There's that famous, but likely apocryphal, story about Laurence Olivier and Dustin Hoffman when they were working together on Marathon Man. To prepare for a scene, Hoffman had gone for a few days without sleep and looked pretty rough. Olivier asked him why he was putting himself through such an ordeal and Hoffman replied that he was trying to be convincing in the role. Olivier replied, "Try acting dear boy".
Anyone able to trace this? Perhaps an interview with either actor which mentions the story? My googling is coming up dry and my book of quotations doesn't mention this. I'm looking to see if it's true first of all, and I'm also looking for an account of the story to quote, preferably from either Hoffman or Olivier themselves. Any help gratefully received.
Posted by SiKboy on :
I've heard that story, except with "Its called *acting*, dear boy..." as the punchline. Its probably apocryphal as you say. Which is a shame, because its a damn good line. I heard it relation to a scene in the film in which Hoffmans character had been awake for a few days and was physically exhausted, so hoffman stayed awake for a few days and was running around a track to tire himself more, when Olivier asked what he was doing.
I've also heard that Hoffman had to be dissuaded from having a tooth removed without anesthetic so he could use that experience when it happens to his character in the film. Also probably apocryphal.
Posted by Hypno Toad on :
I'm pretty sure this was one of William Goldman's anecdotes from his book Which Lie did I Tell?. I'll have to look at my copy when I get home to be sure (But since Goldman wrote the Marathon Man novel & screenplay, I'm pretty sure).
ETA: may have been Which Lie did I Tell? Posted by Snow/Neige Dinosaur on :
quote:He has always said that the most famous story concerning his collaboration with Olivier on Marathon Man has been taken out of context. It was reported that, to prepare himself for a scene in which his character was supposed to have been kept awake for days on end, Hoffman himself refused to go to sleep all night. "Have you ever tried acting, dear boy?" his Lordship was alleged to have said. Hoffman now says that he was, in fact, out partying at Studio 54 the night before and that Olivier's comment was a mild rebuke for his debauchery.
There was a recent TV interview in which Hoffman also gave that explanation, but can't find any reference online (it could have been Parkinson, but I think it was Graham Norton).
Posted by Snow/Neige Dinosaur on :
Here's an interview from Playboy (link NSFW) where Hoffman gives a similar explanation. He also states that the story originated in Time magazine.
Posted by Dara bhur gCara on :
I vaguely remember Robin Williams saying he used the same line during the filming of "Hook", when Hoffman stopped mid-scene because he had lost his motivation.
Posted by Danvers Carew on :
Thanks folks - very useful - cheers!
Posted by Billy Biggles on :
It would be interesting to find when this story started circulating because I think it is Dustin Hoffman's invention.
As you have doubtless found, googling "Hoffman Olivier try acting" just brings ten million versions without any kind of source; but there is one which is interestingly different: it's on Rotten Tomatoes and uses a Steve Martin joke:
quote:The well-known story about Olivier's advice to Hoffman on the set of the film has been referenced many times (even by Steve Martin in "Saturday Night Live"), so it almost seems pointless to divulge into it.[I haven't the slightest idea what that sentence means - BB] Basically, in the words of Steve Martin, "Hoffman came to the set one day looking absolutely wretched, and Sir Larry said, 'Dusty, you look absolutely wretched!', and it turns out that he had been awake for twenty-four hours, because at this point in the movie, his character had been, so Larry replied, 'Oh, Dusty, why don't you just try acting?', and the American retorted, 'Act on this, you British ***,' and Larry replied, 'I asked for a meal, not a snack!'"
Which indicates a certain unexplained venomous feeling towards Dustin Hoffman.
In the imdb trivia sectionfor Marathon Man they reckon that Hoffman talked John Schlesinger into changing the script and that William Goldman didn't like that, so spread the story around about "Try acting."
