Dustin Hoffman on ‘Luck’

The veteran actor speaks about his new HBO series and offers some NSFW stoires about his career in Hollywood.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

Dustin Hoffman is perhaps the biggest star to ever come to HBO or TV altogether. With over 40 years of film legacy, including some of the all time classics, Hoffman is taking a new plunge in the series "Luck." He plays Chester “Ace” Bernstein, a horse owner and major player on the scene at the Santa Anita racetrack.

Earlier this year, Hoffman came to the Television Critics Association to talk about his new TV adventure and share stories of his Hollywood friends. It’s so much fun I just wanted to share them all.


On his character, Ace.

From the page, from direction, from Michael [Mann], there’s very little you have to do. I always say to actors, before something comes out, it alters you and it surprises you because you don’t plan it out. If you were in a bathing suit right now dripping wet, you would be in a sense a different person. You don’t have to do that much.

So, try acting?

There’s a piece of my father in him. Partially in every aspect. Ultimately you’re doing autobiographical work whether you admit it or not. My clothing and the suit and David [Milch]’s words, you’re altered immediately. I always say to actors, whether a lot of times it doesn’t work, but don’t work it. Don’t consciously work it. It starts to happen by itself. I don't think it’s any different than you know when you put the right dress on in the closet because it gives you a feeling that you want to have. It is the look.

On Ace’s loyal chauffeur Gus (Dennis Farina).

For people that know, and I didn’t know this, for people that know about the mob, whatever mob you’re talking about, these drivers, Luciano started out as a driver. A lot of big gangsters were originally gangsters because it’s the only one you trust. They are the confidante to the person they’re driving. They are the bodyguard to the person they’re driving. It’s like I say at the end of the pilot, I don’t trust anybody, including myself. You, I completely trust. We don’t have one person in life, I don't know if my wife would take the bullet for me.

Dustin Hoffman describes HBO in a way that writers understand.

I wasn’t complimenting HBO just to kiss somebody’s ass. HBO, once they say go, you can do what you want. You’re a journalist. How many times have you come back with your thing, they say, “Take this out, take that out, take this out?” How would you like to work for a publication that says, “Do what you want? Do 4500 words and that’s it?” I haven’t done this before. I don't know where this character is going. I don't know that much about the character and neither does everyone else so you’re learning it as you go. I think that’s very close to life. I wish I knew more about myself.

Hitting on Jose Ferrer as Dorothy Michaels from "Tootsie" (NSFW).

Funny story, yes, I was in Woody Allen’s office and I went up down the street, a beautiful building with gold, I was just looking at the building. I can tell you what the date was because Jose Ferrer was picking up the check I learned later for "Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy." He’s in the elevator and I’m with the first AD or second AD and we were introduced. I was in Dorothy’s attire and he introduced me as the character. There was dark lighting and Jose met me, he was very nice. I never wanted to be an actor. I’d never thought about it but I loved Jose Ferrer as a kid.

Oh my God, he’s Toulouse-Lautrec, this is Cyrano. I just put it into the character I was playing, said, “You’re my favorite actor. I loved your performances and blah blah blah.” He said, “Thank you,” he had a very deep [voice]. He was dressed [to] the nines. “Thank you, very much.” A little shorter than me which was kind of nice too and it just hit me because sometimes those things just hit you and I said, “I’ll never have an opportunity again, but how would you like to have your c**k sucked?”

It just came out and I had to turn away because I thought I was going to break. He had a great line and no writer could ever think of it. He took a long pause and never changed expressions. He said, “Not right now.” As soon as the elevator stopped I had to get away because I was laughing. The AD told me later as we walked away, this is literal, he says, “Who was that scumbag of a woman?” One year later on the dais together I said, “I gotcha.”

How Dustin Hoffman got Sydney Pollack to “try acting.”

It’s because we had the same fights. We were always having fights about the script. We started shooting and I said, “Sydney, let’s put it on the screen.” Then he started getting my parts. They went to him first.

Is it true that Dustin Hoffman is difficult to work with?

It’s a bad marriage when you’re married and you never know what the marriage is going to be like [until] you get married. If you’re not laughing at the same stuff, if you’re not being moved by the same stuff, if the director, producer, whatever, they’re being satisfied before they should be satisfied, you want a divorce or that’s where the arm wrestling starts. When you’re lucky to work with heavyweight talent there’s no problem, most importantly because they’re not afraid of a suggestion. There’s a cloud, you know it in your own profession, I always test it. I say I have an idea, and if there’s this cloud that comes over the director’s face and all the blood drains from his face, I know he’s not a collaborator.

The naughty trick he learned from Anthony Hopkins.

Very quickly, I met Anthony Hopkins many, many years ago and we were talking about what do you do when you’re not getting along with the director. And he says, “Never raise your voice. Never have a fight. On a sound stage or wherever you’re shooting make sure you’re shooting on the ground floor. When it gets to that point you say, ‘Excuse me. I have to go to the bathroom.’ You’ve checked the bathroom out before, it has a window. You go in the bathroom, you lock the door, you climb out the window, you go home. You come back the next day. There’s no argument anymore.”

Or try old Hollywood slapstick (this is still Hoffman going on from the Hopkins story!)

Great story about Sid Caesar because he was doing live TV and he was trying to do his best work. It was getting really nuts and he was getting really nuts. The producer took him out to lunch and it’s a famous story, he said to him, Sid Caesar says, “What am I here for?” He says, “Because you’ve been acting crazy.” Sid Caesar says, “They think I’ve been acting crazy.” There was a guy walking by with a huge thing of spaghetti. And he picked it up off the waiter’s thing, he dumped it on his own head. He then got up, went to the bar and cleared it of everything that was on it, turned over every f***ing thing in the restaurant , came back, sat down, looked at the menu and very quietly said, “That’s crazy.”