The part was one of the most challenging for Hoffman, who, prior to “Tootsie,” was known mainly for dramatic turns in films like “Straw Dogs,” “All the President’s Men,” and “Kramer vs. Kramer.” But in a 2012 interview that recently went viral, Hoffman claims he never viewed “Tootsie” as a comedy.
During the interview, Hoffman explains that “Tootsie”co-writer Murray Schisgal once asked him, “How would you be different if you had been born a woman?”
“Not, ‘What does it feel like to be a woman, because all sexes have asked the question of what it would feel like to be the opposite sex,’” Hoffman clarifies. “But his question was different. If you were born a woman, how would you be different?”
The 75-year-old actor goes on to explain that in considering the role, he asked the studio to provide him with several makeup tests so that he could see whether or not he would be able to get into character and stroll through the streets of New York as a woman – not a cross-dressing man, but as a woman.
The first time Hoffman saw himself in the mirror in full makeup as his character Dorothy Michaels, he says he was surprised.
“I was shocked that I wasn’t more attractive,” he admits. “I said, ‘Now you have me looking like a woman, now make me beautiful.’ I thought I should be beautiful if I was going to be a woman. I would want to be as beautiful as possible.”
When the makeup team assured him that there was nothing else they could do to make him more “beautiful,” Hoffman says he had an “epiphany” that shook him.
“It was at that moment I had an epiphany, and I went home and started crying,” he says in the AFI interview, fighting back tears as he recounts his realization. “Talking to my wife, I said, ‘I have to make this picture,’ and she said, ‘Why?’ And I said, ‘Because I think I am an interesting woman when I look at myself on screen. And I know that if I met myself at a party, I would 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 says, ‘What are you saying?’” he continues. “And I said, ‘There’s too many interesting woman I have…not had the experience to know in this life because I have been brainwashed.’”
By the end of the clip, Hoffman’s eyes are misted over as he remembers truly understanding the meaning of female beauty.
“That [Tootsie] was never a comedy for me,” he concludes.
Perhaps Hoffman’s sentiments are best summed up in one of the film’s closing lines in which he confesses to Jessica Lange’s character, betrayed when she finds out her best friend Dorothy is really Michael, “I was a better man with you as a woman than I ever was with a woman as a man.”