in the film, which earned Hoffman his first Academy Award. The film also received the Best Picture honor, as well as Supporting Actress (Streep) and Director.
After making eleven films in ten years, Dustin Hoffman took it a little slower throughout the '80s. That didn't stop him from making two of the best films of the decade.
Sydney Pollack's Tootsie would take two masterful people to achieve: Director and actor. A film about a man who dresses up as a woman to get a job could easily be misconstrued and mishandled, but in the hands of Pollack and Hoffman, the film was successful beyond that of anyone's expectations.
Hoffman portrayed Michael Dorsey, a struggling actor who finds himself unable to land a job due to his stigma of being a "difficult actor" (a title Hoffman wasn't a stranger to). Amidst the threat of ultimate failure and poverty, Michael comes up with a plan: Dress up as a woman (Dorothy Michaels) and land a role on a soap opera. Not only does he get the job, he also becomes an extremely popular character on the show. To make things worse, he develops a crush on a co-worker (Jessica Lange) who unfortunately doesn't know that Dorothy Michaels is Michael Dorsey.
Tootsie earned ten Academy Award nominations, including Actor (Hoffman), Picture and Director. The film would only win one, for Supporting Actress (Lange).
Widely considered to be one of the worst films ever made, Elaine May's Ishtar found Hoffman and Warren Beatty as two lounge singers booked at the Ishtar Hilton who find themselves tangled in a web of espionage.
The film was nominated for three Razzie awards, though they spared Hoffman.
Director Barry Levinson's Rain Man chronicles the reunion of two brothers after the death of their estranged father. One, Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise), is a successful car salesman while the other, Raymond Babbitt (Hoffman), is an institutionalized autistic man. Never knowing of any brother, and upon finding out that Raymond is to receive his father's fortune, Charlie takes Raymond away from the institution. Because Raymond refuses to fly, they are forced to drive back to California. During the course of this trip, Charlie finds himself forever transformed.
Because Hoffman shows no emotion throughout the entire film, it took careful crafting to make sure that Cruise's transformation was noticeable to audiences. So Levinson, Hoffman and Cruise worked for two years on this film. In that time, they decided that Hoffman's role in the film was simply Cruise's divine intervention. Because Hoffman's blankness is so strong, the audience shapes him into whatever they want him to be, and feel sympathy. Hoffman's nuanced performance has been hailed as the best of his career.
The performance earned Hoffman his second Oscar, and the film took home three more, for Picture, Director and Screenplay.
After the heaviness of Rain Man, Hoffman took it down a notch with legendary director Sydney Lumet's crime comedy Family Business, alongside castmates Sean Connery and Matthew Broderick.
The film did relatively poorly with the critics and at the box office.
Throughout the '90s, Hoffman would do many large, studio films.
Warren Beatty directed and starred as the title character in this comic book adaptation. Hoffman would do his Ishtar co-star a friendly favor by playing a small role in the film under heavy make-up. He played Mumbles, a hesitant squealer who speaks extremely fast. The character of Mumbles was supposedly based on producer Robert Evans.
The film was a hit with critics and a smash at the box office.
Hoffman would reunite with Kramer vs. Kramer director Robert Benton for the ill-fated Billy Bathgate. In the film, the title character (Loren Dean), finds himself working his way up in organized crime in the '20s and '30s. The boss (Hoffman) promotes Billy and he becomes his mentor, just as the sydicate begins to fall apart.
The film failed on almost all accounts, critically and financially.
In his biggest film yet, Hoffman played the title role of Captain Hook in Steven Spielberg's Hook. Robin Williams co-starred in the film as the grown-up Peter Pan, who ends up back in Neverland after his kids are kidnapped by the Captain.
At $70 Million, Hook was easily the most expensive film Spielberg had made up to that point, and was a huge success at the box office.
The film earned Hoffman a Golden Globe nomination.
In Stephen Frears' Hero, Hoffman plays a lowly scoundrel who saves a few people from a plane crash while trying to find goodies in the remains. When a picture of him surfaces, a reporter (Geena Davis) mounts a search for the man, including a million-dollar reward. A much more sympathetic drifter (Andy Garcia) gets involved claiming to be the real hero.
The film failed to perform well at the box office and received a mixed reception from critics.
Fresh off his smash hit In the Line of Fire, director Wolfgang Petersen decided to make a film fictionalizing the then-threatening Ebola virus. The lead role of Sam Daniels in Outbreak was originally intended for Harrison Ford. When Ford declined, the filmmakers went to Hoffman, who accepted the role. Starring alongside Rene Russo, Kevin Spacey, Morgan Freeman, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Donald Sutherland, Hoffman plays the ignored whistle blower in the film.
Outbreak went on to recoup its budget, but made very little profit. The film, though, did receive better-than-average reviews for a Hollywood film.
In Rain Man director Barry Levinson's period drama Sleepers, four childhood friends find themselves reunited after bloody revenge is committed against their childhood abuser. Hoffman played bumbling defense attorney Danny Snider in the film.
Good reviews and decent box office led the film to cult status with the release of the film on video and, eventually, DVD.
Hoffman starred opposite John Travolta in popular Greek director Costas-Gravas' Mad City, a film about a man who takes a history museum hostage after losing his job. In the movie, Hoffman portrayed Max Brackett, a reporter already in the museum when the event takes place.
Amongst negative reviews and terrible reciepts, the film quickly left theatres and plunged into obscurity.
Working with Barry Levinson for the third time, Hoffman played the role of the fiendishly clever movie producer-turned-war producer Stanley Motes in Wag The Dog. The film (co-written by master writer David Mamet) found Robert De Niro playing Washington spin-doctor Conrad Brean, a man hired to invent a war in order to cover up a presidential sex scandal. When De Niro approaches Hoffman, he finds the solution slowly becoming just another big, fat problem.
