Still Reaching

By Emily Gold Boutilier / November / December 2004
June 13th, 2007

Backstage at Parents Weekend, Dustin Hoffman was enjoying the last fifteen minutes before taking the stage. He shook hands and chatted amiably with Brown staffers. He and his wife, Lisa, who are the parents of Max ’07, shared a hug. Then he answered a few questions from the BAM and the Brown Daily Herald.

The father of six, Hoffman talked about how a Hollywood actor balances work and parenthood. “It’s hard to have a life away from the kids,” he acknowledged. “If you’re in the movies it’s maybe particularly difficult. We always took the family with us.” He admitted that the balance has not always been ideal: “There’s no such thing as fifty-fifty. One suffers. You just work at it.”

Hoffman, now sixty-seven, enchanted his Pizzitola audience during an Inside the Actors Studio–style talk with Hollywood agent Michael Ovitz, cofounder of Creative Artists Agency and father of Kimberly ’05. Reading from note cards, Hoffman gave an opening statement that was more like a dramatic monologue, during which he confessed that he considers himself a failure. “You’re always reaching for the light bulb that’s a little beyond your reach,” he said later in the evening. “The failure is the cloud that just hangs over you while you struggle.”

He said that after a “near fatal first semester at junior college,” a friend suggested he take an acting course. “Nobody flunks acting,” the friend told him. “It’s like gym.” Because few actors manage to find work, Hoffman figured that as an actor he could “fail with dignity.”

Filming Tootsie, the 1982 movie in which he plays an actor who pretends to be a woman, Hoffman said he ran into his Midnight Cowboy costar Jon Voight while shooting in the Russian Tea Room in New York City. Hoffman pretended to be an adoring female fan. Tricking a fellow actor, he said, was “better than any Academy Award.”

After speaking for almost two hours, Hoffman seemed in no hurry to wrap up, but at the urging of art professor Richard Fishman, head of the Creative Arts Council, which organized the event, he took his last question. “Our work keeps us from dying inside,” Hoffman said in emotional closing remarks. “Our love keeps us from dying inside.”
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November / December 2004