Dustin Hoffman slapped Meryl Streep on Day 2 of ‘Kramer v. Kramer’

meryl VF

I was all prepared to throw a hissy fit about this Vanity Fair cover. I thought that VF had done a profile of Meryl Streep for their April cover, and I was pissed off that VF used such an old photo of Meryl instead of showing a lovely 60-something woman in all of her glory on the cover of a major magazine. But then I read the Vanity Fair piece and I get why they used an old photo. Meryl didn’t give them an interview – the cover is an excerpt from Michael Schulman’s biography of Streep, called Her Again: Becoming Meryl Streep.

The excerpt – which you can read here – focuses on arguably the worst time in Meryl’s life, the time following John Cazale’s death – they were engaged, very much in love and she was with him as he fought and then succumbed to cancer – and when she threw herself into work afterwards. Immediately following Cazale’s death, Meryl scored the role in Kramer v. Kramer, for which she would win her first Oscar. This was also the time when Dustin Hoffman (her Kramer costar) had one of the worst reputations of any actor. He was a noted bastard, hardass and know-it-all, and he made her life hell while they were filming. The whole VF excerpt is worth a read, but this part caught my eye because OMFG.

On the second day, they continued shooting the opening scene, when Ted follows the hysterical Joanna into the hallway. They shot the bulk of it in the morning and, after lunch, set up for some reaction shots. Dustin and Meryl took their positions on the other side of the apartment door. Then something happened that shocked not just Meryl but everyone on set. Right before their entrance, Dustin slapped her hard across the cheek, leaving a red mark.

Benton heard the slap and saw Meryl charge into the hallway. We’re dead, he thought. The picture’s dead. She’s going to bring us up with the Screen Actors Guild. Instead, Meryl went on and acted the scene. Clutching Joanna’s trench coat, she pleaded with Ted, “Don’t make me go in there!” As far as she was concerned, she could conjure Joanna’s distress without taking a smack to the face, but Dustin had taken extra measures. And he wasn’t done. In her last tearful moments, Joanna tells Ted that she doesn’t love him anymore, and that she’s not taking Billy with her. The cameras were set up on Meryl in the elevator, with Dustin acting his part offscreen.

Improvising his lines, Dustin delivered a slap of a different sort: outside the elevator, he started taunting Meryl about John Cazale, jabbing her with remarks about his cancer and his death. “He was goading her and provoking her,” Fischoff recalled, “using stuff that he knew about her personal life and about John to get the response that he thought she should be giving in the performance.”

Meryl, Fischoff said, went “absolutely white.” She had done her work and thought through the part. And if Dustin wanted to use Method techniques like emotional recall, he should use them on himself. Not her. They wrapped, and Meryl left the studio in a rage. Day two, and Kramer vs. Kramer was already turning into Streep vs. Hoffman.

[From Vanity Fair]

Yes, this is less about how Meryl Streep is a world-class actress and more about how Dustin Hoffman was (and possibly still is) a son of a bitch. WHO DOES THAT? What leading man slaps his costar to “help” her get into character? And “taunting” her about John Cazale? My God. It’s a wonder she didn’t walk off the set completely and never come back. If that happened today… I would like to think that we would hear about it, don’t you?

Photos courtesy of Getty, Vanity Fair.

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93 Responses to “Dustin Hoffman slapped Meryl Streep on Day 2 of ‘Kramer v. Kramer’”

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  1. perplexed says:

    How is that any different from domestic abuse?

    • mark says:

      Because meryl and dustin weren’t a couple…..

      • Delta Juliet says:

        So, it’s just straight up assault.

      • perplexed says:

        It’s still wrong though….

        In a non-Hollywood context, someone probably would have pressed charges for the physical assault. The taunting about the fiancee sounds no different to me than emotional abuse. The closeness he had to her as a colleague/friend/co-star and the ability to use something from her real life against her is probably why domestic abuse registered in my mind as an example. What he did to her is just so odd, even for an actor trying to go Method.

