5/2/08 - dustin hoffman

In today's excerpt - almost forty-five years ago, director Mike Nichols interviews unknown actor Dustin Hoffman for the part of Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate:

"Nichols and [producer Lawrence] Turman knew the casting of Benjamin was crucial. ... 'I interviewed hundreds, maybe thousands of men' Nichols  [said]. ... He even discussed the role with his friend Robert Redford, who was eager for the part. 'I said, 'You can't play a loser.' And Redford said, 'What do you mean? Of course I can play a loser.' And I said 'O.K., have you ever struck out with a girl? and he said, 'What do you mean?' And he wasn't joking.' ...

"After 10 years as a struggling actor in New York, Dustin Hoffman had won an Obie Award in 1966 for best Off Broadway actor in Ronald Ribman's The Journey of the Fifth Horse. He'd been supporting himself with a series of odd jobs -- selling toys at Macy's, working as an attendant at the New York Psychiatric Institute, on West 168th Street, waiting tables at the Village Gate -- and sharing an apartment with Gene Hackman and his wife. After he won his Obie, his performance ... in an Off Broadway British farce called Eh?, landed him on the cover of the Arts and Leisure section of The New York Times. ...

"'I was riding high, so I felt I was going to have a career in the theater, which is what I wanted. So, when the part came along I read the book, I talked to Mike Nichols on the phone, and I said, 'I'm not right for this part, sir. This is a Gentile. This is a Wasp. This is Robert Redford.' ... Nichols replied, 'You mean he's not Jewish?' 'Yes, this guy is a super-Wasp. Boston Brahmin.' And Mike said, 'Maybe he's Jewish inside. Why don't you come out and audition for us?' ' ...

"[After the audition], he knew he'd blown it. ... The final humiliation occurred when, saying good-bye to the crew, he pulled his hand out of his pocket and a fistful of subway tokens spilled to the floor. The prop-man picked them up and handed them back saying, 'Here, kid. You're going to need these.'

"Back in New York, Hoffman got word from his agent to call Nichols. He reached Nichols on the phone, afraid he had woken him up. After a long pause, the director uttered the most beautiful words an actor can hear: 'Well, you got it.' Those four words changed Dustin Hoffman's life."


Sam Kashner


'Here's to You, Mr. Nichols'


Vanity Fair


March 2008


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