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INT: Hackman/Hoffman

Oct. 15, 2003by: Mike Sampson

A few weeks back I was invited to New Orleans to meet with the cast and crew of the upcoming John Grisham adaptation. All the stars would be in attendance and it would be a first time for me talking to some of these legendary actors, whose work I've admired for years and years. There was no wasting time or easing into things slowly as Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman were the first off the bat. The came in together acting like the friends that they've been for the past 40 years. It certainly helps when Hoffman breaks the ice like so:

DH: Now we have to lie and tell everybody how much we like each other.

GH: Yes...

Is this not surprising to you that this is the first time after all these years that someone thought of putting you two together in a movie?

GH: Does it surprise us?... Yeah, I think there've been a couple of times when our names came up and he wanted too much money and I didn't do it.

So what was it that brought you together this time?

GH: Well I think it's a wonderful story... Did you all see the film last night?

Yes.

GH: I think it works. It's kind of a throwback film in a way. For me at least. It doesn't rely on a lot of electronic gadgets.

DH: Well your character does.

GH: Well yeah but...(laughs)

This is the third time you've played a villain in a John Grisham thriller? What's the draw for you?

GH: It just worked out this way. I wasn't searching for that. Just one of those things.

DH: Did you ever meet [Grisham]?

GH: Yeah I did actually. I met him in Memphis when we were doing THE FIRM. Nice man.

DH: Yeah?

GH: He has cast approval, by the way. On all his films.

DH: He does?

GH: Yeah.

[To Gene] You seem like such a nice man but you play despicable so well. Is that the real you coming out?

GH: (Laughs) Well it's part of me. (Laughs some more) We always try to use various things in our personalities we may not find attractive but we find them useful.

How good of a housemate was Dustin back in the old days?

GH: He was the worst. We had to hose the rooms down instead of sweeping them out (laughs). (Looks at DH) Are you gonna talk? (Laughs) Or are you just going to sit there?

DH: (Laughs) I slept on a floor cause he had a small bedroom with his wife and then he had this little teeny bit of a larger room - it was a tenement - where there was stove with a board over it you'd use to dry the dishes because next to the stove was a tub, which was also the sink. So I'd have to take a bath while they were making breakfast. There was also a toilet next to that. All he's speaking about is the fact that when I had to...have my...morning bathroom, I-I didn't care if they were making eggs or not (laughs). And he's held that against me for forty years. So screw him!

Did you guys dream of being movie stars back then?

GH: No I would've been happy just with an off-off-Broadway job. And that's they way we both started.

DH: Gene introduced me to Bob Duvall - that was the only way he could get me out of his apartment. Truly. I was supposed to stay there three days it ended up being three weeks. Bob was working all night at the post office. Gene was working for the Greenwich Village Padded Wagon Moving Company. I didn't even have a job yet. The three of us hung out together for years. Each of us had a different acting teacher and we're coming off the days of Rock Hudson, Troy Donahue - good looking guys. "Bonanza" and all that. We were character types. Meaning we're ugly (laughs).

GH: Speak for yourself!

DH: Well I was more ugly (laughs). But it's true. If God had come down with a pen and said, "The three of you sign a contract right now and you'll never get very far but you'll work. You'll have a part in an off-off-Broadway show for the rest of your life," we would've signed in a New York minute. Everybody in the room of every party we went, nobody would've thought. I still don't understand it.

How do you explain your rise to stardom then?

DH: A decline in the culture (laughs).

GH: Standards were lowered...

DH: The bar keeps getting lower and lower.

GH: Everybody has a chance really. You just have to find the right property. And we all three individually were very fortunate to.

DH: By the way, just a piece of trivia. The first time we would've worked together would've been THE GRADUATE. [To GH] You want to tell this?

GH: No, go ahead.

DH: Gene was cast as Mr. Robinson. And we were in rehearsal, we had rehearsed three weeks and it was at Paramount and Gene and I are in the Paramount bathroom. I think, in my memory, about six urinals separated us. And he looks over at me as he's taking a leak and says, "I'm gonna get fired." And I said, "What are you talking about?" He said, "I'm getting fired today. I can feel it." And he did. And that opened his career up because Warren Beatty said, "He's not doing it?!" and he put him in BONNIE AND CLYDE and that had a tremendous impact on Gene's career.