      • Leah says:

        This is how those old method actors were told to work though. Hoffman came from that school of actors. I don’t necessarily think he personally is an asshole but he thought this was the best way to get a good performance because thats the school of thought he came from. Personally I think the taunting is almost worse than the slap.

      • perplexed says:

        I was under the impression that being Method meant getting yourself into a certain real-life headspace that mimics the what the script says. But here I don’t see anything about Dustin doing anything to get himself into a certain mind- set to get a certain performance out of himself. Instead it sounds like hes trying to get her to act a certain way. So I’ll admit Im a little baffled by why this would be considered Method Acting from his end. Was the character in the movie considered abusive?

      • Sam says:

        “In a non-Hollywood context”

        The closest analogy is probably sports. Actors can consent to being hit in a scene, and boxers can consent to being punched in the ring. But a boxer doesn’t sign up to be drop kicked or punched outside the ring, and Meryl didn’t consent to being slapped by Dustin.

    • Kaiser says:

      Right, it’s just abuse. Or felony assault, if you will.

      • aims says:

        He’s a son of a bitch. The physical and psychological abuse is totally unnecessary. Just a prick.

    • Lilacflowers says:

      It is workplace violence and the employer is civilly liable

      • Naya says:

        Yes, the studio was civilly liable. Except that then as today, misogyny rules the day and power differentials mean everything.

        Nicolette Sheridans case was very similar, Marc Cherry made her life hell and one day the abuse crossed over to assault on set. She complained, her role was sliced and she was killed off in the next season. She filed suit. That dbag and the studio muck raked on her, painting her office rivalries with her co-stars as proof of “divahood”. Apparently showrunners get to smack a woman if she is a diva. She lost the case but just barely (8 to 4 in her favor). She was instructed to file under labor law and then told that her case was time barred.

        Heres one short article http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr-esq/nicollette-sheridan-denied-retrial-desperate-725845. The entire trial is worth reading up tbh. It was easy for Amy to win sympathy over her David O’Russell problem because his abuse is already documented on film and confirmed by male actors. Also she is successful and she comes off as demure and passive. Every other actress remains fair game and would likely lose both the PR war and the trial if a studio determines to cover up. Nicolettes career was over the day she took her complaint over the abuse to the studio heads.

    • MC2 says:

      It is assault & abuse. Domestic abuse is a specific thing…..Is it different? Yes- she wasn’t in a romantic or familial relationship with him.

      • perplexed says:

        True, it’s different. But the use of the dead fiance to taunt her kind of threw me. I realize that would count as some kind of workplace harassment rather than domestic abuse, but there’s a certain level of familiarity he had with her situation that he used as a weapon against her emotionally. That sounded odd even by Method standards of acting. I wasn’t sure how the dead fiance thing was even supposed to relate to her character, but I also freely admit I don’t understand how method acting works since I’m not an actor.

  2. jeanpierre says:

    Wow, just wow.

    • SydneySnider says:

      That was my reaction, too, Jeanpierre. I’ve never liked DH, so it seems my distaste for him is perfectly justified. What a fecking mongrel.

  3. GoodNamesAllTaken says:

    I had no idea that Dustin Hoffman was such an arrogant, selfish person. teasing someone about their dead fiancé? Oh my God.

    • Alix says:

      He’s an arrogant, scum-sucking asshole. And that’s the nicest thing I can think of.

      • Gatita says:

        I know a woman who met him on the set of Ishtar and he was hitting on her like crazy until Warren Beatty came over and told him to knock it off. When Warren Freaking Beatty has to be your rescuer from sexual harassment, you know that person is a prime POS.

    • Lizzie McGuire says:

      I thought based on interviews that he would always come across as sweet & humble. Now maybe not so much…

      Look I get it with the Method actors, they want everything to look so REAL, but teasing someone about their dead fiancé to get her to be emotional in a scene is not, & will never be okay.

      • Jane.fr says:

        being Method is like religion : Be whatever you want and let the others be whatever they want ! If he needed to be taunted, humiliated hurt and slapped, good (?) for him. But that did not give him the right to impose his believes and emotional and physical abuse on someone else.

