Steven Berkoff is on record as a great admirer of Laurence Olivier. Those of us who are at the more stylish end of the acting spectrum, when confronted with die-hard Stanislavskians (as some drama students tend to be) are sometimes inclined to quote Olivier’s advice to Dustin Hoffman – “Why don’t you try acting, dear boy? – It’s much easier!”
I was recently prompted to google for the exact wording of the quote, and discovered this video in which Dustin Hoffman tells his side of the story, confirming the words used (not quite what I have written above), but also adding some context in his own defence and then he adds a another poignant Olivier story…
UPDATE: Sadly, that video is no longer available on YouTube… “This video contains content from NBC Universal, who has blocked it on copyright grounds.” Fortunately, have found another version at Dailymotion:
And in case that also gets taken down, I’ve transcribed it here:
LIPTON: I would like to ask you a question about Marathon Man, and every person in this audience knows what question I’m going to ask you. If ever there was a forum to put this story to rights; what occurred between you and Olivier when he is reputed to have said to you: “Dear boy, have you ever tried acting?”
HOFFMAN: Well… It’s a very good example of The Press. Because I’m the one who told the story! I told it to… I remember… I told it to Time magazine and they totally, you know, distorted it. I was in the middle of a marriage break-up. It was very painful. And I was supposed to have been awake for three or four days and I’m thinking “Well, let me see if I can do this, I won’t sleep”. It was an excuse to go to Studio 54.
HOFFMAN: And when I got back to LA and told him, he understood the subtext of it; you know, I was like, you know, I was, like, that I “was doing it for The Work”, you know… And then he says “My dear boy, why don’t you try acting?”
He’d made extraordinarily untraditional kind of choices and I told that as part of a story at the time but they…
But it makes a better story.
LIPTON: Wasn’t he very ill during the filming?
HOFFMAN: He was in awful shape. Everybody knew he was in pain. Everybody knew he was on painkillers. This is a guy who had, at one time, King Lear, Richard the Third, Hamlet in his head and he was alternating them, OK? Here’s a guy who had all those parts in his head and couldn’t remember three lines in a row sometimes because of the painkillers. I mean it was that sad. He wanted to do the part – he took it because he knew that he was dying – we learned later he wanted to have money to leave his kids.
We were tight, tight, tight, tight, tight. And when it was over we went out to dinner. I’ll never forget it… never, ever, ever, ever forget it… I’m sitting there with Olivier, I don’t know if I’m ever going to see him again, because, you know, he’s sick. His wife is there, this wonderful woman, Joan Plowright, and we’re sitting… and then this kid… and a couple of his kids are there. And then we’re waiting and this other kid comes, who’s going to UCLA, I remember he had red hair. And I remembr he went up in back of Olivier and he patted his head and he kissed him on the head… and you just knew, you know… this thing, you know… oh god… And he sits down and we’re talking, whatever, and just so curious, I just, you know: “We all wonder what makes us do what we do? Do you have an answer?” I says “Tell me what is it? What’s the reason we do what we do?” And he… Can I get up?
HOFFMAN: He goes right up, and he gets… he leans over to me and he… I swear to god… and he leans over, he says “You want to know why, dear boy?” I says “What?” “Look at me! Look at me! Look at me! Look at me! Look at me! Look at me! Look at me! Look at me!”