Flanked by co-star Adam Sandler and director Noah Baumbach, Hollywood icon Dustin Hoffman stole the show today at Deadline’s The Contenders London, during a panel to showcase the trio’s new film The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), which premieres next week on Netflix.
Speaking to Deadline’s Mike Fleming in front of a packed BAFTA audience, Baumbach explained that the original idea for the film stemmed from a lunch meeting with Sandler and co-star Ben Stiller, at which the two actors expressed an interest in two things: one, making a film in which they would play siblings, and two, getting to have an onscreen fight. Baumbach laughed that he “reverse-engineered the movie” from the that, creating the serio-comic tale of a dysfunctional New York family headed by melancholic artist Harold (Hoffman).
Asked what attracted him to the role, Hoffman said it was Harold’s vulnerability. “Noah and I talked for many, many hours,” he said. “It was our way of rehearsing, way before the film started. And one of the things that he tied into, which I felt he was kind of the spine, was the idea of success and failure — what constitutes it? And I think that [any] artist simultaneously feels like a success and a failure at any given time. Success is determined by the outside world. And it shouldn’t be. I’ve been doing this about 50 years ago and I’ve seen my share — well, more than my share — of very, very talented people who just couldn’t take the pain of rejection.”
Surprisingly, Hoffman went on to suggest that own decades-spanning career was largely down to good timing, thanks to his appearance in Mike Nichols’ classic 1967 coming-of-age drama The Graduate. “It’s luck,” he said. “Luck has a tremendous amount to do with it. It was certainly true of The Graduate. I like to think I would have had a career if The Graduate hadn’t come along – I’d probably be very happy right now doing off-Broadway stuff. We just want to make a living. It’s different now, by the way. I think. Making it in those days, in the ’60s and the ’70s, was [a question of], Can I make a living doing this? It had nothing to do with this other stuff.
“I was sort of the last one to test for The Graduate, with Katherine Ross,” he continued. “They’d been testing people for over a year. And it was a terrible screen test. I mean, it didn’t go well. I was doing a play at that time, and I went back and said to them, ‘Don’t worry, guys I’m not getting this one.’ They cut [the test] together and they recognized it wasn’t great. But I read years later that Nichols said, ‘I guess we can go with them … ‘ Because if they didn’t, they were going to just shelve the project. I’m convinced that I’d been tested in the first week, a year [before], that Katherine and I wouldn’t have been cast.”