The classic weepy ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ may have trawled the Oscars in 1980, but a new book has lifted the lid on the alleged tempestuous behaviour on set, notably from its star Dustin Hoffman.
The movie, released in 1979 and helmed by Richard Benton, starred Hoffman alongside Meryl Streep, playing a couple in the midst of the bitter custody battle of their son.
But according to biographer Michael Shulman, who has penned 'Her Again: Becoming Meryl Streep’, Hoffman decided to plumb into Streep’s personal life to extract the performance he wanted.
In an excerpt from the book published in Vanity Fair, Shulman details how Hoffman allegedly slapped her 'hard across the cheek, leaving a red mark’ on the second day of the movie’s production.
In another scene, he smacked a wine glass so hard, it hit the wall and shattered, leaving fragments in Streep’s hair.
But it’s said that he then took an altogether crueller tack in a later scene, during an emotional exchange between their characters in a lift, when Streep’s Joanna tells Hoffman’s Ted that she doesn’t love him anymore.
Only months before, Streep had lost her then boyfriend, 'The Deer Hunter’ star John Cazale, to cancer and was still grieving.
Hoffman, who is known for his method acting, is said to have used this to elicit an emotional response on camera, by needling the actress prior to takes.
“Improvising his lines, Dustin delivered a slap of a different sort: outside the elevator, he started taunting Meryl about John Cazale, jabbing her with remarks about his cancer and his death,” writes Shulman. “He was goading her and provoking her,” [producer Richard] Fischoff recalled, “using stuff that he knew about her personal life and about John to get the response that he thought she should be giving in the performance.”
It’s claimed that Hoffman also used the trick in the court scenes.
“Before the take, Dustin had gone over to the witness stand to talk to Meryl,” Shulman continues.
“He needed her to implode on-camera, and he knew the magic words to make it happen: 'John Cazale’. Out of Benton’s earshot, he started whispering the name in her ear, planting the seeds of anguish, as he had in the elevator scene. He knew she wasn’t over the loss. That’s why she’d gotten the part. Wasn’t it?”
However, despite what would seem to be horrifying cruel tricks, Streep instead rose to the challenge, and it all had a happy ending.
Months later, when she was collecting her first Oscar award for Best Supporting Actress, Hoffman was the first person she thanked.
Image credits: Everett