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January 24 • 2013
et me begin at the end.
I've been on the phone with
two-time Academy Award-
winning actor and recent Kennedy
Center honoree Dustin Hoffman for
about 25 minutes. How cool is that?
But, wait, it gets better.
His assistant, Amanda Kaplan,
already has interrupted us twice,
nudging her boss, reminding him
other journalists are waiting to talk to
him about Quartet, his debut as a film
But the conversation has been
going well, and Hoffman doesn't rush
to get off the line. Finally, he asks if
I'm based in New York. When I say
yes — hold on to your seats because
this is the really cool part — he says,
"We'll go out one day and have a
drink. You'll like my friend [Tootsie
co-screenwriter] Murray Schisgal."
That was a month ago. And he still
hasn't called. But he's likely been busy,
promoting Quartet, a film with a star-
studded British cast that is scheduled
to open locally on Friday, Jan. 25.
Based on the stage play written by
Oscar-winning screenwriter Ronald
Harwood (The Pianist), who also
wrote the screenplay, Quartet is set in
a British retirement home for retired
opera singers. It is funny and sad and
entirely enjoyable. In fact, it is so well
done, I suggest it was an easy first
project for him.
"That was the idea," he says. "It's
difficult to make things appear easy;
that's always the intent. It's always dif-
ficult — mainly because you're fight-
ing the clock on a daily basis. I don't
think all art works that way. In your
profession, I'm sure you have dead-
lines. But movies have extreme dead-
lines, and we're not allowed to work
until we're satisfied, unfortunately:'
Hoffman has a reputation for being
a — how to put this? —perfectionist.
It was something spoofed in Tootsie.
"I can recognize bad work, par-
ticularly my own," he says. "I've never
swayed and convinced myself that
work that wasn't first rate was first
"Unfortunately, you work with
people, particularly if you're an actor,
where the directors or the produc-
ers delude themselves into thinking
what they've just done is great, and we
can move on. I have said I can tell in
the first three days of shooting if it is
going to be problematic because you
see the director being satisfied before
he or she should be:'
Would Dustin Hoffman the director
hire Dustin Hoffman the actor?
"Yes. It's a very easy answer:' As fur-
ther proof, he offers Maggie Smith —
nominated for a Golden Globe for Best
Actress in a Musical or Comedy for
her performance in Quartet — sug-
gesting she is a female doppelganger
"I was less demanding than the
first two directors I worked with" —
Mike Nichols (The Graduate) and
John Schlesinger (Midnight Cowboy)
— "and I am very demanding," says
"Maggie Smith is equally so. There
were days where on the third take
Maggie would say, 'I don't know what
this scene is about' and lose her cool.
It was wonderful because she was
right. Maggie's reputation preceded
her. She's called herself the 'acid queen'
in print, and that simply means she