Why did he get fired?

DH: He's not a good actor (laughs).

GH: I resent that laugh. I got fired because I think I didn't fulfill the director and the writer's idea of what the part should've been. I'm funny in rehearsal. I do a lot of searching around. I try not to perform until I really feel that I'm confident in what I'm doing. You can, you can go on your first day and perform and you probably won't go any further than that. But the way we were all saying in the 50s and the 60s, you need to keep searching and kicking things around. So I was doing that and I just took too much time.

Considering you knew each other for so long what surprised you most about working with each other?

GH: It's funny that...I wasn't surprised at all. I felt like we did work together.

DH: We did, at school.

GH: Yeah, at Pasadena Playhouse we did...

DH: "Of Mice and Men." He was Lenny. He's a brilliant Lenny.

GH: We also were double-cast in "Taming of the Shrew." We both played the same role.

DH: We both played the Petruchio.

GH: The cape was the same...

DH: I had to wear his tights.

GH: I played the first act, then Dusty came out and played the same character in the second act. It must've been startling for the people.

DH: You know what happened on this movie? He's cast before I am. The director is trying to find characters and get the movie together. Then I get cast. Maybe I was one of the last principal roles to get cast. Then the director discovers we knew each other years and years ago and hadn't worked together. He goes back to the writer and says, "We don't really have a scene for them, they're just in the courtroom together." They say they're going to write a scene and the director tells them to take their time and decides to shoot that scene, the "bathroom scene," the last day of the shoot. So Gene finished his work, weeks before. I finished my work weeks before and now we have to sit every day, waiting as the clock ticks by. Cause it's always nice to get your stuff over with. And we show up to do the scene the day before here in New Orleans and the next morning we come to work and we admit to each other we hadn't slept the night before. How fucking nervous we were. At first it was eight pages when it was written and we gotta shoot eight pages and how we weren't gonna get through it. We did the eight pages and we were terrible, both of us. Yet we embraced. Both of us and we said, "We got through it." IT was intimidating.

What was so difficult?

DH: First of all it's heard to shoot a movie, break for a long time, then come back to shoot one scene, which is, in a sense, one of the biggest scenes each character had. I think about it and in a funny way, Gene and I have been good friends since very early and I think certain things we have in common never change. One of them is part of you feels like you're ever gonna work again. We both have always felt that way. It's a freak accident we became stars. It's a freak accident we've been able to have a career. And there's a part of us that always feels like we're frauds. That's enough to make you nervous.

Is there still as much fear here as there was back in acting class?

GH: No I still, when I'm getting ready to do a scene, I have an opening night kind of jitters. But I like that. That's part of the reason I'm still in the business. Cause that gets you going. It really...there's something at stake. You're not just showing up and you're not a day player. Not just trying to make a living. The thrill of that...there's nothing like it. Absolutely nothing like it.

What was it like working with John Cusack?

DH: Make your answer quick so we can get back to talking about working with me (laughs).

GH: John's an interesting actor--

DH: --Next question! (laughs)

GH: (Laughs) No, he's an interesting actor and quite a good one. I think the movie really relies on his performance. He's really the catalyst in the picture.

What kind of tool is an accent for you? I noticed in some scenes it's stronger that it is in others.

DH: It's called having an inconsistent accent. But please write it the way you say it (laughs).

GH: He did it on purpose...

DH: They wouldn't let me in the looping room long enough.

[To GH] I know you've been asked this over the years but is there any chance of another FRENCH CONNECTION?

GH: No I don't think I would do that.

Have they talked to you lately about that?

GH: Not lately. But about five years ago there was a project. It didn't work out though.

How do you guys feel about gun control after doing this movie?

GH: I'm for gun control. There should be some control of how people acquire guns and that sort of thing. Too many guns. Absolutely too many guns.

