Film Scouts Interviews

Dustin Hoffman on "Wag the Dog"

by Karen Jaehne

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Dustin Hoffman hugged me! Yes, he hugged me as he left the room, even though I was a member of the media, the gullible media that his current movie, 'Wag the Dog,' satirizes.

It was a friendly gesture, I think, after dodging my questions and turning them around. Maybe he was just one of those friendly dogs that sniffs until you pet him. We'll let you decide.

Q: So did you model your character on any particular Hollywood producer? Or is he a producer According-To-Hollywood?

Hoffman: What is Hollywood?....What is a producer - a Jewish producer? I don't know what you mean when you say Hollywood. See, Hollywood doesn't exist. Well, it does. It's a community that was originally created by a lot of people - Eastern European Jewish people - who were producers, and they put images up on the screen that we think of as Hollywood. They also put on the screen their own ideas of what is American. And the images they handed down of themselves were...well, we can laugh at them. But maybe they meant us to laugh. Maybe we take ourselves way too seriously.

Q: When we say Hollywood, we also refer to a large apparatus that makes big films for mass audiences. So is this producer modeled on anybody in particular?

Hoffman: Who do you think?

Q: I think Steven Bochco in twenty years. He's so good at TV that sooner or later, somebody's gonna figure out to ask him to do the Oscars. And your character produces the Academy Awards ceremony, right?

Hoffman: Yeah, but he has all those stories about movies he'd made, too.

Q: So was it Bob Evans? [notorious producer of big movies, among them Cotton Club]

Hoffman: Somebody suggested those glasses - they're real Bob Evans. Well, we tried Bob Evans, and I slicked back my hair - y'know? the way he used to wear it, straight back? I looked like Larry King. It was awful. Without the glasses, I looked like Ratso....but the problem was that the character was originally written as one of those fat guys with a cigar who sits around the Beverly Hills Hotel swimming pool with three phones on the table....

Q: And you don't know any of those guys...?

Hoffman: I'm proud to say I don't know them well. I've worked for them, I guess, but y'know...they're not very interesting, and I like to play people who have some particular reason for existing. See that other guy by the pool doesn't say much to me, and I wanted to play a guy who could also relate to Connie. [Conrad, the President's political advisor played by DeNiro] See, these two guys have a job to do, and they take it very seriously. But my character is used to power, a certain kind of power, so he can appreciate what goes on with the President. And he respects the President for that.

Q: But he wants credit! And that's his downfall. Did you - your character?! - ever hear the old adage that goes something like "everything would be possible and could be accomplished, if it didn't matter who got the credit?"

Hoffman: Really? Hey, I've never heard that. You sure that's an adage? What's an adage?

Q: Something like a saying, but I can't remember who said it. When you're in the Oval Office, you knock on the President's desk, then you murmur something...?

Hoffman: Oh, that idea came from Barry [Levinson]. As we were finishing up that shot, he told me to just touch the desk, get the feel of it, then out in the hall, I say, "Yeah, I coulda gone this way...just a change of wardrobe..."

Q: Did you work out your wardrobe yourself? You have that million-dollar-sweater look of a TV producer who lives in a tudor mansion at the top of Beverly Hills...

Hoffman: Is that what you call it? I dunno. You go to wardrobe, and you try on this and that, and see what works...and then you massage the lines a little so they fit the character you're trying to build...

Q: So although the very precise David Mamet wrote it, you improvised a bit?

Hoffman (looking around, mocking paranoia): Did I? Who told you that?

Q: Well, there are times when you seem to be picking your way through words - well, maybe they just fit you like a glove...?

Hoffman: Really? So you believed me? I mean, my character?

Q: What's not to believe? So the gist of the film goes beyond the idea that politicians can be media-manufactured. Even policies - our very wars! - can be created by the media...

Hoffman: Is that what it's saying?

Q: What do you think? What else is it about?

Hoffman: I dunno. What do you think?

Q: You're the one being grilled here. So how did you guys make this for only 15 million dollars?

Hoffman: Is that what it cost?

Q: I suppose you deferred your salaries....

Hoffman: Well, Bob and I really wanted to work together - for a long time, and this project came up, and everybody was available right then. People get bogged down in making deals instead of making movies sometimes. Not this time.

Q: I suspect you deferred your salaries...? Is that why the script is full of lines like, "Hey, is there a back end on this?"

Hoffman: I dunno, you'd have to ask Mamet - did he complain?

Q: I dunno. He's not available for interviews. And you're not talking.

Hoffman: Sure I am. I'm here, aren't I here? Hey, she's calling me...

The publicist pops in at the door and beckons him to come with her, so he leaves us - but not without coming around the table to give me a big hug.

Me: What's that for?

Hoffman: What'dyou think?

So, all you dogs out there, that's Dustin Hoffman. He's not the dog, not the tail - but quite probably the wag. 

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