When you get an offer to try an acting class taught by Dustin Hoffman, you don’t say no.
The man who has brought to life Ben Braddock, Carl Bernstein, Tootsie, Rain Man, and Bernie Focker teaches as part of MasterClass, a site that unites maestros in various fields with students of all skill levels. James Patterson gives a course on writing and Usher schools in the art of performance. The allure is the promise of learning from the best of the best. You rate and review the work of your peers, and they’ll do the same for you. Some students even receive online feedback from the teacher (in my case, a two-time Oscar winner) if they upload samples of their work – all for $90.
The class consists of 24 video lessons, which are about 10 to 12 minutes each. About half of them are Hoffman lecturing. The other half show him workshopping a scene with two actors. There’s also a collection of printable resources, including scripts and lesson plans. Not listed on the package, though available in abundance, are moments of Hoffman in his IDGAF glory, scenes so uncomfortable they might as well be family therapy sessions, and some hard-truth lessons about what it really takes to be an actor.
Lessons One Through Eight: Hoffman No Longer Gives A Shit It’s not that I ever assumed Hoffman was a stuffy guy – an Ac-tor. I was just surprised to see him so casually blunt about everything. Right off the bat, he wants you to know we are lazy humans. All of us. It’s unattractive, but it’s the truth. Hoffman beseeches us to show all sides of our humanity – even the bad stuff – when we’re acting. “We’re all mean bastards,” he says in lesson one. “We’re all lying, deceptive people. We’re all chicken shit.” He’s begun wearing a beaded bracelet that I can’t stop looking at. It goes well with his suit. His shoes remain out of sight for now, but I have a feeling they’re probably incredible. My takeaway: Hoffman has entered his “I don’t give a fuck” phase, and it looks quite good on him.
Now that we all understand we’re terrible people, we move right into scene work with actors Nick and Molly, who have never met before and will be acting out that “It’s my fault” scene from Jerry Maguire, where Dorothy is trying to end things with Jerry. This is where we see Hoffman in his element. He pushes them to find a personal connection to the material. “Reveal, reveal, reveal yourself to each other,” he tells them. “Text is the last fucking thing that’s gonna do that.” He encourages them to just say the lines, maybe even make up some lines along the way. These improv moments, he assures them, are often what makes it into the film.
This is where it gets interesting. Hoffman, having noticed Nick was a bit smitten with Molly, asks Nick if he was disappointed when he learned his scene partner had a boyfriend. He admits he was, a bit. Hoffman’s getting real now. “We bullshit each other,” he tells the actors. “We bullshit ourselves. The hardest thing to do is not bullshit ourselves.” There’s an uncomfortable silence, almost like we’re all in trouble. “If we don’t bullshit ourselves on some level, it’s too painful not to be alive.” This is one of many moments where it’s unclear if Hoffman may tear up a bit.
Then, just like that, we’re back to fun Hoffman. He’s whispering directions into one actor’s ear, leaving the other one in the dark. It’s like watching a game show. He starts talking about how you go into acting for the babes. I find myself really into his devil-may-care attitude.
Wedged between his stories about Robert Duvall and shouting at acting coaches, Hoffman’s dropping some real, practical advice. Turning to us, his rapt, unseen audience, he tells us to audit acting classes until we find the coach who really thinks we’ve got something. He addresses the imposter syndrome many actors feel after getting so many rejections. He talks about method acting, the Strassberg relaxation exercise, and managing your ego. He recommends writing out your lines. Hoffman, for all of his unpredictability, shares the wisdom.