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Dustin Hoffman recalls sweet story about the first time he met Adam Sandler

The two star together in ‘The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected),’ out Friday

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The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) — available on Netflix and in theaters Friday — offers Dustin Hoffman the perfect showcase as a family’s wise patriarch. The 80-year-old legend tells EW about facing rejection and dining with Adam Sandler.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Were you familiar with director Noah Baumbach’s work before doing this movie?
DUSTIN HOFFMAN: Yes, I had seen The Squid and the Whale, which is just extraordinary.

What did you think when you first read the script for The Meyerowitz Stories?
Studios tend to say that a script is a minute [of film] per page. This is not true of Noah. His movie comes in at an hour and 50 minutes, but the script is 172 pages! He just has his own rhythm. So I get this tome and — you want the truth?

Of course!
It’s poetic justice. Life, I mean. You start out as an actor like I did, and we all get the same “Thank you, next!” I mean, they did that to me as we were cutting The Graduate. I had come back to New York because I had no money, and I was going to auditions while [director Mike Nichols] was cutting for four months. I got two sentences out and that was it: “Thank you, next!” But anyway. If you’re lucky you get a part and you say to your friends, “I got 30 lines!” You count the sentences. And if you graduate from that to a supporting role, it doesn’t get better. If you are one in a million, you get the lead role. And if you are good, or rather, if the film is successful, you work again. That’s how it works in that town. I got lucky and had lead roles for a number of years. And suddenly — or not so suddenly, but it feels sudden — I no longer get leads. I’ve reached an age, and I’ve reached all the ages so far, where it’s tough to even get a supporting role because you’re too old. Suddenly I started getting a spate of scripts where my agent said the same thing: “I read this script, and it is very good, and so-and-so is the lead, and you only work four days because you die of cancer.” There was, like, six of these in a row!

No, it can’t be.
Okay, sometimes it was a heart attack. [Laughs] Usually the death is off camera, so you don’t even get the aria. So here comes this tome of 172 pages, and I’m told similar things. But this time it was a tumor. So the truth is, I heard that, skimmed it, and turned it down.

What changed your mind?
My son Jake, who is brilliant. He’s a very smart actor and director, and he just loves Baumbach’s work. He heard I had turned it down and said, “Are you f—ing crazy?” So then I read it more carefully, and it’s fantastic, and I met with Noah, and we just hit it off right away. So I’m very glad to have been wrong. It was, overall, a fantastic time.

In this movie, there are all these connections: Ben Stiller is old friends with Adam Sandler, Ben also starred in Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg and with you in Meet the Fockers.
But I’ve known Sandler longer — I think 20 years or whenever it was he did Billy Madison. I saw that movie with my kids and I remember thinking, “Who is that kid?” He was very young, but I knew he had something. My kids said to me, “Dad, we’ve never bothered you before, but would you invite him to dinner?” I said, “Sure.” What’s his name? Adam Sandler. I said I’d never heard of him.

Wasn’t he fairly famous on SNL at that point?
Probably, but I never watched it because I go to sleep. He said yes to dinner, but that night he’s 10 minutes late. Twenty minutes late. Forty-five minutes late. An hour. My kids thought that maybe he mixed up the day. But the bell rings, and he said he was sorry, but he had all these fishy answers. After we got to know each other — that night at dinner we had an immediate connection, a cohesion — he admitted to me that he was so nervous that he stayed in the car for an hour. That is pretty sweet. Yes. I think he’s very shy, basically, don’t you? He’s such a good actor, and the truth is a lot of good actors are really quite shy.