At the movies

Dustin Hoffman finds his groove with ‘Quartet’

 

Even though Dustin Hoffman has racked up two Oscars, seven nominations and myriad other awards, he long felt stymied by his failure to direct a feature film.

Until now. Hoffman’s directorial debut, Quartet, starring Maggie Smith and Billy Connolly as opera singers in a retirement home in the English countryside, opens in theaters Friday. The film marks the culmination of a 35-year quest to direct, one that began when Hoffman fired himself off the 1978 film Straight Time because he lost confidence.

“I said the reason was they didn’t have playback,” says the 75-year-old, referring to the technology that allows directors to immediately watch what’s just been filmed. “That was my excuse, but it didn’t stop others from doing it. Yet it traumatized me enough that I didn’t direct a movie for years and years.”

How it happened: Cinematographer John de Borman, who worked with Hoffman on 2008’s Last Chance Harvey, passed him Ron Harwood’s script for Quartet with a hunch that the story would spark something in the septuagenarian. It did.

“The aging process in a human being compromises you: You’re not as flexible as you used to be. You can’t run as fast. You don’t sing the same. Yet the thing that runs parallel to that is one’s spirit. It can either shrink or widen. And that is an extraordinary thing to me,” says Hoffman.

Hoffman still leaps out of bed in the morning. “I’m a popper-upper,” he said. He welcomes each new day: making coffee, taking out the dogs, feeding his four new chickens. And his lifelong work in the movies infuses him with passion.

“What’s unreal is that I’ve been able to do what I love for such a long period of time. I know that I’m part of the 0.0001 percent,” he said, admitting that such longevity is hard to come by — “unless,” he adds, “you’re funny-looking to begin with. Then you’ve got a better shot. Physically, you have nowhere to go but up.”

The Los Angeles Times

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