Meryl Streep has been careful about what she says about Dustin Hoffman, her co-star on her first big movie, Kramer vs. Kramer. Amid growing sexual misconduct allegations against the 80-year-old actor, Meryl Streep has issued carefully worded statements when asked about him and she even offered a clarification on an interview she gave decades ago.
Now, in a new interview with the New York Times, Meryl Streep admits that Dustin Hoffman went off script and slapped her during the first take of their first scene together in Kramer vs. Kramer. Streep revealed that Hoffman “overstepped” when he smacked her during an argument scene set outside of an elevator in the 1979 Academy Award-winning film.
“This is tricky because when you’re an actor, you’re in a scene, you have to feel free,” Meryl told the Times.
“I’m sure that I have inadvertently hurt people in physical scenes. But there’s a certain amount of forgiveness in that. But this was my first movie, and it was my first take in my first movie, and he just slapped me. And you see it in the movie.”
Kramer vs. Kramer is about a couple, Ted and Joanna Kramer, who go through a divorce and child custody battle. In the opening scene, Streep’s Joanna announces to her husband that she no longer loves him and is leaving him. You can see the scene (and the slap) below.
In the Times interview, Meryl Streep went on to say that in today’s acting world, things are changing and incidents like the one with Hoffman are being corrected. But Meryl did not elaborate on an even more harrowing part of the Kramer vs. Kramer elevator scene, which reportedly had her shedding real life tears.
According to Vanity Fair, Dustin Hoffman engaged in some more disturbing method acting while filming the iconic opening scene with Meryl Streep.
As the cameras were set up on Meryl Streep in the elevator, Dustin Hoffman was acting his part off-screen and improvising his lines. In an effort to get Meryl to deliver an emotional performance, Dustin also reportedly stood outside of the elevator and allegedly began to taunt her about her recently deceased boyfriend, The Godfather actor John Cazale, who had died of cancer several months earlier.
According to People, a devoted Meryl Streep was by her beloved beau’s side during his illness, accompanying him to grueling chemotherapy treatments and keeping a bedside vigil during his final days. When Cazale passed away on March 12, 1978, Meryl was so overcome with emotion that she collapsed into him and cried for him to wake up.
A few months later, Dustin Hoffman knew that Meryl was still grieving over the death of John Cazale and it was reportedly one of the reasons he wanted her for the part of Joanna Kramer — and why he used her grief as part of his method acting.
Of the elevator scene incident, Kramer vs. Kramer producer Richard Fischoff told Vanity Fair the following.
“He was goading her and provoking her, saying 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.”
According to Fischoff, Meryl Streep went “absolutely white” after Dustin Hoffman’s comments about John Cazale and later left the studio in a rage.
The slap and the taunting weren’t Dustin Hoffman’s only on-set surprises for Meryl Streep during the filming of Kramer vs. Kramer. The actress had no idea that her co-star was planning to throw a wine glass at the wall during a scene set later in the movie. The scene, set in a bar when Ted and Joanna meet up for the first time in 15 months, after she left him, ends with an angry Dustin Hoffman smashing a wine glass against the restaurant wall. The shards reportedly landed in a stunned Meryl Streep’s hair after the glass narrowly missed her.
Dustin Hoffman kept his improv a secret from Meryl Streep, but approached the cameraman between takes to tell him what he was planning to do to ensure he would be able to get it in the shot. The cameraman instructed Hoffman to move the wine glass a bit to the left before throwing it.
After Dustin Hoffman shocked his co-star by tossing the glass against the wall, Meryl Streep reportedly said, “Next time you do that, I’d appreciate you letting me know.” You can see the scene below.
Kramer vs. Kramer went on to win five Academy Awards, including best actor and actress trophies for Hoffman and Streep.
Dustin Hoffman has not commented on Meryl Streep’s new revelations about the Kramer vs. Kramer elevator scene.