Dustin Hoffman broke down in an interview about his role in the 1982 Hollywood hit, Tootsie, revealing that his experience on set was far more than a comedic performance. As the lead role, Hoffman played a female character. Hoffman's experience playing a woman on the silver screen unexpectedly sent him on an emotional walk in someone else's shoes.
The storyline of Tootsie is comedic; Michael Dorsey, played by Dustin Hoffman, is having a hard time landing an acting job due to his reputation so he transforms himself into a woman — Dorothy Michaels — in order to play a character in a soap opera. The film was widely embraced by viewers and it reeled in $177 million at the box office, rendering it the second most profitable film of the year only behind Steven Speilberg's E.T: The Extraterrestrial.
Tootsie undeniably captivated audiences and influenced Hollywood, but years later the Oscar and Golden Globe winning actor has revealed that his lead role has left the greatest mark on his own attitude and conscience.
In his touching interview with the American Film Institute, Hoffman explains that he took on his female role in Tootsie while pondering the question "how you would be different if you had been born a woman?" The process of filming, however, sent Hoffman on an emotional roller coaster ride. In considering life from the point of view of a woman, the actor found himself looking retrospectively into his own mind. By the end of filming, Hoffman had been forced to reconcile a whole different host of questions: how does it feel to be a woman, and more importantly, how does it feel, as a man, to realize that you have been judging women according to the wrong standards — according to superficial appearance over genuine character.
Hoffman says that he embarked on a quest to take his female role to heart and truly take the on persona of his character; if strangers on the street did not look at Hoffman, fully convinced that he was a woman, he could not play the role, he said.
But when Hoffman finally looked at himself on the screen, he admitted he was shocked for not finding himself more attractive as a woman. When he told his makeup team "now make me a beautiful woman," they responded "that's as good as it gets."
That was the point that Hoffman "had an epiphany" and broke down to his wife at home; Hoffman realized that he had to go through with making the picture, he said, because he made an interesting woman.
Hoffman realized what it would feel like to be a woman, constantly dissatisfied with her appearance and yearning to appear more beautiful. But even more troubling for Hoffman was the understanding that for much of his life, he had been evaluating women based on physical traits rather than quality of character.
Hoffman said that regrettably, most men will not ask a woman out if she does not "fulfil, physically, the demands we are brought up to think women have to have." He grew emotional and regretful. "There are too many interesting women I have not had the experience to know in this life because I have been brainwashed," he said.
By judging women based on their appearances, Hoffman had been partly responsible for giving women low self-esteem and a distorted perception of themselves. But more importantly, he had not given many deserving and potentially amazing women the time of day simply because of their outward appearances.
Hoffman's honest interview sends an important message, and it is not a message unique to men. First of all, Hoffman's experience gives new credence to the expression that you must take a walk in another's shoes to understand that person's perspective. Hoffman was blind to the fault in his own mindset; he could only understand another perspective when he truly attempted to shed his own.
The interview also reveals that unfortunate reality that too many people allow superficial attributes to overshadow personality. It is in our basic human nature: we have been conditioned to be judgemental. But at the end of the day, it should be one's character — the sympathy they show to others, the interesting ideas they bring to the table — that should take precedence over aesthetic appeal. This is the lesson that Hoffman's confession can offer to everyone.
Hoffman ended the interview admitting that despite his Academy Award nomination for best leading actor in the film, Tootsie was never a comedy for him. In the end, however, the actor walked away from production with an experience that has drastically altered his mindset, perception of others and, hopefully, treatment toward others. Hoffman's new perspective is far more valuable than any revenue brought into the Hollywood box office.