Dustin Hoffman has been playing a lot of eccentrics on screen lately. Off screen, the Oscar-winning actor can be just as wacky — but in a good way, the kind of way that leaves a roomful of people laughing with him at his unpredictable comments and antics. At a New York City press conference for the comedy film “Little Fockers,” Hoffman wasn’t content to sit down and answer questions like most people would.
Instead, he ordered food during the press conference (which was held at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in midtown Manhattan); got up several times to pass around the food that he hard ordered (French fries and grilled cheese sandwiches) to the assembled journalists; and kept joking around with his “Little Fockers” co-star Owen Wilson, who was paired with him for the interview. Just seeing Hoffman acting like a waiter to a group of reporters is something I’ll never forget. He is hilarious. Before the press conference began, Hoffman quipped: “I had my choice over who I wanted to do this junket day with: Barbra Streisand or Owen Wilson. And there was not a moment of hesitation.”
And oh yes, about “Little Fockers.” It is the third film in the hit series that started with 2000’s “Meet the Parents” and continued with 2004’s “Meet the Fockers.” The series features two sets of parents/in-laws: conservative and straight-laced Jack and Dina Byrnes (played by Oscar winner Robert De Niro and Blythe Danner) and liberal and kooky Bernie and Roz Focker (played by Hoffman and Oscar winner Barbra Streisand). Jack has a tense relationship with Greg Focker (Bernie and Roz’s son, played by Ben Stiller), who is married to Jack and Dina’s daughter Pam (played by Teri Polo). Meanwhile, Teri’s wealthy ex-boyfriend Kevin Rawley (played by Wilson) might still carry a torch for Pam, and Kevin finds a way to insert himself in Pam’s life, much to Greg’s annoyance. Here is what Hoffman and Wilson said during this press conference. It’s too bad we couldn’t videotape it so you could see how funny it got.
Would you say that “Little Fockers” is a road map to guide marriages in trouble through their bumps and curves?
Wilson: You know, what you just said reminded me. We were riding up on the elevator and [he says to Hoffman] were those strangers that said that?
Wilson: They were talking about what would make a good T-shirt, and one said that their father had told him here in New York because they kept looking at the map, they said, “Put down the map and feel the city.”
Hoffman: Now, I’m curious. How does that relate to the question of marriage?
Wilson: Did you say something about a map? Road map? Yeah, that’s what it was. Put down the road map question, and just feel these guys sitting here.
Hoffman: There is nothing more unnatural than family or marriage. They really are. That’s why they’re both so difficult.
Wilson: I was saying that you don’t choose your family. And Dustin took it one step further. He said, “You don’t even choose your wife.”
Hoffman: You just wake up and suddenly clunk, you’re ready. “OK, I guess that’s it.”
Wilson: It’s already written.
Hoffman: Yes, it is. It is. And that’s why arranged marriages I think make a lot of sense, because you’re not under the pressure of being in love. It’s a contract. You’re married. Fine. You don’t have to like each other, and then whatever happens, happens.
Wilson: It does seem to take some of the romance out of courting though.
Hoffman: There’s nothing wrong with courting or romance. It just shouldn’t have to go into a contractual phase, which is marriage.
Wilson: You know what? Somebody came up to me at the museum.
Hoffman: Which museum? Be specific.
Wilson: The Met.
Hoffman: In New York?
Hoffman: Did you go for that mummy thing?
Wilson: [He laughs.] I love when you said, Be specific.” It was like you’ve hammered me on that before. “Owen, that’s your problem. Come on. Get back on. Be specific. I’ve told you that.”
Hoffman: Was it for the mummy thing?
Wilson: No, it was more just so I could …
Hoffman: Meet girls.
Wilson: Meet girls. Right. But there somebody who came up ad asked me to take a photograph … The question. I don’t even know what the question was. I was just filibustering.
Going into another one of these “Fockers” movies, what do you look forward to the most when you know you’re going to be doing another one?
Hoffman: A back end.
Wilson: [He laughs.] A lot of the really funniest comedians I’ve always noticed they’re able to say something really funny [with a] blank expression.
Hoffman: Just tell the truth.
Wilson: They don’t telegraph with a laugh.
Hoffman: I’ll answer for Owen. I think that he [as Kevin Rawley] should wind up with Teri Polo [as Pam Focker] because I don’t think that’s a good marriage. That a bad marriage, Ben [Stiller as Greg Focker] and Teri. And I think that we start off the next one with Teri having a tattoo of Owen on her back, not necessarily just his face.
Wilson: You’re throwing your “son” under the bus!
Hoffman: Yes, I am. Anyway, you take it from there, sir.
Wilson: I just do the slow pitch softballs up to Dustin, let him just Babe Ruth them out of the park. Well, you know, it would be nice in the next one if we had a few more things to do.
Hoffman: We would like to have more action together. Most of our stuff takes place during junkets … What do you think the fourth should be? Did everybody like this film? Did you get some giggles?
What do you think should be in the fourth “Fockers” movie?
Hoffman: I could see [Owen Wilson] getting bar mitzvahed in the first reel.
Wilson: Bar mitzvahed?
Hoffman: Because Teri Polo could have converted and we never knew that before, and now she’s left Ben for you, and she wants you to become Jewish
Wilson: Well, there is a little bit of a kind of rabbinical side to Kevin that wouldn’t make that as far-fetched as it might appear.
Hoffman: Can you do the “ch” sound? “Baruch?”
Wilson: I can’t do that and I can’t trill my r’s.
