“Luck” is the first TV series Dustin Hoffman has ever starred in, and one of only a handful of TV credits in his long career. So he went in not entirely knowing what to expect, and came out pleasantly surprised.
“There’s no reason for me to butter up HBO. The contract is done already, it’s too late to fire me,” Hoffman said Friday (Jan. 13) at the TV critics’ press tour. “I have not had this experience before. … It’s very hard to do your best work. You want a shot at it, and you cannot get a shot to do your best work in the studio system. You can’t.”
Hoffman says he really appreciates that HBO didn’t meddle in the production of “Luck,” in which he plays a gangster just out of prison who’s trying to reclaim the influence he used to have around the Santa Anita racetrack. David Milch (“Deadwood,” “John from Cincinnati”) created it and executive produces with Michael Mann, who directed the pilot.
“I was expecting 20 pages a day. I was expecting an atmosphere that was like making movies on cocaine, or speed, and it was the opposite,” Hoffman says. “We did the best we could with as much time as we had and came back the next day. Michael hired all film directors — not to disparage TV directors, but to me there was no difference [from] making a movie, except he did it digitally and there were three cameras, which actors love because you don’t have to repeat and do coverage. But we were given a shot to do our best work, and I’m very thankful for that.”
Hoffman also had an amusing back-and-forth with a reporter doing the session. It began with the reporter saying, “You’re known as kind of a collaborative actor, a guy who likes to make suggestions to directors …”
Hoffman: “You’re being diplomatic. You don’t have to.”
Reporter: “You’re known as being difficult to work with …”
Hoffman: “Now you can just say ‘a pr**k.'”
So how has it worked out? Hoffman compares working with a director he doesn’t get along with to “a bad marriage.”
“You never know what the marriage is going to be like when you get married,” he says. “If you’re not laughing at the same stuff, you’re not being moved by the same stuff, if the director or producer or whoever are being satisfied before they should be satisfied, you want a divorce. Or at least that’s when the arm wrestling starts.”
“When you’re lucky enough to work with heavyweight talent, there’s no problem. And most importantly, because they’re not afraid to take a suggestion. … I always test it. I say, ‘I have an idea,’ and if there’s this cloud that comes over the director’s face and all the blood drains from his face [it’s trouble].”
“Luck” debuts at 9 p.m. ET Sunday, Jan. 29 on HBO.