Playback: Dustin Hoffman on ‘The Meyerowitz Stories’ and Trump’s ‘Kernels of Truth’

Welcome to “Playback,” a Variety podcast bringing you exclusive conversations with the talents behind many of today’s hottest films.

Stopping by the studio this week is two-time Oscar-winning actor Dustin Hoffman. He stars this year in Noah Baumbach’s “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected),” and his performance as a self-absorbed artist patriarch ranks right up there with some of his very best work. The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May and finally washed up on North American shores last week with a New York Film Festival premiere.

Listen to this week’s episode of “Playback” below. New episodes air every Thursday.

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“It was an interesting character to try to get ahold of,” Hoffman says of his role in the film. “The past life of this guy, he had been a very successful sculptor. It was very early in his career. And then nothing. Well, in my profession, I’ve known a few people like that, and I certainly don’t want to mention them by name but they’re not just actors. They’re screenwriters, directors — and you always say with that person, ‘What happened?’ So that was a study about that kind of character, with no awareness of malice, but enough unresolved cynicism in him to really hurt his sons.”

Hoffman came up during an exciting time for his craft. What screen acting could be was really evolving in the 1960s, in the wake of stars like Marlon Brando and James Dean, not to mention great teachers of the day. Will there be another seismic shift in the form? Hoffman notes that the lack of those great mentors is missing, and also, the demands of new media help dictate those changes.

“I studied with Strasberg. [Robert] Duvall studied with Sandy Meisner. Other people studied with the greats — Stella Adler, Bobby Lewis. I don’t think that’s been replaced, and they were giants,” Hoffman says. “Also, when there was stage, before film, your job was to be real for the last row of the balcony. You had to reach them. There was an artifice to it and yet it needed a reality. When film came along, I think it put a demand on plays that film didn’t need. If you do a close-up on film and you show the face, the actor really doesn’t have to do anything to convey different things that an audience will fill in. They always say the audience is the third writer.”

Also, with press freedoms under attack more and more with the current presidential administration, it’s tempting to ask for Hoffman’s thoughts on all of that, given his work on the 1976 film “All the President’s Men.” He has a different take than you might expect.

“As it says in that film, you need two sources before something is printed,” he says. “I don’t think that exists anymore, and there’s a reason. There’s such competition. They’re trying to get the readership, the people, and I think they’d do just about anything to do that. It isn’t news. Some of the things Trump says, there are kernels of truth in it.”

For more, including reaction to the canceling of HBO’s “Luck” and other thoughts on the modern broadcast news landscape, listen to the latest episode of “Playback” via the streaming link above.

Subscribe to “Playback” at iTunes.

Dustin Hoffman photographed exclusively for the Variety Playback Podcast
Dan Doperalski for Variety

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