But in Adventures In The Screen Trade, there is, amongst loads of fun gossip, no version of the story in the OP. There is a damaging story against Dustin Hoffman in that he forced Olivier to improvise while rehearsing. It wasn't Olivier's preferred method at all at all, and it was only because John Schlesinger also urged him to do it that he agreed to attempt it.
He was in pain at the time because of some nerve disease, and Goldman's account is quite troubling because of the sort of puppyish enthusiastic way Hoffman keeps walking him around the room. In fact you could put the book down at that point and think "What a selfish inconsiderate drittsek," and you might well be right.
But William Goldman suggests that Hoffman was frightened of Olivier:
quote: And I think part of this was because of Hoffman's need to put himself on at least equal footing with this sick old man.
There's an acute remark from William Devane: "When the camera starts to roll, he'll give me a little of this, he'll give me a little of that, and you'll never know I'm in the movie. No one's going to be watching me - that's Olivier, man."
And what do you remember best from Marathon Man? For me it's Marthe Keller's heaving breasts and gleefully rogered expression, but for most normal people it's it's that flat toneless question. William Devane was right, that's Olivier, man, and Dustin Hoffman was trounced. That's a good woody word. Trounced.
And he's bright enough to seize a favourable story from an unfavourable one. I think he spun it round. Suppose during that improvisation walkabout, Olivier had said something like "I prefer acting" or "I prefer acting a different way"? That later becomes the punchline of a nice self-deprecating story which still manages to show his own professional commitment.
Posted by Bonnie on :
I also think there's something a little funny about the way Dustin Hoffman tells that story, but only because I think what he offers us about when and how the anecdote surfaced to the public (at least as he relates it) seems a little odd. Not to mention a little self-serving.
In a December 2003 radio interview with Neal Conan for National Public Radio (excerpted below), Hoffman says he told the story to Time Magazine. In fact, he says, "[w]ell, it's -- you know, it's become, God knows, more than slightly distorted. I told that story to Time magazine and then they reinterpreted it because it made a better story. [...] But there was irony there, which I said in the Time interview, which unfortunately was left out."
Hoffman says in that Playboy interview (published December, 2004) that "[t]he story originated, if my memory serves me correctly, in Time magazine. They made it a better story, altering it to give it the kind of irony they wanted."
So, where is the interview he did for Time (or any other publication) in which he is said to have first mentioned the anecdote? Is this, as he seems to suggest, the anecdote's first appearance in print? If it were this particular telling, with the magazine's clumsy editing of his version, that is the source of confusion regarding whether he and Olivier were just joking around (or not), where does that interview appear?
I mean, does Hoffman even address the anecdote in an interview published before 2003?
quote:It would be interesting to find when this story started circulating because I think it is Dustin Hoffman's invention.
For what it's worth, this seems to be at least one of the very earliest appearances in print of that Hoffman/Olivier anecdote ,
quote:The American actor Dustin Hoffman, playing a victim of imprisonment and torture in the film The Marathon Man, prepared himself for his role by keeping himself awake for two days and nights. He arrived at the studio disheveled and drawn to be met by his co-star, Laurence Olivier.
"Dear boy, you look absolutely awful," exclaimed the First Lord of the Theatre. "Why don't you try acting? It's so much easier."
Never was a grosser untruth spoken in jest. Laurence Kerr Olivier . . . would be the last man on earth to regard his chosen profession as easy.
(From Alan Hamilton's "The Times Profile: Laurence Olivier at Seventy-Five," The Times [London], 17 May 1982, Pg. 8, Col. A."
Bonnie "OK, so it's not easy -- is it safe?" Taylor
 At least it's the earliest I could find. The newly published Yale Book of Quotations also points to The Times's piece as the earliest telling so far discovered.