      • Kitten says:

        Yeah me too. I thought he was a decent dude….

    • Pinky says:

      The method actors of that day we’re all kinds of dreadful on set. Many of them have mellowed and learned that there are other ways of getting great performances other than being living demons, but some haven’t. These men were worshipped as gods in the industry and they took full advantage.


    • gwen says:

      Teasing? That wasn’t teasing, that was emotional and physical abuse.

      • GoodNamesAllTaken says:

        Yes, that was a poor choice of word on my part. Ridiculing would have been better. I didn’t mean to make light of it. I think it’s disgusting.

    • Luca76 says:

      I had zero opinion of him outside of being a good actor in some classic films but if this is true he is the worst P.O.S.

    • Snazzy says:

      Me too. I thought he seemed like an OK guy. Obviously not …

    • Carol says:

      Watch the youtube videos of the making of the movie. He is interviewed, and he essentially takes credit for her every scene. If you think she was good, he patiently explains why you should thank him for her performance. I am surprised he didn’t demand part of her Oscar. Not a good guy.

    • Carol says:

      I remember watching an interview with Meryl Streep several years ago where she talked about how difficult it was to do Kramer vs Kramer shortly after losing her fiancee to cancer. She also relayed the Dustin story to the interviewer – being physically slapped by Dustin to get her to react to him a certain way and being completely insulted and incensed by it. She even said that if you look closely, her cheek is red during that scene. Years later I saw that movie again but I don’t think I was able to see a red cheek. Maybe it was my TV, I don’t know. If I recall correctly, I think Meryl said in the interview that since the filming of the movie, she and Dustin have “made up.”

      Still, I was shocked to hear that Dustin was such an a**hole to her during the filming of Kramer vs Kramer. Ever since watching that interview, whenever I see him in a movie or an interview, all I think about is that Meryl Streep story.

  4. Eleonor says:

    Jared Letho sendind rats as gift now seems like a puppy method actor.
    And just for information: has anyone aver kick in the a@# these crazy people ?

  5. Jellybean says:

    Ok, so I always though Lawrence Olivier’s comment to Dustin Hoffman that he should ‘just try acting dear!’ was a bit snobbish, but now I am prepared to accept it was British understatement being used to put a complete a**hole in his place.

  6. FingerBinger says:

    I knew Hoffman was a method actor but I didn’t know he was that insane with it.

  7. Chem says:

    Gorgeous woman

  8. Ferris says:

    I wonder if Dustin was mean to the little boy who played his son to get those emotional scenes also. That little boy had to get pretty upset and cry and I always wondered how they got such a young actor to be upset/cry.

    • Alix says:

      I always thought it was the director’s job to elicit great performances from the cast, not that of an egotistical actor. The GALL.

      • CoKatie says:

        /\ THIS!!!

        Obviously I don’t understand the ins and outs of Method, but whatevah you need to do to YOURSELF to “feel the character”, have had it, my man. To physically assault someone else – and those cruel, unnecessary verbal taunts … Wow!!! You do you, Dustin, and let the Director worry about getting the correct performance out of the other actors. What a schmuck.

      • lucy2 says:

        I agree CoKatie – I’ve always heard “method” as being about oneself, not trying to antagonize costars. Meryl had the right to work however she wanted, and certainly to work in a non hostile and non abusive environment.

    • Tourmaline says:

      Ugh that’s upsetting if it was so, I hope not but who knows. That kid was so adorable it chokes me up even thinking about his performance now.

    • Tiffany says:

      You know who did do that and admit it. Ryan Reynolds when he did Aminevile (sp) Horror. The kids actors went to the director wanting to know what they did for Ryan to be so mean to them. He stated it in the commentary.

      Method or not, you do not do that to children.

    • mayamae says:

      I have no idea how I remember this – The little boy cried in the movie because he was thinking of his dog that died.

  9. Truly says:

    Dusty’s got some ‘splainin to do.

    If this is true, he must own it and publicly apologize.

    • Riley J. says:

      It was nearly 40 years ago. Let’s not get stupid here.

