Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut, “Quartet,” is a film set in a British home for retired musicians and singers, starring Billy Connolly, Tom Courtenay, and the incomparable Maggie Smith. It’s about love and friendship and getting older, and is funny and sad and a total delight. It’s a film that leaves the audience in a good place — which is where Hoffman, 75, seems to be now. The actor says that he is currently in “the richest time of my life — both personally and professionally.”
He spoke to the Forward’s Curt Schleier about the film, his resurgent Jewishness and his perfectionist reputation.
CURT SCHLEIER: I loved the film. Are you confident about it?
Dustin Hoffman: I’m Jewish, so I wouldn’t say confident. I would say more confident [than normal].
I’ve read that you had a secular upbringing.
I’ve never said secular. I had a non-religious upbringing. My father was an atheist, I have a sibling, my brother, and neither of us were bar mitzvahed. Luckily we got circumcised, but that was about it.
Did you live in a Jewish neighborhood?
No, as a matter of fact we moved around a bit. My father kept trying to upgrade himself. He would fail and we would downgrade to a lower neighborhood. During a long stretch of my formative, pre-teen years I lived in what I would call an anti-Semitic neighborhood. I got a few “dirty Jews” and got beat up a couple of times. It was substantial enough for me to always deny my being Jewish as I was growing up. If someone asked me what religion I was, I would pretend I didn’t understand the question. I’d say “I’m American.”
But you’ve become more religious now, thanks to your wife, right?
My first marriage, my wife was Catholic. We did get married in a church, but with a rabbi present, so it was a kind of two for one. That lasted only a few years. Then my second marriage was to Lisa. We’ve been married 31 years. We have four children of our own, two boys and two girls. And through Lisa’s leadership, both boys were bar mitzvahed and both girls were bat mitzvahed. We celebrate Jewish holidays, which I’d never done. I don’t have any memory of celebrating holidays growing up that were Jewish.