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Pollack, Sydney 2

Pollack to conduct acting workshop at filmfest

From the Jan. 16, 1983, Deseret News

NEW YORK – Director Sydney Pollack couldn't make it to the United States Film and Video Festival last year. He had just finished promoting "Absence of Malice" and was preparing his next project – "Tootsie."

But he'll be in Park City this week, conducing an acting workshop Friday, and no doubt discussing his own return to acting (he played Dustin Hoffman's agent, in addition to directing "Tootsie.")

Pollack, a seasoned director with a number of box office hits to his credit, is riding high on the tremendous success of his first comedy, which started out as a simple little film and ballooned into an over-schedule, over-budget picture that took its toll on the director. "From a physical point of view, in terms of environment, the production was relatively straightforward – but it was very, very difficult, production-wise, to get him (Hoffman) to look like a woman and keep him looking like a woman for enough hours to put in a day's work, I don't think I ever got a half-day's work with him looking like a woman."

As he spoke these words, in round-table interviews in New York last month to promote the film, Pollack sighed and shook his head. He was relieved it was over but was unprepared for the enormous box office success and critical acclaim that was to come – and that acclaim is not just for his work as director but for his own acting, as well.

One of the journalists suggested he might be nominated for an Oscar as best supporting actor. "That's all I need," he moaned. Being in front of the camera while trying to stay behind it was just another headache for Pollack, and he has not intention of doing it again in the near future – if ever.

"Dustin insisted I do it. I thought he was kidding at first but he kept pestering me. He even sent me flowers that said, ‘Love, Dorothy.' (In "Tootsie," Hoffman plays an actor who disguises himself as a woman named Dorothy Michaels to land a job on a TV soap opera).

"But it's too much split concentration. Not that the role is a particularly difficult role to do but you develop habits as a director, and one is that when the scene is playing, you're watching what the actors are doing and you make mental notes of things you want to change. It's very hard for me to do that while I'm in the scene, concentrating on my own dialogue. I knew I could play the part, it's an easy part, 150,000 other people could have played the part."

Trade papers reported that the film had run wildly over its budget and schedule but Pollack said the shooting time went 22 days over its original schedule and the budget, which was $19,750,000 went less than 6 percent over budget ($1,215,000). "That's less than about 90 percent of all films go over budget. Most films are expected to have a 10 percent overrun, but that doesn't make good copy, so we got reported as costing $32 million, somebody heard it cost $40 million. The figures I'm giving you are all verifiable. And we saved a couple hundred thousand dollars with my acting role; I worked for scale."

And what about all the fighting on the set between Pollack and Hoffman that the trades also reported? "Well, we fought sometimes. We argued about the content of a scene or a way of playing a scene. Sometimes Dustin wanted to do a scene a certain way and I wanted him to do it another way, and sometimes he wanted to change a scene, or I would, and the other would resist. These are fights you would be able to predict in a situation like this but it was never a personal thing. We never called each other names. It wasn't insurmountable."

Would Pollack work with Hoffman again, then? "After a rest."

Many of the disagreements had to do with what is and is not funny, Pollack said. This was Pollack's first comedy and he knew what he wanted, having turned the first script down because it was too vulgar. "I think Dustin is more outrageous than I am, and I tried to make a film I felt comfortable making. I am not Blake Edwards or Billy Wilder, and I don't have those skills. Those are real skills. To be a farceur is a special thing, and I am not that.

"I think Dustin could be, but I had to try to thread a very thin needle with this movie. I had to walk a tightrope with every scene, as close to the truth as a comedy could be. I was as interested in the touching moments as the comedy. That, to me, was the glue of the picture. The scene in the bed with Julie (Jessica Lange's character) talking about the wallpaper . . . you expect a scene with sexual intimacy, but instead she's much more intimate in another way."

The first script Pollack saw was filled with "bathroom jokes," he said. "I hope I brought an element of taste that prevented it from getting tacky, which is what it was when I came to it. That's a pretty loaded situation. Put a guy in a dress and look at all the jokes you could make."

Pollack has worked with other actors who have reputations as being "difficult" but he said he has never had trouble with them. "Al (Pacino in ‘Bobby Deerfield') was difficult in a different way. Moody, volatile. He required very special handling but not this direct kind of challenging thing. (Barbra) Streisand (in ‘The Way We Were') was terrific.

"I've always handled people who are supposed to be difficult but I've never had any problem. I started out as an actor, I taught acting for 10 years, I'm much more secure in that area than in some other, more technical areas."