At 1.67 m, Dustin Hoffman is short by Hollywood standards. Yet he made it to the top by his sheer histrionic skills. Perhaps his acting prowess made people forget about his short stature even when he was paired with taller heroines.
Early in his career, one felt that Dustin Hoffman lacked the charisma to carry the entire film on his shoulders all of his own. He had popular male actors as his co-stars in several of his hit films. Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy, Steve McQueen in Papillon, Laurence Olivier in Marathon Man, Robert Redford in All the President’s Men and TomCruise in Rain Man .
One can’t remember him acting in many blockbusters. Tootsie, in which he acted as a woman Dorothy Williams ( a precursor to Robin Williams’ Mrs Doubtfire), was an absolute smasher, the best in his career in terms of success. Dustin Hoffman didn’t seem to be much bothered about the roles or with whom he was acting as long as he was confident of portraying the character well.
The results indeed show. He is considered a legend bagging academy award nominations seven times and winning it twice. His two Oscars came in Kramer Vs Kramer in 1979 and Rain Man in 1988. In the first he matched wits with Meryl Streep, a great actress herself. The trauma of a divorce and the court proceedings over the custody of a child were all enacted so touchingly by these two actors.
His was a totally different kind of role in Rain Man. As an autistic older brother of Tom Cruise, he was superb and deservingly won an Oscar. His mannerisms made him look exactly like an autistic person. An ardent devotee of method acting, Hoffman worked hard to bring out correctly the different shades of character he was playing. There is a story that he kept himself awake for several days to look tired in a scene in the thriller Marathon Man, released in 1976.
Hoffman knew very well that he will not be able to impress the audience with his physical appearance. So he accepted challenging roles and tried to get into the skin of that character. He put on chunks of makeup to look like a 120 year old man in Little Big Man, a film about a white boy raised by Red Indian tribe cheyenne, a sort of revisionist western. Of course, his role in Tootsie is well known.
He was fortunate to get roles in the films of renowned directors like Mike Nichols, John Schlesinger, Arthur Penn, Sam Peckinpah, Bob Fosse, Alan J Pakula and Barry Levinson. He also played the main part in the film adaptation of Arthur Miller play Death of a Salesman helmed by famous German director Volker Schlondorff.
His first hit film The Graduate had him getting seduced by an older lady Anne Bancroft. Later he falls in love with her daughter. The film came in the late sixties when the sexual mores were becoming more open with feminist movement and hippie culture gaining ground. It struck a chord with the younger audience has since become a cult film.
Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs saw him in a brilliant form changing from an intellectual to a revengeful husband killing the guys who raped his wife. In the cult film Papillon, he plays the friend of Papillon Steve McQueen. The expression on his face when he refuses to jump with McQueen from the high cliff to escape from prison will haunt you after the film is over.
He showed another facet of his acting by playing comedian Lenny Bruce in the movie Lenny. All the President’s Men, the movie on the The Washington Post reporters unearthing the infamous Watergate Scandal featured him as Carl Bernstein along with Robert Redford’s Bob Woodward.
His last great film was Rain Man. He couldn’t make much of an impact in his later films.