The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Night at the opera: Dustin Hoffman debuts as director on aging diva tale 'Quartet'

  • Print

TORONTO - At least Dustin Hoffman is honest when asked why it took him so long to make his directing debut.

"I don't know," Hoffman said.

The 75-year-old Hoffman went behind the camera for "Quartet," starring Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly and Pauline Collins as aging British opera divas at a retirement home for musicians who put aside past differences for a reunion concert.

"Quartet," which premiered at last September's Toronto International Film Festival, opened in a handful of theatres Jan. 11 and expands to wider release Friday.

Hoffman always wanted to direct, optioning stories, working on scripts, developing projects. He even started out to direct the 1978 ex-convict drama "Straight Time," in which he also was starring. Hoffman cast the film, worked on the script with several writers and said he "even got myself secreted into San Quentin — which is another story — in a convict's outfit for about five hours before I got found out."

Clearly, it was Hoffman's passion project, but as he began watching dailies of the footage he had shot, he lost confidence and "fired myself" as director. Hoffman turned to old friend Ulu Grosbard, who had directed him in "Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?", to finish "Straight Time," but it wound up being an acrimonious shoot as Hoffman continued to try to co-direct and their friendship chilled.

"Between that one and now, I don't know. I worked on stuff, I've developed stuff and talked myself out of it for whatever reason," Hoffman said in an interview at the Toronto festival.

"People will say, 'Well, you didn't do too badly, but nevertheless, we all would like to go back. I mean, it just goes under the heading of, I should have done this a long time ago. ... I should have, should have, should have. I should not have gone into acting. I should have stayed and become a jazz pianist and worked at it until I was good enough. That's the thing I most regret.

After "Straight Time," it took more than 30 years for Hoffman, a two-time Academy Award winner for "Kramer vs. Kramer" and "Rain Man," to try directing again. After finishing production on the 2008 romance "Last Chance Harvey" in London, Hoffman told cinematographer John de Borman to let him know if any interesting scripts came his way for the actor to direct. Soon after, de Borman called Hoffman about "Quartet," which had been adapted by screenwriter Ronald Harwood from his stage play.

Hoffman read it on the plane flying home and was hooked. While his lead players are actors, Hoffman filled up the retirement home with real aging opera singers, "people who had performed in places like La Scala, but no one has rang their phone or knocked on their door in 20 years," he said.

"They're a special breed of people. Everything is heightened. I do think they're superhuman," Hoffman said. "They're like an exaggeration, kind of, of actors. I mean, we're all horny bastards but they're off the charts. And they're detached from themselves. 'How are you doing today, Maurice?' He says, 'The voice isn't good.' Not my voice. It's THE voice."

Just like his aging opera stars, Hoffman has found his acting choices diminishing as he ages. A stage star in his 20s, Hoffman hit it big in Hollywood at age 30 with "The Graduate" and had a solid run of leading roles well into his 50s.

Inevitably, he has fallen back mostly on secondary roles in his 60s and 70s.

"I think supporting roles by definition are two-dimensional. You can't put the third dimension on it, you don't have the screen time to go home and see what their life is like," Hoffman said. "They're supporting the three-dimensional characters, and yes, I guess you do miss that, because you got used to trying to peel that onion in terms of those lead characters that you played."

The exception to losing out on lead roles as actors age "would be people that carry the gun. The people that hold the gun have a longer lifespan," Hoffman said. "John Wayne hung in there, Sean Connery hung in there. If you're an action star, the gun is a phallic symbol. It's the last thing to age."

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Andrew Ladd talks about his injury

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • June 25, 2013 - 130625  -  A storm lit up Winnipeg Tuesday, June 25, 2013. John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press - lightning
  • Marc Gallant/Winnipeg Free Press. Local/Standup- BABY BISON. Fort Whyte Centre's newest mother gently nudges her 50 pound, female bull calf awake. Calf born yesterday. 25 now in herd. Four more calfs are expected over the next four weeks. It is the bison's second calf. June 7, 2002.

View More Gallery Photos


Are you concerned about the number of homicides so far this year?

View Results

Ads by Google