One of the great film comedies, Tootsie tells the story of an actor with a reputation for being difficult to work with, who assumes the identity of a woman in order to get hired. As the lead, Oscar-winner Dustin Hoffman turns in one of the best performances of his career. But in a recently-resurfaced interview with the American Film Institute, Hoffman reveals that the movie almost never got made.
“I did go to Columbia and I asked them if they would spend the money to do makeup tests so that I could look like a woman,” he told AFI 16 years after the movie was made. “If I couldn’t look like a woman they would agree not to make the movie. And they said, ‘What do ya mean?’ I just somehow intuitively felt that unless I could walk down the streets of New York dressed as a woman and not have people turn and say, ‘Who’s that guy in drag?’…Unless I could do that, I didn’t want to make the film. I didn’t want the audience to suspend their believability.”
In 1982, Tootsie was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Directing, Writing, and three acting nominations for Hoffman and his fellow leads. Hoffman didn’t win (though seven years later he collected the Best Actor Oscar for Rain Man), but Jessica Lange took home the award for Best Supporting Actress, playing Hoffman’s friend and secret love interest in the film.
The late Roger Ebert wrote of Tootsie, “It’s the kind of Movie with a capital M that they used to make in the 1940s, when they weren’t afraid to mix up absurdity with seriousness, social comment with farce, and a little heartfelt tenderness right in there with the laughs.”
In Hoffman’s AFI interview–which has gone viral in the last few days–the actor explains why Tootsie’s seriousness and social commentary drew him to the role:
“I said…make me a beautiful woman because I thought I should be beautiful if I was going to be a woman. I would want to be as beautiful as possible. And they said to me, ‘That’s as good as it gets. That’s as beautiful as we can get ya, Charlie.’ And it was at that moment that I had an epiphany. I went home and started crying talking to my wife and I said ‘I have to make this picture,’ and she said ‘Why?’ And I said, ‘Because I think I’m an interesting woman when I look at myself on screen, and I know that if I met myself at a party I’d never talk to that character because she doesn’t fulfill, physically, the demands that we’re brought up to think women have to have in order to ask them out.’ She said, ‘What are you saying?’ And I said, ‘There’s too many interesting women I have not had the experience to know in this life because I have been brainwashed. And…that was never a comedy for me.”