From Neal Conan's interview with Hoffman ("Dustin Hoffman Discusses His Acting Career") for "Talk of the Nation," National Public Radio, aired 4 December 2003,
quote:CONAN: I have to ask you, and this, as far as I know -- I've read this line that he's attributed to in the taping and the process of filming that movie, you were said to have stayed awake for two days to get -- be right for that part in the movie when you were supposed to have been awake for two days, the exhaustion, and he is supposed to have said, 'Why doesn't the dear boy just act?'
Mr. HOFFMAN: Well, it's -- you know, it's become, God knows, more than slightly distorted. I told that story to Time magazine and then they reinterpreted it because it made a better story. I was in New York shooting. My marriage, first marriage, was falling apart. It was a good excuse to party. And, you know, the reason to stay up for two days wasn't just because the character stayed up two days. It was because, you know, I was partying, it was Studio 54. And I rationalized it by saying, you know -- so that was, I think, the deeper reason.
When I got to Los Angeles and we continued filming and I was laughing, you know, talking to -- I called him Lordage -- talking to Lordage about this. We both laughed and he said--he says, 'Why don't you try acting?' But there was irony there, which I said in the Time interview, which unfortunately was left out. And Joan Plowright agreed with me later when she said to me, 'Larry, of all people,' she said, 'you know, didn't just act. He was always looking for new absolutely extraordinary ways and things to do a part in a way that no one had done it before. It went beyond acting.' For instance, she said in the last scene, or one of the last scenes of "Hamlet," where, you know, Hamlet starts murdering everybody, she said, 'Larry did a jump from 30 feet up, you know, on a scaffolding of the set. And if he didn't land right on this actor's shoulders, you know, they both would have broken their neck.'
And he was -- you know, he did -- and I always felt that there was, according -- you know, the version that Time did, you know, there would have been another Olivier standing there saying to Sir Laurence, 'Why don't you just try acting?' So that's the spirit in which he said it. I think the story, in a sense, does a disservice to him because he was adventurous. You know, acting didn't have boundaries to him.
Posted by Faith on :
As ever, your determination to get to the truth of these things and the amount of research you do blows me away. Thanks - for this and all your other similar investigations.
Posted by Bonnie on :
Gosh, thank you for that, Faith. That's very kind. I'm afraid, though, I didn't do much to clear the air, except to agree with Billy Biggles (but for a different reason) that we ought to be a little cautious when it comes to Hoffman's involvement with this tale. (Of course, now someone will find a pre-1982 Time magazine interview with Hoffman that recounts the anecdote . . . )
In the end, I'd like to think that Olivier really did skewer Hoffman with a quick "Dear boy, why not try acting?" after being pushed to the brink by Hoffman's alleged unfair behavior on the set (as per William Goldman), but in fairness I have to point out that Edge of Midnight: The Life of John Schlesinger (2006), William J. Mann's (authorized) biography of the Marathon Man director, has Schlesinger addressing Goldman's claims and denying that he and Hoffman ever mistreated the ailing actor.
And about the anecdote itself, the director's biography includes this, which probably doesn't help us at all,
quote:Of course, the film's most famous legend has Hoffman, in an earnest attempt to inhabit his character, coming onto the set one morning, weak and bleary-eyed from staying out all night. Olivier, so the story goes, took one look at him and uttered the immortal line, "Why doesn't he just try acting?" The anecdote has been told and retold in so many different versions that it's become impossible to pin down now. Everyone from Bob Evans to Conrad Hall to Hawk Koch would claim to have been there when it was said, and each of their accounts were different. John [Schlesinger] himself would tell the story in a variety of ways, sometimes insisting Olivier made the remark to him in the cutting room, other times that he spoke it directly to Dustin. Hoffman, for his part, says Olivier uttered the line as a laugh between the two of them, when Dustin staggered onto the set after a night of partying, weakly joking to "his lordship" that it had been his way of preparing for the part. [p. 438]
Posted by Danvers Carew on :
Excellent work team! Seriously, thanks very much - really appreciate it. This is great - one little query generates reams of hard data and high-quality research. I owe you all a pint!