DH: I could talk for an hour on this becasue that was my character. I called up the Brady Center for control against gun violence cause that was the first thing that came into my head. I talked to the guy who ran it then, Dennis Hannigan, for hours. I had to meet with the director, the director liked him, flew him out and we learned a lot about it. Afterwards, I met with this ex-Congressman and my head is just filled with statistics. It's so itneresting cause like Gene feels, and 80% of Americans feel, there needs to be more gun control. But it doesn't happen because the NRA - the National Rifle Association - is the most powerful lobbying organization there is. We're not talking about the right to bear arms, the second amendment. Originally conceived, as I understand it, because we needed a militia. now we have a National Guard. Now anything is available. You can shoot down a plane. you can buy that. It took until 1986 for Congress to pass legislation to no longer allow bullets that were specially made to pierce bulletproof vest and to kill cops. In 1994, you know we have state's rights, we have slaughter of school kids and that state passes legislation. You have one in Stockton, that state passes legislation. In the Clinton administration there was the first time federally there was gun control passed. But the NRA is so powerful, they told their constituents, "Go ahead and pass it but give it only ten years." That ten years is up next September. It's nutty. In other words, Saturday Night Specials, assault type rifles, just that five day check to make sure they don't have a criminal background - that's up. The NRA is trying to repeal that. 80 people die every day in the United States from violence for guns. 10 of them are kids. 30,000 a year. This is statistics I get from the Brady Center. More people died last weekend from gun violence than in the entire Iraq war. There are certain aspects of our society that remain hidden and we just feel "what can we do?"

What difference can films or entertainment make?

DH: Well it's like cigarettes. THE INSIDER was a good movie against cigarettes and little by little...by increments. Everybody knows somebody and nobody's saying you shouldn't have a gun, but it's all about money. I don't know what effect this will have but I don't think it'll hurt.

Have either of you ever served on a jury?

GH: No, I never have. I've never been called, actually.

DH: He has a shady background. I got called for the first time in my memory, right before I came here. I said I had to publicize the movie and you know...(laughs)

Did you have to serve at all?

DH: No, from here we have to go to New York. But I don't think we'd ever get accepted. They wouldn't select any known person.

How has the business changed since both of you got involved in show business?

GH: Well the demographics for a big home run type of film is leaning towards a younger audience than when we started and maybe even more technically oriented films. Special effects, things like that.

Gene, what your character does in this movie, is this exaggerated or does this happen in real life?

GH: [To DH] Do you know?

DH: I don't know.

FOX: We actually interviewed real-life jury consultants and they say a lot of that is really happening. But mostly they rely on psychology. Their clinical psychologists, social psychologists...not quite as high-tech as in the movie.

Gene did you do any research on these people.

GH: No I couldn't. I asked before we started the film if there was anyone I could talk to and Gary [Fleder, the director] had one guy that he had spoken to that I never would've said let's hook up with him. So I just played it like it was a movie.

Have either one of you read the book?

GH: No I purposely did not read it. The book is about the tobacco industry. And of course they did that in THE INSIDER so we switched it around.

What are the films that defined your careers?

DH: I thought THE FRENCH CONNECTION, THE SCARECROW, THE CONVERSATION...films like that were my best work (laughs).

GH: I liked TOOTSIE and MIDNIGHT COWBOY (laughs)...what else did you do?

Can you talk about the shock of becoming successful.

GH: I don't think there was ever a moment when I said, "Oh, I'm successful." Did you?

Not even with an Oscar?

DH: No, not even. There's all that thing that goes around with the Oscar, "Be careful what you wish for." Cause careers sometimes slide downward after an Oscar, whether it's a director or an actor. In this country the thing about success and failure is odd because it becomes the be all and end all. It all has to do with money. You're a failure if you don't make money, you're a success if you make a lot of money. Nobody ever looks at the substance of what you're doing. What if you do a film that's a failure and it's good work. I must say that's what we came from. That doesn't change. That part doesn't change. You try to do good work. It is a food in and of itself.

Do younger actors ask you for advice and if so, what do you tell them?

GH: An actor never asked me for advice (laughs)!

DH: When we started out we wanted to do good work and we were actors. We used to have arguments and we were passionate. Bob Duvall and Gene and myself, each of us had a different acting teacher who taught a different technique and a different approach and we used to argue who was the best. We'd argue who did better work or "did you see that movie?" There was passion about that. I have found that people come up to you lately and say, "How can I make it?" We never even talked in those terms.

GH: A lot of young actors come up to you - or people who think they want to be actors - and they'll say, "How do I get started?" I always tell them the same thing. Go to New York and find a good acting teacher. "Yeah but...I really want to go to California and do commercials." Well do that then!

Source: JoBlo.com

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