      • PrettyEnemy says:

        So if a crime is decades old the perpetrator shouldn’t be held accountable? Seriously, you have very low social standards if you believe that. The least the boy can do is apologize. It’s only a shame MS didn’t file criminal charges against him then. The consequences for her career were too great. It’s completely understandable why she kept quite for years.

  10. Margo S. says:

    I have no words. Like are you serious right now?! Who do you think you are Dustin. And everyone on set just stood around and let this happen?! Wow hollywood. Just wow. Shame on you Dustin you peice of sh!t.

  11. EM says:

    I saw a “biography” and interview with Dustin about filming the movie and I thought what an absolute pr*ck. I liked him up until I learned more about him.

    Kudos to Meryl for her professionalism and even temperament and SHAME on everyone else for just going with the scene. Meryl is a star whereas Dustin is not!

  12. Marty says:

    I would’ve kicked him in the nuts and called it a day. To hit her AND taunt her like that…no way in hell.

    • KB says:

      That’s exactly what I was thinking. You want to elicit pain from me? How about we start with you.

  13. Tash says:

    *sign These older actors/actresses whose work I admire need to stop disappointing me…Jerome Irons, Charlotte Rampling, Gary Oldman, etc.

    • PennyLane says:

      Lately the truth has become clear:

      “Actors shouldn’t speak, unless the lines are written by somebody else. Otherwise their job is to stand there and look pretty. “

  14. Insomniac says:

    I have no doubt that if Meryl had dared to complain about this, she’d be the one without a career now. Disgusting.

    • Lauren II says:

      I love and admire Meryl even more, which I didn’t think was possible. I have watched the Bridges of Madison County at least 30 times because of her performance. Silkwood is another favorite.
      Meryl has infinite class and talent. No one compares.

  15. Kelly says:

    Horrible behavior.

    Does anyone else recall a story where Cazale was seeing another woman, and Meryl Streep found out about it after he died? It just added to the whole distress.

    I remember reading something about it decades ago but have not read or heard anything about it since.

    • SusanneToo says:

      I never heard anything like that.

      • Carol says:

        I haven’t either. Every person I have ever heard talk about him and his death has said what a wonderful man he was and how much they hoped that once in their lives they would experience the love she showed him.

  16. Tough Cookie says:

    I am actually looking forward to this issue of VF. I don’t say that very often anymore.

  17. Neelyo says:

    On the set of MARATHON MAN, Hoffman had a scene where he was supposed to be exhausted so he raced around before the scene so he’d be convincingly winded. When he was done his co-star Sir Laurence Olivier said, ‘Have you ever tried acting, dear boy?’

    • Crumpet says:

      Haha! Love it. Dustin – wow. Tootsie and Rainman are forever ruined for me now. I hope there is enormous backlash against that asshat.

  18. Naya says:

    The way she talks about that movie makes me believe this 100 percent. She usually says that Dustin was huge star and she was basically starting out at the time in a way that implies he had clout that he threw around on set.

    By the way Kaiser, I am not so sure we would hear about it if it happened today. Remember Nicollete Sheridan took Marc Cherry to court over the same thing? Remember she was villified for it in the coverage? Remember she even had witnesses? Remember how the network, the studio and the producers tried to paint it as common work place practice to assist performances? That woman hasnt been seen on screen or television of substance since.

  19. Nancy says:

    And this is why Meryl remains on top today. She is a class act who can act. She stayed with and got engaged to John knowing he was dying. All of his movies were nominated for Oscars, Godfather I and II, Dog Day Afternoon, the Deer Hunter. What could have been. I like Hoffman but didn’t realize he was such a douche. Meryl wins.

  20. Minxx says:

    Look at him on the Oscar photo! He’s almost offended by standing next to Meryl? Why the long face?

  21. paolanqar says:

    Is he a scientologist?

