December 23, 2008 / 1:22 PM / in 9 years

Dustin Hoffman finds "Last Chance" for love

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - At 71, Dustin Hoffman says he will never retire from acting, but he may have to look far beyond the Hollywood that made him famous to find the roles he relishes as he ages.

<p>Dustin Hoffman poses during a photocall to promote his animated film "Kung Fu Panda" in Madrid June 24, 2008.REUTERS/Susana Vera</p>

His latest film, “Last Chance Harvey,” is a small ode to finding love late in life, a theme that should resound with the fastest-growing movie-going audience -- viewers over 40. It opens in U.S. theaters on Christmas Day.

Hoffman, who plays down-on-his-luck Harvey opposite Emma Thompson’s Kate, would like to make more films for older fans, just as he reveled in representing a younger generation as Benjamin Braddock in “The Graduate” 40 years ago.

But the two-time Oscar winner and seven-time nominee doesn’t think the Hollywood studios -- bent on big films that blanket theaters -- are capable of taking on senior romance.

“If I had my druthers, it wouldn’t be to change the studio system. It would be to add two or maybe three languages to my repertoire, which now only consists of street English,” Hoffman said in a recent interview.

“But if I could speak French, Spanish and Italian, I’d be working in movies that interested me more. They still honor love stories about people who are past the age of not needing facial work. You can age in Europe.”

Hoffman, born and raised in Los Angeles, says he never understood, even as a kid, the obsession with youth and what he calls “the lack of respect for age here that doesn’t exist in all countries.”

‘MY BEST WORK IS ... AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL’

“Last Chance Harvey,” written and directed by British filmmaker Joel Hopkins, was tailor-made for Hoffman and Thompson, friends since they made “Stranger than Fiction” a few years ago. Hoffman made sure that Harvey, like himself, was a frustrated jazz pianist.

Divorced, lonely and about to lose his job as a past-his-prime jingles composer, Harvey heads to London for his daughter’s wedding. As he obsesses about getting back to New York to save his job, Harvey careens toward failure as a father until he meets sensitive and hopelessly single Kate.

Kate, a middle-aged woman held back by a needy mother and a go-nowhere job, dreams of becoming a writer. A most unlikely pair, Harvey and Kate roam the streets of a romantic London and mull over life and dreams.

A turning point comes when Harvey, at Kate’s urging, rushes back to the daughter’s wedding and makes a speech that could have gone terribly wrong, but instead redeems him.

Hoffman wrote the speech with his wife of some 30 years the night before filming, dredging up emotions from his own divorce from his first wife when he was making “Kramer vs Kramer” -- a portrait of divorce for which he won his first Academy Award.

“I do my best work when it is, in a sense, autobiographical,” said Hoffman. “With ‘Tootsie,’ I became a better man by having been a woman. In ‘Kramer,’ he was a bad father and had to become a good father.”

As he enters his seventh decade, Hoffman says people pussyfoot around his age for fear of offending him. But he says he has never felt better than he does right now. “That’s because I am closer to understanding that your life can be yours and you don’t have to feel bad about it,” he said.

He hopes to emulate legends who worked up to the end of their lives with good humor, even in failing health. One of his favorite examples is the late comedian George Burns, who said: “Sex at age 90 is like trying to shoot pool with a rope.”

“To have that playfulness about mortality,” said Hoffman. “If that isn’t the object of life, I don’t know what is.”

Editing by Eric Walsh

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