Photo by Kate Eisemann
We’ve all known him as Captain Hook, Rain Man and Ratso, but never as the eccentric philosopher wearing a leather vest and white sneakers.
However, amid laughter and cheers, screen icon Dustin Hoffman came to life during a candid talk Thursday night at the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts. Hoffman joined the stage with Director Francois Girard to discuss their upcoming project, “Boychoir,” which is being filmed on Fairfield’s campus. Hoffman also mused to the audience about his life as an actor, and provided insights into the industry and a behind-the-scenes look at several of his films.
The talk took on a lively tone and was sprinkled with many hilarious moments. At one point after Hoffman was corrected for calling Professor of Art History Dr. Philip Eliasoph by the wrong name, he playfully donned the professor’s round yellow glasses.
Hoffman relayed his philosophy on acting with the analogy of putting on clothing. “What happens is that it alters you: It’s still you but it alters you a little,” he said, explaining the difference one feels being naked versus in a tuxedo. “Every iota of existence alters you and you let that do it. But it’s only yourself that you can offer.”
Happy to share some little-known behind-the-scenes secrets from fan-favorite movies, Hoffman revealed that his pose during the climactic church scene in “The Graduate” came about by accident. The director, Mike Nichols, took all of the credit for “making him a symbol of Christ,” when he was just trying not to break the window.
Another insider secret Hoffman revealed was that while filming “Midnight Cowboy,” the scene where he almost gets hit by the cab was likewise unplanned. Because of a small budget, they were unable to shut down the street, so in reality he was nearly hit and was forced to improvise. “In my brain it was ‘Hey! We’re making a film here!’” he said. However, in a split second, Hoffman was able to quickly translate it to the famous line, “Hey! I’m walking here!”
When asked about how being cast as the lead in “The Graduate” changed the game for unconventional-looking actors like himself during a time when six-foot blond studs like Robert Redford and Paul Newman reigned supreme, he shifted the conversation toward how the industry treats women. “I thought it would develop faster,” he said. “Thank God for Lena Dunham … because how long do we have to wait before we see an unconventional woman be beautiful by bringing out what’s inside of her?” The audience erupted in cheers.
Hoffman became noticeably choked up when asked about his relationship with the late actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. He made a point to say that addiction is something wildly misunderstood, and must be seen as illness. He said it is an attempt to self-medicate for those suffering inside. In regards to his late acquaintance, Hoffman commented, “I would guess that he didn’t feel deep down that he deserved his talent.”
“Boychoir” tells the story of the astounding and fleeting singing talent possessed by some boys before they reach puberty.“They sing with a pure soprano voice, which is actually purer than a woman’s soprano, if you have not seen it and heard it … you are with something superhuman with these kids,” said Hoffman.
The boys possess a “God-given” talent, according to Hoffman, and are “given angels wings, and then taken away, and if that’s not a metaphor for what we call life than I don’t know what is.”
The pair entertained a packed house of both students and Fairfield community members for over two hours. After receiving a lengthy standing ovation, Hoffman was given flowers, which he handed to a woman sitting in the front row before exiting.
President Jeffrey P. von Arx, S.J., told The Mirror, “I think the audience reaction was a good indication of how much the university community and the Fairfield community enjoyed this event.”
“I thought it was life changing,” said Fairfield resident Georgette Mallory. “I thought his view on life and his interpretation of being an actor was something I’d never heard before.”
Junior Kaitlyn Hunt said it was “definitely not what I was expecting.” She most enjoyed Hoffman shedding light behind one of the most infamous scenes in “The Graduate,” where Hoffman is seen in a Christ-like stance banging against a glass wall.
“I thought it was amazing,” said Stephanie Sawicki ‘17. “I mean in this age we see YouTube interviews of people just like this, but to see up and real close it’s different because he’s like 20 feet in front you. It’s Dustin Hoffman.”