Dustin Hoffman says he understands the worries of young singers in ‘Boychoir’

By Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press

TORONTO – Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman have each won two Oscars, but even they have worried about finding work.

In an interview for his film “Boychoir,” opening in select cities on Friday, Hoffman recalled having a conversation with Hackman about the fleeting nature of acting careers. It was just after they’d shot 2003’s “Runaway Jury.”

“We sat at the bar and we said, ‘Let’s get drunk,’ and we started drinking. And he looked at me at one point — now this is like a 35-, 40-year friendship — and he looked me right in the eye and he said, ‘Do you get the same feeling I get when you finish a film?'” said Hoffman at last September’s Toronto International Film Festival.

“I said, ‘What’s that?’ He says, ‘That you’re never going to work again?’

“It’s not that you’re not going to do a good piece of work — it’s that you’re not going to get hired again, and that’s a constant feeling: ‘Is this it?'”

The same fear plagues the young singers in “Boychoir,” about a semi-orphaned 12-year-old (Garrett Wareing) who is placed in an elite boychoir school in Texas by his estranged dad (Josh Lucas).

The boys’ pure voices are considered “a gift from God,” but they typically only have them for three years before puberty changes them.

Hoffman plays the gruff choirmaster alongside Kathy Bates as the headmistress and Eddie Izzard as an assistant.

Quebec’s Francois Girard directed the script by Ben Ripley.

Hoffman, who studied classical piano when he was younger, plays the keys in the film.

“I discovered his piano skills as we started working together. I was not aware of them,” said Girard, whose previous features include “Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould” and “The Red Violin.”

“That Rachmaninoff bit that he plays (in the film), it was not in the script. I said, ‘We’ve got to do something with that because it’s so’ — the C-Sharp Minor Prelude — ‘is so beautiful.'”

Said Hoffman: “I improvised that and also the dialogue. I did learn it when I was 10.”

Wareing beat out about 1,000 boys for the role. Before shooting, he trained with the American Boy Choir, which is featured in the film.

“It’s very great having such amazing people in my first film to learn from and to work with,” said the 13-year-old.

“(Hoffman) took me under his wing and he taught me so much and it was really great having them there for me.”

Wareing said Hoffman told him: “‘Just give it all you got…. Just live in the moment, feel it and just appreciate what you have.'”

In discussing Wareing’s bright future, Hoffman reflected on his first major role — in 1967’s “The Graduate,” directed by Mike Nichols.

“As far as I’m concerned, Mike Nichols did a very courageous thing casting me in a part that I was not right for, meaning I was Jewish,” said Hoffman.

“In fact, many of the reviews were very negative. It was kind of veiled anti-Semitism…. I was called ‘big-nosed’ in the reviews, ‘a nasal voice.'”

Of course, Nichols went on to win an Oscar for best director for the film.

“I think any time you have that kind of a ground-breaker for the first time, it’s not commercial until it succeeds and then it’s commercial,” said Hoffman.

“Boychoir” opens Friday in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal.

On April 3, it opens in Halifax, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton and Victoria, and April 24 in Ottawa.

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