Acting His Age continued

"I used to tell everyone that THE GRADUATE was my first movie," Hoffman says, and for good reason; his role in THE TIGER MAKES OUT (1967) was so fleeting that "when my parents saw, it they thought I was another actor."

Even as THE GRADUATE was being filmed, however, "I was convinced they'd made a huge mistake. I read years later that Larry Turman, the producer, showed the film at his home just before its release, and people commented to him, 'What a great movie. But what a shame they miscast the lead.' "

Thrust into the unlikely role of hot young romantic star, Hoffman followed it up by portraying the "repellent" Ratso Rizzo in MIDNIGHT COWBOY (1969), a move that seemed to court career suicide. "People were walking out of the screenings. My manager was saying, 'If this movie is a disaster, it is extremely important that you come back as a human being.' " As a result, Hoffman "succumbed to a lot of nervous decision making" to play a more conventional romantic lead in JOHN AND MARY (1969).

MIDNIGHT COWBOY, of course, won the Oscar for Best Picture
, while Hoffman's awkward chemistry with Mia Farrow ("I think I should have met her in her Woody Allen period") helped turn John and Mary into a dud. "I did it for the wrong reasons, 'to save my career,' and I vowed not to let that happen again."

A string of more personal "experiences" followed. In LITTLE BIG MAN (1970), Hoffman undercut his youthful image as a 121-year-old survivor of Custer's Last Stand. In STRAW DOGS (1971), "I liked the idea of a guy who was appalled by the violence of the times and was running away, but had not resolved the violence in himself. I think he's a lot like me: I'm a physical coward, l don't like to get into fightsbut I'm always front row at the fights."

He journeyed to Italy to make ALFREDO ALFREDO (1972), partly out of respect for director Pietro Germi
, partly to play a role while speaking Italian. He took lessons for months, and when he was ultimately denied the chanceU.S. distributors wouldn't touch the movie unless Hoffman spoke in English"I was devastated.

For his supporting role in PAPILLON (1973), Hoffman consulted with the great screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who had once suffered under the Hollywood blacklist. "He worked on a typewriter in his bathtub, a very erudite guy, smoked with a cigarette holderjust a wonderful character. And finally I said, 'Let me play you. You could be a master counterfeiter and use your brains to figure out how to survive on Devil's Island.' And I started to imitate him a little bit."

Hoffman and Valerie Perrine as Lenny and Honey Bruce.
Hoffman took more of a journalistic approach to LENNY (1974), tape-recording interviews with dozens of Bruce's friends and intimates.
"The number of people who cried during these interviews," Hoffman sighs, "and he'd been dead for years! And a lot of these people would say, 'Has a guy named Albert Goldman talked to you?' They wouldn't talk to him. They said he was a groupie, he was always walking into Lenny's dressing room, and Bruce would kick him out and apparently made an enemy of him. The painful part was, the book came out a few weeks before the film. And film critics would say, if you want the real Lenny Bruce, don't see the movie, read the book by Albert Goldman. Back then, nobody had his number."

Hoffman's growing reportorial skills served him well on ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN (1976) in his portrayal of journalist Carl Bernstein, opposite Robert Redford.

"The director, Alan Pakula, asked me, 'What do you want to do with your character?' I said, 'You really want to know? I want to look handsomer than Robert Redford.' He laughed. I said, 'You think I'm kidding. But that's the key to my character.'"

Hoffman has a healthy actor's ego, he regularly compares his work with peers like Nicholson and De Niroand a competitive edge. During the' dentist scene in MARATHON MAN, his co-star Laurence Olivier was concerned about hurting Hoffman."We were using real tools. And I remember thinking, 'If I can fool Olivier ...' The take that's actually in the movie, I went through the roof and scared the shit out of him. He didn't know I was acting. It was my finest moment."

MARATHON MAN also brought to full circle Hoffman's first decade in Hollywood, reuniting him with MIDNIGHT COWBOY director John Schlesinger while playing a college-age student. "I was 37. And I remember saying to my wife, 'This is the last time I'll get to be in.college.'"

One day during the making of that movie, Hoffman was at the home of MARATHON MAN's producer, Bob Evans. Entering the house with Evans, he noticed, right above the front door, a nest of birds that had just hatched. "Look at that!" Hoffman said. Evans nodded and kept walking.
The next day Hoffman approached him. "Do you realize those birds had just hatched, the mother was bringing the food, and it was all right there in front of you?" Evans said that he did.

"If that scene had been in the film rushes," Hoffman told Evans, "you would have watched them for 15 hours, and couldn't have gotten enough."

Hoffman is really talking about himself. Like Evans, he'd "lived and breathed movies." A successful career had reinforced his insulation from the world at large. But for the next decade, a series of traumatic events let him know he was leaving the nest in more ways than one.