The Meyerowitz Stories (New And Selected) are available on Netflix today.
Dustin Hoffman is quite surprised he’s here. Not here, here, seated next to Adam Sandler in a dark London hotel room, but here as a megastar and double Oscar winner, still working at the age of 80. It’s 50 years since he descended the escalator to the sound of Simon & Garfunkel in The Graduate, propelling him to a kind of generation-defining fame he never could have predicted.
Since then the hits are almost too numerous to mention, although any attempt would surely include Midnight Cowboy, All The President’s Men, Kramer vs Kramer, Rain Man, Straw Dogs, Marathon Man, Tootsie and Hook.
“I never thought that I would get hired when I was starting out,” he says. “Bob Duvall, Gene Hackman and myself, we were hoping just to make a living off Broadway. We never thought any of this would happen.”
But happen it did to all three, a band of pals who are now often mentioned in conversations about the greatest living actors.
Hoffman’s been nominated for seven Academy Awards and bagged two, for Kramer vs Kramer and Rain Man, won the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute, and the Kennedy Centre Honours Award, but says all that success has not helped him to put his finger on quite who he is.
“I calculated that I need to live to be about
132 because at that moment I will know myself,” he adds. “I have been talking to God about that.”
He is certainly settling into the professional role of a patriarch and flexing some of his comedic muscles in films such as Meet The Fockers, Little Fockers and the Kung Fu Panda animated movies.
He continues that run in Noah Baumbach’s new film The Meyerowitz Stories (New And Selected), in which he plays a sculptor dissatisfied with the level of success he’s achieved and a self-involved and negligent father to three adult children played by Sandler, Ben Stiller and Homeland’s Elizabeth Marvel.
“I don’t think actors should play parts unless they are in it, otherwise it looks like they are performing a part,” he says.
“They go, ‘Oh so-and-so is an a**hole but I’m not an a**hole so I will just perform an a**hole. I will get a few people in my head that I know are a**holes and just do that’.
“I think we have the a**hole in us, all of us, and it’s up to us to enlarge that.”
He says this commitment and truthfulness is something he has witnessed in Sandler, who plays the less successful of his two sons, the one who never had a sculpture named after him.
“What Adam was doing, which I can’t put into words, there was something about him I’ve not seen before,” he adds.
“I know him and I’ve done a film with him but I went home and said to my wife, ‘I think he’s hit a part of himself in which he would be the person that didn’t make it’.
“And that is as close as you can get to the bone. I thought that is what Adam was doing to hit that.”
The pair clearly have a lot of respect and affection for each other, but they also like to make fun of each other.
When discussing Baumbach’s brisk screenplay, which sees characters wrapped in their own monologues, failing to engage with and respond to each other, Sandler jokes: “He does that in real life. Dustin doesn’t acknowledge anybody in the room, (he just) looks in the distance.
“‘When is this over?’ is basically what he’s thinking whenever I speak with him; he looks like, ‘Let’s end this, so I can get back to humanity’.”
Hoffman adds: “Noah had a 172-page script and yet the film is only one hour and 50 minutes.
“He said something that I thought was very interesting, which is that we as human beings want to be able to guess what the person is saying to us before they finish.
“That is very ordinary in real life — we don’t have to hear the whole sentence.”
Sandler laughs. “I was about to jump in and not listen to the end of your sentence, but I couldn’t come up with anything,” he says.
While Hoffman is outlining his plans to live for another 50 years to figure himself out, Sandler says: “I still have no idea of who I am. One minute I say this and the next I say the complete opposite and I believe them both. I don’t really know what the hell the truth is with me yet.”
Hoffman, who also starred opposite Sandler in 2014’s The Cobbler, can’t resist a dry dig.
“I worked with Adam on a film before this and I thought he was this close to knowing everything about himself and then a year later we are doing this and he has regressed.”
Take two: Dustin
Hoffman and Adam Sandler in their new film and (below) Hoffman
in Rain Man