"I'm very excited about working with him again," said the actor about the director. "I spent a week waiting on pins and needles while he made up his mind. When he said yes, I called him up.
" 'Is it true?' I asked him. He said yes. I said 'Ya schmuck, you'll never learn. . . .' "
Dustin Hoffman chuckled, remembering his recent conversation with Sydney Pollack.
Hoffman's teasing carried black whimsy. When the two worked together on "Tootsie" in 1982, their bickering, squabbles, tiffs and other assorted news-making clashes made it seem highly unlikely that Hoffman would ever be excited about doing anything with Pollack again. And vice versa.
So, both superstar and A-list director knew that Pollack's decision, reported Tuesday, to produce and direct Hoffman and Tom Cruise in "Rainman," wouldn't be just another press release buried in the back of the entertainment trade papers.
Whether the two clashed (and both say media reports were inaccurate and overblown), "Tootsie" still went on to become a runaway hit, garnering nine Academy Award nominations (just one win, however), including best actor for Hoffman's portrayal of an out-of-work actor who finds fame and fortune dressed as an actress. A hit like that can mend many fences, especially in Hollywood, where it is often said: "He'll never work in this town again . . . unless I need him."
Still, to most people in the movie industry who believed what they read about the tangles on "Tootsie," the chances of Hoffman and Pollack reteaming seemed about as likely as Martin and Lewis reuniting.
Then "Rainman" appeared, a project Pollack said he decided to do after two years away from the screen, because it "came along at the right time" and because "the subject matter interested me."
Hoffman and Cruise play brothers--one an institutionalized idiot savant who has total memory recall (Hoffman) and his brother, a loser who exploits his brother's talent.
But "Rainman" requires major script revisions before it starts shooting in late February. To answer press queries about "Tootsie" troubles was not on the Hoffman-Pollack agenda. "The phone calls have already started," Pollack said, shaking his head wearily.
Hoffman, who has suffered an inordinate number of media lashings--most recently on "Ishtar"--for an actor of his talent and stature, seemed to be handling the renewed buzz about an old subject in humorous stride.
"My friend Herb called to ask me to do his new play, but I told him I was doing a movie," Hoffman said. "When I mentioned who I was working with, Herb said, 'Wow! Talk about glasnost . . . .' "
Pollack sought to put the "Tootsie" history into perspective in what he said would be his only interview on the subject.
"We had a lot of arguments on the set about the nature of material," he emphasized. "I can't think of a single argument we had director-to-actor. We never disagreed on the way to play a scene, we never disagreed on which take was the best, we never disagreed on any of that. I won't say we didn't argue, but it got so radically overblown in the press.
"What we disagreed on were choices in the material."
Hoffman agreed. The oft-described "temperamental" actor was funny, mellow and candid during an interview. That's saying a lot, considering that he was speaking from his car phone in the midst of rush-hour traffic on the Ventura Freeway--a situation that usually brings out the worst in people.
"We fought as producers, never as director-actor," he said. "They're good fights when you're fighting or arguing about the merits of a particular scene. You're forced to defend your position. It makes you scrutinize the logic of where you see the thing going.
"But whatever disagreements we had, we never held up shooting. And we never disagreed over which take (version of a scene) to use. I mean, to be in agreement on which take? It's rarely done."
Said Pollack: "I think there is more turmoil than people think in almost all good creative relationships, especially when the people are coming from slightly different points of view. It's precisely that that makes the final result as interesting as it is. There's always a certain amount of emotional turmoil in the process; I think its a process problem."
Or, as Hoffman described movie making in general, "It's like painting a railroad track and the train's getting closer."
The train is getting closer on "Rainman," a movie that Hoffman and Cruise have been committed to for about a year, first working with director Martin Brest ("Murphy's Romance"), who had an amicable parting with the two when they couldn't agree on the direction the script should take.
Steven Spielberg was involved for a time, but was forced to withdraw because of scheduling problems with the third Indiana Jones movie.
And then there were the ongoing script problems.
On the surface, Pollack would seem to be getting involved in a situation that sounds a lot like "Tootsie II."
But both actor and director were quick to point out the inherent differences between the two films.
"I'd worked on 'Tootsie' for years before Sydney got involved," Hoffman explained. " 'Rainman' was never mine to begin with."
Per Pollack: "I think everything on this picture is different. It's more manageable. The physical demands on Dustin won't be as bad, there won't be any dressing pressures."
The director paused. "I don't want to sound like a press-kit here; I'm sure we'll probably argue occasionally about things. There'll be problems--there are problems on every picture. But I think the parts are going to be really wonderful for Dustin and Tom--it's going to be a wonderful combination."