The film was shot in just under a month.
Hoffman's Robert Evans-inspired performance in Wag The Dog earned him some of the best reviews of his career and also brought him his 7th Academy Award nomination.
Once again, Hoffman would work with Barry Levinson on the Michael Crichton adaptation Sphere. It tells the story of a team of scientists sent to the bottom of South Pacific to investigate a mysterious vessel, which turns out to be a spaceship, crashed in the middle in the ocean centuries before. Hoffman plays the leader of the team, which also includes Sharon Stone, Samuel L. Jackson and Liev Schreiber.
After being welcomed with a plethora of bad reviews, the film failed to regain even half of its budget domestically. Being that Wag The Dog was filmed after this and released only weeks before it, Hoffman and Levinson managed to dodge Sphere's proverbial bullet.
The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (1999)
In Leon: The Professional director Luc Besson's adaptation of the story of Joan Of Arc, Hoffman portrayed "The Conscience".
About the movie and Hoffman's involvement, film critic Roger Ebert said this:
"The movie is a mess: a gassy costume epic with nobody at the center. So deficient is Besson at suggesting the conscience which rules Joan's actions that the movie even uses another character, the Grand Inquisitor, as a surrogate conscience, and brings in Dustin Hoffman to play it. That Hoffman's performance is the best in the film should have been a nudge to the filmmaker that he could cut back on the extras and the battle scenes and make the movie about--well, about Joan."
The film failed with critics and at the box office.
Now considered one of the greatest actors of all-time, Hoffman entered the new millennium with no intention of slowing down.
As Ben Floss, Hoffman plays the father of a recently deceased woman, while Jake Gyllenhaal portrays the fiance of the girl and Susan Sarandon plays her grieving, free-spirit mother.
Moonlight Mile, written and directed by Brad Silberling, primarily focuses on Gyllenhaal's character as the three work together to get through their grief.
Though it performed poorly domestically, the film received fantastic reviews.
Working opposite Edward Burns, Andy Garcia and Rachel Weisz and under the direction of James Foley (Glengarry Glen Ross), Hoffman plays mob boss Winston King in Confidence. In the film, Burns' character works one job for Hoffman to pay off money he unwittingly stole from him.
The film received mediocre reviews, most highlighting Hoffman's performance as the bright spot in a confused film. Once again, Roger Ebert:
"Dustin Hoffman's performance as the King is the best thing in the movie--indeed, the only element that comes to life on the screen, screen, instead of in a twice-told tale. The King runs a strip club as a front, launders money for the mob, and suffers from Attention Deficit Disorder--or, as he meticulously specifies, "Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder." To control his condition, he takes pills that slow him way down. "Feel my heart," he says to one of the strippers in his club, to prove that it is hardly beating. Hoffman, chewing gum, wearing a beard and glasses, looks like the gnome from hell, and fast-talks his way into a brilliant supporting performance."
Costing a meager $15 Million, the film failed to make that much in domestic theatres. It did, though, surpass the number worldwide (barely).
Hoffman would finally have a chance to work with his friend of fifty years, Gene Hackman, in Gary Fleder's Runaway Jury, an adaptation of John Grisham's bestselling novel.
In the film, John Cusack and Rachel Weisz portray two important factors in a large murder trial, one on the jury, working on the inside, and the other playing the outside. Hoffman portays the prosecuting attorney, while Hackman plays the attorney for the defense.
In a pivotal and dramatic scene, Hoffman and Hackman get to have a large, epic argument in the court bathroom. The two friends rehearsed this scene for days, breaking it down to a science.
Receiving good reviews all around (praising the performances of the two legends), the film performed somewhat poorly at the box office, failing to make back it's $60 Million budget domestically.
Hoffman played the small role of theatre owner Charles Frohman in Marc Forster's dream-like J.M. Barrie biopic Finding Neverland.
The film, costarring Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, Julie Christie and Freddie Highmore, received rave reviews, was a hit at the box office and earned the film seven Academy Award nominations - including Best Picture and Best Actor (Depp).
In director David O. Russell's I ¢¾ Huckabees, Hoffman played Bernard, one half of an existential detective team (the other half being Lily Tomlin) hired to spy on Albert (Jason Schwartzman) in order to answer his questions about the meaning of his life and the nature of coincidence.
Clearly an acquired taste, the film received polarized reviews and failed commercially, but became an instant cult hit.
Meet the Fockers (2004) is a comedy film and a sequel to Meet the Parents which saw Hoffman co-starring with Robert DeNiro and Ben Stiller. The film was directed by Jay Roach (Austin Powers). In addition to Hoffman, DeNiro and Stiller, Meet the Fockers has an all-star cast of Barbra Streisand, Teri Polo, Blythe Danner, Owen Wilson and Tim Blake Nelson. The film satirizes both the extreme conservative and liberal ways of life and its release in a US presidential election year was seen as an intervention in the national debate.
Also, Hoffman recently was featured in cameo roles in Andy Garcia's The Lost City and on the final episode of HBO sitcom "Curb Your Enthusiasm"'s fifth season.
Hoffman has two children (Karin and Jenna) with his first wife Anne Byrne (married May 1969; divorced in 1980), and four others (Jacob, Max, Rebecca and Alexandra) with wife Lisa Gottsegen, who is an attorney, (married since October 1980).
Hoffman is a liberal and has supported both Democrats and Ralph Nader.
Robert Duvall was Hoffman's roomate in college.
The rock band Of Montreal made an album called "The Early Four Track Recordings" which tells a fictional, sarcastic story about Dustin Hoffman.
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