The Best of Dustin Hoffman: 20 Essential Roles

From 'The Graduate' to 'The Simpsons,' looking back on the best of the actor's big-screen and small-screen work

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'Lenny' (1974)

Watch old footage of Lenny Bruce, and the first thing you notice is the stand-up comic's livewire energy – a restlessness and ability to toggle roles in the middle of routines. So naturally Hoffman's take on the groundbreaking comedian in Bob Fosse's biopic fairly bristles with electricity; he rips through Bruce's controversial bits on racial epithets, relationships and other taboo subjects like a man possessed. It's the offstage scenes, however, especially his exchanges with Valerie Perrine's Honey Harlowe, that show the character work he put into this part. The doubt, the self-destructiveness and Bruce's doomed phase as obscenity charges ground him down – Hoffman brings all that as well. The shoot was apparently a wild one that wore the star down, but the result earned him a third Oscar nomination and cemented his reputation as an actor willing to run himself ragged for a role.

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