Dustin Hoffman in ‘Luck’

Road to the Emmys 2012: The Actor

It’s been nearly five decades since Dustin Hoffman appeared in multiple episodes of the same TV series.

But the actor, who last recurred on the smallscreen in the 1960s skeins “The Defenders” and “Naked City,” was hardly intimidated by the absence. In fact, the bigscreen thoroughbred welcomed the chance to bust out of the confines of studio filmmaking for HBO’s horse-themed drama “Luck.”

“It’s very hard to do your best work, but you want a shot at it, and you can’t get a shot of doing your best work within the studio system,” he said during a Television Critics Assn. panel in January. “There’s committees. There’s meetings. They’re on the set. … They get involved in a kind of quasi- — at least I think it is — creative way, but they buck heads with people that they shouldn’t be bucking heads with. And with HBO, once they give a go, there is no committee.”

The result, critics gushed, was a revelatory performance for Hoffman, best known for such iconic film performances as “Rain Man,” “Kramer vs. Kramer” and “The Graduate.”

National Public Radio’s “Fresh Air” critic David Bianculli marvels at Hoffman’s take on the recently sprung con Ace Bernstein, likening it to a coiled snake.

“And while the other actors and actresses in ‘Luck’ spend the opening episodes establishing their talents as well as their characters, Hoffman and (castmate Nick) Nolte play it cool, biding their time in the rear of the pack, until, almost effortlessly, they stretch their muscles and show what they’re made of,” he says.

And though production was fraught with problems — three horses died during lensing leading to “Luck’s” cancellation — Hoffman insists that interpersonal relationships remained harmonious.

“When you’re lucky enough to work with heavyweight talent, there’s no problem because they’re not afraid of a suggestion,” Hoffman says. “I say, ‘I have an idea,’ and if there’s this cloud that comes over the director’s face and all the blood drains from his face, I know he’s not a collaborator.”