I was nervous all day. Dustin Hoffman. Showered not once, but twice; tried shirt & tie, finally choosing a T-shirt under a motorcycle jacket. The last time I paid so much attention to such details was when I was trying to date my wife, man. Ok, It’s time 2 go. Hotel bar in Santa Monica’s beautiful Casa del Mar, ocean view. I am sitting at a reserved table, waiting for him. HIM, Dustin Hoffman, being a 2 time oscar winner who has been an icon, a myth and a famous man for a very long time just because he is extremely good at what he does. A voice behind me:
“Ciao. I saw you arriving with your Vespa. I used to be a Lambretta man myself.”
I could recognize this voice anywhere: The Graduate, Straw Dogs, Marathon Man, Little Big Man, Papillion, Lenny, Rain Man. I watch him as he sits and, even with the light behind him, his profile is unique.
“Come stai, mi chiamo Dustin Hoffman”.
The fact he addresses me in Italian says a lot about the perfectionism for which he is known and what will happen in the next 2 hours – he only agreed to a half an hour interview – will always remain in my memory and on these pages, for you, so that you understand that even at 73, with dozens of awards won all over the globe, a man is always a man, whatever his job might be.
Here we are sitting about to order our drinks, as soon as our waitress arrives “A spritzer for me. And you, Roberto?“ ‘Beer and 7 Up for me“. We look at each other and smile. One thing is sure, we don’t know jack about drinking. At first, he is the one asking me about my life & family, then it’s about cinghiale, tartufi, lambretta, neorealismo and our unique way of living, us The Italians, starting off with coffee and the art of taking it easy. “For 30 years I’ve been bringing my wife, coffee and the newspaper. Me, I drink it standing up in the kitchen, like in a bar. In the morning I write, then it’s appointments until 3:30, then a half hour nap to air out the brain and then I am papa to my children – Jake director; Max actor; Becky painter in NY: Ally in Tribeca; Jenna who lives nearby and has made me a grandfather and Karina, my firstborn. Dinner and then to bed very early @9:30. I never go out, I hate parties they’re only good for two things: getting laid and finding work, sometimes both at the same time if you’re lucky.”
He is funny, intelligent and, above all, a normal human being. After the first round of drinks, he literally kills me by doing Rainman’s Raymond Babbitt, asking me if we want to have a bite. Sushi? Sushi it is. “No risotto with cinghiale here. Non siamo in Umbria. I love Umbria. As a family we go there all the time, Orvieto, Assisi, Spoleto, Gubbio. There is nothing better than to eat some pasta, truffles, pecorino, rosemary risotto with wild boar. The same goes for the wine from Todi”. Then it’s about show biz, his friends De Niro & Pacino, acting lessons and lifetime decisions. “If I hadn’t become an actor, I would have liked to be a jazz pianist, for sure. But then, Mike Nichols, after Beatty and Redford’s rejection, chose me for The Graduate – even though I was ugly, a midget with a huge nose – Fuck it, I said, I’m gonna be an actor”. At this point, we are on his third spritzer, the second sushi plate, and the sweet, husky voice of Tootsie rewards me for being a good listener as he goes on and on about his passion for Italy: “I love Italy, not because you are Italian. You have passion, you’re able to draw out and live intensely all the moments that make up a day. Alfredo Alfredo was my most beautiful film experience; I loved the fact that after lunch we never knew when we would start shooting again. R-I-P-O-S-O! Only Italians were capable of making films with social and political content in a country completely destroyed by the war. Germi, Petri, Rossellini, Visconti, neorealismo. Volontè and Mastroianni are my favorite actors. I also like Lina Wertmüller, Giannini and – write this down – I was a complete asshole – quote – to have said NO to Fellini just because he didn’t want me to act the part in Italian, which I learned just for him. The biggest regret I have so far! My secret fantasy is to end my days in an Italian village, to make Italian films in which I act in Italian using my accent. Write that down, I’m very serious; perhaps someone has a project for me. And how could I forget the Venice Festival where I received the Leone d’Oro in 1996. Perhaps I’ll return there next year with my first film as a director: Quartet”. More talks, more drinks, more food, Italian style. Then, we are done. I got to know Dustin Hoffman a lot more that I had ever hoped for. Outside it’s almost dark and when we leave the hotel, I see him smiling like a kid in the candy store while asking me if he can ride my Vespa.
“No way Dustin, sorry. I can see you are a man, but a Lambretta man nevertheless… Ciao baby”.
PS: Later on I gave in and let him enjoy my 1968 original 125 Vespa Primavera.