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(Credit: Columbia Pictures)

How 'Tootsie' changed Dustin Hoffman's life

An overlooked actor in the filmmaking circuit, Dustin Hoffman has appeared in some of cinema’s finest projects, from John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy to Mike Nichols’ The Graduate. Often depicting a broken, middle-aged individual or a subversive wise-cracking character, Hoffman is a truly versatile actor, described by Robert De Niro as “an actor with the everyman’s face who embodied the heartbreakingly human”. 

One of his finest and most celebrated roles was in Sydney Pollack’s Tootsie, in which Hoffman depicted a desperate actor looking for a way into the industry by cross-dressing as a woman he called Dorothy. The premise of a cross-dressing comedy might seem controversial at first, following in the footsteps of Some Like It Hot. Theoretically, there are a lot of reasons why Tootsie shouldn’t work, but the earnestness of its intentions eclipses all possible caveats. Apart from the light-hearted comedy, Tootsie is an important part of the discourse of gender binaries.

For his endearing performance as Michael and Dorothy, Hoffman earned his fifth Academy Award nomination, with the film seeing great critical acclaim, being nominated for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay at the 55th Academy Awards. Going through an extensive preparation process, Hoffman watched Édouard Molinaro’s The Cage of Madwomen several times and went under multiple makeup tests. 

It was during these tests that Dustin Hoffman would glean an invaluable life lesson, asking the studio to make him up so he could walk down the streets of New York dressed as a woman. Hoffman notes in an interview with AFI, “When we got to that point and looked at it on screen, I was shocked that I wasn’t more attractive”. Continuing, the actor adds, “I said, ‘Now you have me looking like a woman, now make me a beautiful woman.’ Because I thought I should be beautiful. … And they said to me, ‘That’s as good as it gets”. 

Becoming tearful in the interview, Hoffman recalls, “It was at that moment I had an epiphany, and I went home and started crying, talking to my wife”. Continuing, the actor commented: “I said I have to make this picture, and she said, ‘Why?’ And I said, ‘Because I think I am an interesting woman when I look at myself on screen. And I know that if I met myself at a party, I would never talk to that character because she doesn’t fulfil physically the demands that we’re brought up to think women have to have”. 

It’s a remarkable interview that reveals a very genuine moment for the iconic actor, concluding the revelation by explaining, “There’s too many interesting women I have not had the experience to know in this life because I have been brainwashed. Tootsie was never a comedy for me”. The interview has since gone viral, with Hoffman’s comments sparking a debate between men and women regarding the demands of physical appearance. 

Tootsie ranks among Dustin Hoffman’s greatest films alongside Rain Man, The Graduate and Midnight Cowboy, though for the emotional weight that fueled his performance in Sydney Pollack’s drama, we think it may be his very best role.

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