Besides Clark Gable, Dustin Hoffman is the only other actor who has gotten top billing in three Oscar-winning best films: “Midnight Cowboy” (1969), “Kramer vs. Kramer” (1979) and “Rain Man” (1988).

Yet, with his two lead-actor Oscars and a roster of modern classics, Hoffman says, “It’s luck” regarding a nearly 50-year career at the top. And come Christmas he has two more pictures, “Last Chance Harvey” with Emma Thompson and the animated “The Tale of Despereaux.”

“Whenever I look back, it reminds me of how I stayed alive, period,” he says. “You have to be lucky, hitting each decade. Too many things can happen, and you’re lucky when they don’t.”

Actors, he says, don’t use the word “retirement.”

“Because it’s not a job, it’s our work,” he explains. “If you’re lucky, what you do for a living continually opens up to you. I’m very aware of people who continue to work and have the same hunger, if not more than (what) they had originally. I was at Cannes, and they were giving Manoel de Oliveira an award — he had never been given an award — and he said one word and left. It was ‘Finally.'”

Hoffman laughs. “What should be on every actor’s tombstone is, ‘He is between jobs.'”