Hoffman: You don’t have to. That’s French. Can you do “baruch atah?” Just try it.
Wilson: Baruch ateau.
Hoffman: No, not “teau.” “Tah.”
Owen, in “Meet the Parents,” Kevin Rawley was actually a little like your Cash character from “The Royal Tenenbaums.” How would you say that Kevin has evolved in “Little Fockers”?
Wilson: Well, I think it did seem like it was a progression where in the first one he says, “Who better to model yourself after than JC?” And so he took that and now he’s kind of moved more into this inner faith, spiritual zen kind of guru while still being a Wall Street rich guy. It was just funny stuff that we were coming up with.
[Hoffman makes a snoring noise.]
Wilson: I’m not used to being the real straight man, but it’s just tossing them up and this guy is just like …
Hoffman: We counter very well.
[Hoffman gets up and starts passing around French fries.]
When you have a franchise like this …
Hoffman: A French fry like this? Oh, sorry.
When you have a franchise like this one and you know who your characters are, was there anything in “Little Fockers” that startled you or that you were surprised by in regards to your character?
Hoffman: Yes: that my part was so much smaller.
Wilson: [To Hoffman] Some potato chips would be good. Why are you being so stingy with the ketchup? No one’s going to get any ketchup?
Hoffman: What? Are they going to go like that and pass it on? OK, let’s try it. He is a director, you see.
[Hoffman brings out the ketchup.]
Dustin, you do have a much smaller part in “Little Fockers.” What was it that brought you back?
Wilson: I think as you looked forward to was this junket with me. You said that sustained you through that wilderness. A lot of actors don’t look forward to junkets, but Dustin and I do.
Hoffman: I said that if the stuff that Owen and I have to do in the film, if we’re allowed to improvise, then I’ll do it and they kept their word and they let us improvise — and it’s not in the film!
Were there any particular scenes that you wish they had kept?
Hoffman: God knows. I hope there’s a DVD of the deleted [scenes].
Wilson: Well, there was not a deleted scene. You’re talking about within the different takes of the one scene we did.
Hoffman: No, the first half of the scene … in the tent scene. We had a whole thing together.
Wilson: They cut that?
Hoffman: During rehearsal, remember I go …
Wilson: Oh, yeah. Where you slap me.
Hoffman: Yes and then we changed it to a hug.
Wilson: I have a confession to make. I cut that
Wilson: You seemed very fit. I didn’t …
Hoffman: You never told me that.
What are you making?
[Hoffman puts a napkin on his head.]
Hoffman: Now, you have a choice: there or there? [He moves the napkin to his chest, making breast gestures.] I can teach you that if you have children.
In “Little Fockers,” Greg Focker gives Kevin Rawley some well-meaning, but not-so-great romantic advice. Have either of you ever gotten terrible romantic advice from friends or family members?
Hoffman: Romantic advice? Do you have to speak so generally? What is romantic? Use a condom?
Wilson: I actually think the advice [Greg Focker] gives is pretty good, but then Kevin kind of takes it to this extreme … I think he just gets a piece of twine and ties it around her finger, but also you get the feeling that Kevin — although he doesn’t admit it — there’s still something with Pam, obviously, and I think that’s Ben’s worst nightmare: that a single Kevin is back on the scene. Cue the snoring.
Hoffman: [He makes a snoring noise.] Romantic advice? Well, my wife, she broke three or four cardinal rules, because we slept together on the first date, and you are told not to do that.
Wilson: Did you really?
Hoffman: Yes, we did.
Wilson: Were you family friends, like her family knew your family?
Hoffman: No, we were doing the hokey pokey. This was going to be her first movie star, her first older man, her first ex — someone who had broken up with their wife — and the first date. And she did all four on the first night. And then she said I ruined it by calling the next day … That probably went against every romantic advice because she told me later that her grandmother always said, “If you give away the milk, you have to buy the cow,” or something. What is that?
Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free?
Hoffman: They won’t buy the cow if they give away the milk.
Wilson: That’s not true. In fact, it’s more likely if you love the milk, you’re going to buy the cow.
Hoffman: I want Owen to expand on that. It’s not true? Why?
Wilson: If you have a great glass of cold milk that’s really refreshing, you’d be even more inclined not to let that cow go.
Hoffman: Right, and you try to find some chocolate-chip cookies.
Wilson: Yeah, exactly.
Owen, will you be part of the Wes Anderson movie “Moonrise Kingdom”?
Wilson: I am not going to be a part of it. I won’t be playing one of the main characters in it, but I have read the script, and it’s really funny. It’s really good.
So will you be making a cameo in the film?
Wilson: You never know.
Hoffman: He’s being coy.
In “Little Fockers,” Bernie takes up dancing in Spain. Dustin, did you keep up with the dance lessons?
Hoffman: No. I get great backaches.
Owen, what is it like kissing Barbra Streisand for that scene in “Little Fockers”?
Hoffman: Was that your first middle-aged Jewess? She’d be flattered. [He laughs.] Was it? Was she the oldest woman you’ve ever kissed romantically?
[A publicist steps in and says, “We have to wrap.”]
Wilson: We’re going to move on.
Wilson: Because we’re finished.
Hoffman: I’m not leaving until [the reporters here] get their grilled cheese [sandwiches].
Dustin, what kind of father-in-law are you in real life?
Hoffman: My daughter Jenna has given me two grandchildren. You can ask Seamus Culligan, who is my son-in-law, what kind of father-in-law I am. I’m a good father-in-law.
For more info: “Little Fockers” website
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