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I don’t know how many are interested in such things, but among those who follow the careers of the best American actors, there is a well-known bit of lore about the pre-fame friendship of Dustin Hoffman, Gene Hackman, and Robert Duvall.
Well, it’s not lore, it’s true. You can read about it here. The trio banged around New York for a solid 10 years before finally finding their footing in the film business.
Every young actor in New York or Hollywood feasts on such stories because they make the impossible seem real. You and your buddies—as hungry and invisible as you are now—could one day find yourselves on top. It could happen. It has.
Gene Hackman is retired now. Hasn’t made a movie since 2004. And more’s the pity because he’s an American treasure.
The same can be said for Robert Duvall, who’s still going strong—maybe stronger than ever. But Duvall’s a man of few words. He’s not prone to reminiscing.
Luckily, Dustin Hoffman, the youngest of the old gang, likes to talk and has rarely been at a loss for something to say. Yesterday, he told John Hockenberry of WNYC’s The Takeaway a crackerjack of a story about Duvall and the science of auditioning:
Actors will tell you it’s nothing to audition for ten years and not get anything.
What Duvall told me when we we were roommates, he said, “Many times the worst actors get the part because the producers and the director really want to see the character when you do an audition, and actors who have studied with one of these, let’s say, ‘giants’ of acting teachers, would say, “You have to find the character. There’s a way, a system of finding the character and you kind of start from zero.”
Which is really what [director Mike] Nichols had us do in rehearsal for The Graduate.
And as Duvall said, “The actors who have a character for the audition—and they haven’t even rehearsed yet, they’re just auditioning—will give you a derivative character, they’ll give you a cliché, and they give you the most superficial one, but the director and the producers say, ‘Oh! Yes! Now we know what we’re gonna get.”
And that’s why Duvall said those actors he used to call: “What you see is what you get.”
All these guys will be gone one day, maybe soon. Like I said, I’m not sure how many are interested, but for those of us who are, this stuff is as good as gold.Published in