  22. Lambda says:

    According to Hoffman, he actually handpicked Streep for the role precisely because he knew she was in a state of mourning. Being an asshole on set was par for the course for Method actors, and still is. I’m not that ready to be offended, though I understand the reactions. It’s not an environment I’d ever want to be a part of. We should ask Meryl: was is worth the Oscar? After Deer Hunter, I think she was set for stardom anyway, but Joanna was a super plum role. It’s telling though Meryl didn’t work with Hoffman again, and she tends to do repeats with actors.

  23. JenniferJustice says:

    Well, I guess that answers all the questions we had regarding details. We all knew they hated each other after filming Kramer v. Kramer but now we know why. She didn’t kick up a fuss about it. Method acting was the thing back then, and the production company didn’t follow up so I guess it’s all water under the bridge. Dustin Hoffman is known in the industry for being a bear to work with and I can see why. I think he’s mellowed with age and doesn’t have that reputation anymore. I hope so.

  24. Kaye says:

    A couple of years ago I read an interview with Dustin Hoffman in which he said he used to be an absolute a*hole, and that many people didn’t deserve the treatment he gave them. He gave examples. It struck me as sincere.

    • I Choose Me says:

      Yes, I think I remember that interview. I actually thought it was a well known fact that he was an absolute prick back in the day. But he nowadays he seems calmer and bit more humble. I hope he’s apologized to Meryl for his horrible treatment of her.

  25. Tourmaline says:

    What. A. Prick.

    And that’s nice that Dusty thought he had to abusively goad Meryl into giving a good performance. She was MERYL STREEP even then! It’s satisfying that Meryl’s career and Oscar nods continue to the present day–him not so much except as a voice in cartoon movies.

    • Carol says:

      I watched an interview with a casting agent for plays. She casted for Broadway and Shakespeare in the Park and all things New York. When asked whose audition stood out the most, she smiled and started, “She hadn’t even graduated from Yale yet.” And everyone watching knew she meant Meryl. She has always been Meryl Streep.

  26. prissa says:

    Wow! I had no idea Dustin was like this. I’m disappointed. :(

  27. JRenee says:

    Method acting or not, this was crappie behavior.

  28. Penelope says:

    Wow. I don’t care how long ago this was, I’ll never look at Dustin Hoffman quite the same way again. My God.

  29. Jayna says:

    Two spectacularly brilliant actors. What a body of work by them both.

  30. kay says:

    I would have strangled that little bastard with my own hands. starting with the fact that I HATE method actors, it’s just lazy acting IMO, because it way more easy than actually access to something that you have to creat from scratch, but that’s another story. Dustin should have gone method JUST with his little ass, and leave Meryl to chose how to perform her part. Also a great disrespect to the director, who was in charge of that film? Hoffman or the director? This changes completely the respect I used to have for Hoffman. What an idiot.

  31. Noreen says:

    here is a video about his feminist awakening:
    i think we change as we grow and i give him the benefit of the doubt.

  32. Esther says:

    apart from the clear assault and verbal abuse i never understood this acting BS. you are supposed to PRETEND. if you make someone cry its not acting. if you are drunk in a scene thats not acting drunk. if the director wants you to live together to play a couple it means you suck as actors.

    • Anastasia says:

      True. Nicolas Cage would get super drunk and film himself to study his mannerisms and speech later when he was sober, but he wasn’t ACTUALLY drunk while filming Leaving Las Vegas.

  33. bored_01 says:

    Sad that he thought he was in the superior position to school Meryl on how to act! I think time has tested that one.

  34. Susan says:

    I’m so disappointed. Dustin Hoffman is actually one of the actors that I’ve met randomly in LA and he was actually nice and talkative to me as we waited in line at a cafe. Bummer.

  35. Katie says:

    Method acting extreme. I don’t think anyone does that anymore. Apart from Leto. Day Lewis does it but he’s not abusive.

    • Lucy says:

      Yeah, I remember Paul Dano commenting that DDL was a bit chilly toward him on the set of There Will Be Blood, keeping with the tone of their on-screen relationship, but nothing on this scale.

    • Jayna says:

      Daniel Day Lewis. Al Pacino was a method actor and was an utterly brilliant actor. And, honestly, his life story growing up and becoming an actor is fascinating. He is a one of a kind. I won’t argue with his technique since back i the day it brought out some amazing performances.

