You can’t overstate how important The Graduate was for Dustin Hoffman’s career, but following his breakout role, Hoffman passed on film roles that were offered to him and went back to Broadway for a few years until Midnight Cowboy came along. This would become somewhat of a theme over the course of Hoffman’s career, with Hoffman saying “the list is endless” when it comes to all the hit movies he passed on.
I don’t know about “endless,” but there are certainly some big roles that he let slip through his fingers. The Rain Man star is celebrating his 78th birthday on Saturday, so there’s no better time than now to look back at some of the classic films that almost included Dustin Hoffman in the cast.
The Producers (1967)
Dustin Hoffman was signed on for The Producers to play Franz Liebkind and ready to belt out “Springtime for Hitler” — until he heard about The Graduate. Mel Brooks allowed Hoffman to go and audition for the part of Benjamin Braddock only because his wife, Anne Bancroft, would also be working on the movie. The writer/director thought Hoffman would be totally wrong for the part and be back on for The Producers the very next day. Man, was he ever wrong.
The Godfather (1972)
It’s difficult to imagine anyone besides Al Pacino playing rising mobster Michael Corleone, but he wasn’t first in line for the part. Dustin Hoffman had a lot of buzz around him at the time after his roles in The Graduate and Midnight Cowboy, and was offered the part by Francis Ford Coppola. Unfortunately for Coppola, it was an offer that Hoffman could refuse, and refuse it he did.
Taxi Driver (1976)
Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese had already collaborated on Mean Streets when the director began putting together a cast for Taxi Driver. Even with their working history, though, Scorsese looked at other actors for the part, including Dustin Hoffman. Hoffman explained that the director was talking so fast that he didn’t even understand what the movie was about.
“I remember meeting Martin Scorsese. He had no script and I didn’t even know who he was. I hadn’t seen any of his films and he talked a mile a minute telling me what the movie would be about. I was thinking, ‘What is he talking about?’ I thought the guy was crazy!
Raging Bull (1980)
Considering that Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro have somewhat similar looks and are around the same age, it makes sense that they would be offered some of the same roles. What doesn’t make a lot of sense is why Jake LaMotta would approach Dustin Hoffman to play him in Raging Bull. Hoffman doesn’t exactly fit the “tough guy” stereotype. The actor recalled to David Letterman that during the casting for Raging Bull, LaMotta approached him about playing the part.
“They came up to me for Raging Bull at one point. The guy, what’s his name? Jake LaMotta. I said, ‘You can’t be serious.'”
“They weren’t,” quipped Letterman.
Blade Runner (1982)
Ridley Scott’s dystopian science fiction film quickly became a classic and gave Harrison Ford even more credibility — not that he needed it — in the genre. Ford wasn’t filmmaker’s first choice for the part of Rick Deckard, and only snagged the role after Dustin Hoffman wore out his welcome with Scott. Producer Michael Deeley recounted in his memoir, Blade Runners, Deer Hunters, and Blowing the Bloody Doors Off, how they were in talks with Hoffman, but the actor wanted to change nearly every detail of the script. Hoffman reportedly wanted Deckard to be revised to suit him better physically and began to micro-manage Deckard’s lines. The interest from Scott and Deeley eventually fizzled and they wisely moved on to Harrison Ford.
First Blood (1982)
Sylvester Stallone has starred in four Rambo movies so far and is supposedly working on a fifth installment with Rambo: Last Blood. The part of forsaken Vietnam vet John Rambo wasn’t Stallone’s to start with, though. In fact, there was a long list of actors who said no to the machine gun action. Everyone from Clint Eastwood to Robert De Niro and Al Pacino passed on the part. Hoffman said no when approached for the role because he thought the script was too violent.