Reluctant Dustin resists the passing years

Hoffman, Stiller and Sandler at heart of Baumbach’s family saga.

by Richard Mowe

Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, Noah Baumbach, Emma Thompson and Adam Sandler in Cannes with The Meyerowitz Stories (New And Selected)
Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, Noah Baumbach, Emma Thompson and Adam Sandler in Cannes with The Meyerowitz Stories (New And Selected) Photo: Richard Mowe

Although Dustin Hoffman gives one of his finest portrayals as the grizzled patriarch in Noah Baumbach’s New York set family satire The Meyerowitz Stories initially he turned the role down because “I didn’t want to play an old man.” Hoffman turns 80 in August.

Dustin Hoffman
Dustin Hoffman Photo: Richard Mowe

Thanks to pressure from his son Jake who instinctively though his dad would be perfect for the role, he agreed and found he had a hefty challenge - Baumbach expect his actors to stick every word in the script without any scope to improvise or go off-piste. “That had not happened to me since The Graduate,” joked Hoffman but admitted that such rigours had paid off. “There’s music to Baumbach’s writing,” he said at a media gathering at the Cannes Film Festival where the film premiered today.

“You cannot overstate his talent,” he said, while adding in jest “I am not sure I would want to work with him again.”

Adam Sandler, who plays one of the two brothers (the other is Ben Stiller), was concerned that coming from a comedic background he did not want to let down the “serious” actors. “Ben and I had talked about making a movie together - and to playing brothers so it all fell in to place,” he explained. The pair have a physically realistic fight scene which turned out to be tougher and more hazardous than either expected. “I had one of the biggest bruises of my life on my arm and as Noah likes to do many takes it became quite painful. I did ask Ben to try to hit me in the middle of the chest but it didn’t seem to work,” said Sandler.

Ben Stiller
Ben Stiller Photo: Richard Mowe

Ben Stiller (his LA-based sibling) admitted he was hesitant as well because there was a lack of connection with the character on the first reading of the script. The chance of rubbing shoulders with Sandler and Hoffman and the rest of the cast proved too enticing to turn down. “I have appreciated working with Dustin on the Fokker movies but this was a different and more emotional opportunity. Dustin is funny and self-effacing but has this daunting body of work. I grew up watching him on screen.” Hoffman riposted: “I resent people saying they grew up with me…”

Emma Thompson, as Meyerowitz’s wife, felt a bit of an outsider in the mix. “First I wasn’t an American and I had no idea what it was going to be like. The American accent was a challenge but I could deal with the character’s alcoholism. It was all a bit of a foreign country to me. I had little clue about American family dynamics. I liked the humour which is not in the least superficial. If art is not funny then I cannot cope with watching it because after all life can be funny and serious at the same time.”

Sandler consoled her by confiding that his kids were most impressed that he was working alongside Nanny McPhee.

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