      If anyone wants a fascinating read about Al Pacino as a young artist in the making from an interesting background growing up and then as an acclaimed actor, this is it. It’s amazing to see who he was as just a kid and to realize he became one of the greatest actors of his generation.


  36. Anastasia says:

    There’s a scene later in the film in which they meet in a restaurant, and she says something that makes him mad, and he swipes a glass off the table and it smashes on the wall. That wasn’t in the script, and Meryl didn’t know he was going to do it, so her reaction is authentic.

  37. Lucy says:

    I will say that I think Hoffman has genuinely mellowed with age and, like many older people, probably has many regrets about how he treated people over the years.

    None of that excuses the behavior, of course, and I would not have wanted to work with him or with any Method actor.

  38. perplexed says:

    He might have mellowed with age, but I’m surprised you’d have to get to his current age to realize this kind of behaviour is off. He was at least 40 when Kramer vs, Kramer was filmed — not extremely young. By that point you know the difference between right and wrong.

  39. Jayna says:

    Meryl Streep back years ago onthe Jonathan Ross show about the slap and about Dustin.

    “Meryl also reflects on some of her leading men. She says of Dustin Hoffman (Kramer Vs Kramer): “In the very first scene he slapped me as hard as he could, off-camera, you could see the mark. I was so shocked, it set me up for the right feeling for him. I love him, but I was mad at him that day!”

  40. Wow!! I knew she had refused to work with him, ever, after this film because of how he treated her. I knew it must have been something major but never knew what it was. I think Dustin is well know for his, personality. In 2012 when he was honored at the Kennedy Center Honors, Robert De Niro’s speech entailed him saying that, “Dustin is a world class, spectacular, colossal, pain in the ass.” That’s putting it mildly.

  41. Magnoliarose says:

    I remember Susan Sarandon saying something negative about his behavior once on a talk show. He was known to be an asshole but he seems to have acknowledged his past and taken responsibility for it. I think it was terrible but after 40 years and Meryl saying she’s moved on it seems pointless to hold the man he is today for what he did.

  42. Jonas says:

    Dustin is/was wrong. Meryl is no angel.
    Meryl sued my aunt because John Cazale left my aunt (his finance before Merly) his Tribeca loft. The loft in which my aunt (who was on a soap) and John (from the Godfather’s) took all their money and renovated together. Meryl contested the will. Meryl lost in court. Meryl then blackballed my aunt from the NY theater scene via Joseph Papp. Meryl is no angel. Ask Signourey Weaver, her classmate at Yale. Pretty much ask any of her classmates at Yale. The young Meryl was entitled and willing to stab anyone in the back. She is a fantastic actress, but didn’t get to the top by talent alone. Talent is not often enough, even when one is gifted like Meryl is…no respect here for her as a human. As an actress, yes.

  43. NeoCleo says:

    Hoffman straight up assaulted her. I hope this is the last we hear about sh*t like this. Extremely disturbing to think that someone of Streep’s professionalism and talent was treated this way by a colleague.

  44. Tarsha says:

    Ugh, I always get crap for this, but I cannot stand Meryl as an actress. I just cannot. In fact, it was THIS MOVIE that did it. Her jittering, shaking and over-acting was frustrating. Maybe Hoffman’s attacks on her made her that way, but they could have re-shot. The movie was ok, but her over-acting was just so distracting. She became a Hollywood product, mass promoted. And I really believe that is why most like her. She is simply not a good actress imo and since this movie, I have never been able to stomach her acting, or rather, over-acting.

  45. Tarsha says:

    As for Method actors, they are hardcore. I am an Amityville Horror fan and have a DVD double disc of the movie and the actors were interviewed in 2000 for the millennium commemoration release. James Brolin who played George Lutz said in his interview that he had previously had some characters where he used to write mini biographies and pages and pages of backstory that he made up, like where they went to school and so on. So he used to create a whole parallel life his character had, to help him in his portrayals. Bizarre indeed.