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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'Midnight Cowboy' (1969)

"I'm walkin' here, I'm walkin' here!" What do you do when you've made a movie that's turned you into the cracking voice of a generation but you want to be considered someone with a wide range? If you're Hoffman, you take on the scuzziest part you can possibly find. A complete 180-degree from the Boy Who Would Invest in Plastics, Ratso Rizzo is a pure creature of the concrete jungle, the sort of citydweller who looks like he was just scraped off of someone's shoe. Director John Schlesinger wasn't sure Hoffman was right for the part until he met up him with at a Forty-Deuce dive drinking coffee in the wee small hours, sporting a hobo beard, a Skid Row odor and a thick New Yawk accent – and suddenly, Ratso was in the house. The seedy desperation of both Hoffman's two-bit hustler and Jon Voight's Western gigolo, and the way these men lean on each other for companionship and comfort in a cold world, is what makes the film hold up long after the Oscar wins, X-rated breakthroughs and sleazy time capsule aspects. When he told Nichols this would be his follow-up to The Graduate, the director was aghast: "Are you crazy? I made you a star!" This role, however, proved he was a capital-A actor.

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