These master thespians play two lost people of a certain age: New Yorker Harvey (Hoffman) is a divorced jingle writer suddenly without a job, and Kate (Thompson) is an airport efficiency pollster who still lives with her dotty, interfering mother (played by Dame Eileen Atkins). The pair meet (but definitely not cute) in London, where he's come to attend the wedding of his daughter (Liane Balaban) -- who's decided to have her step-dad (James Brolin) walk her down the aisle -- and soon realize that they may indeed be each other's last chance for happiness.
"Dustin and I had such a good time working together on Stranger Than Fiction, says Thompson of their re-teaming. "And it was wonderful to work together again. It was serendipitous that I got the script from [director] Joel Hopkins, and I made him send it to Dustin."
Commenting on their obvious chemistry, evident both onscreen and offscreen, Hoffman credits a common interest. "She wanted to do stand-up and I wanted to do stand-up. But I'm so old that when I got to New York in 1958, they didn't have stand-up. Lenny Bruce was just called a comic. However there was improv comedy and I ended up playing piano at Bud Friedman's Improv on West 44th Street." (Hoffman would eventually make his way to the theater, earning a Theater World in 1967 for Eh? and eventually adding Drama Desk Awards for Jimmy Shine and Death of a Salesman).
Age is an issue that neither the film nor the stars shy away from. The 72-year old Hoffman talks about the great European films with middle-aged actors like Simone Signoret and Yves Montand that influenced him, while Thompson, who freely admits to being 49, notes that "the first romantic movie I saw that made my heart lurch was Les Enfants du Paradis, and Arletty [the leading lady] was 47. It's got nothing to do with age! What are we doing to our young people if we don't show the joys of getting older, but selling them down the river!"
Yet as refreshing as it is to see a realistic portrayal of older lovers, the question of showing physical attraction onscreen brings humorous remarks from the acting duo. Hoffman fairly shouts, "We wanted full frontal, we went all out!" as Thompson adds, "No matter what we did, we heard: 'We're shooting your back or we'll shoot from this angle."
Still, Hoffman effusively praises Hopkins for the film's documentary-like style. "In the pub scenes with Emma, you can't tell if she's just talking or saying lines, and that's one of the hardest things to get real," he notes. "This movie allows the audience to collaborate and actually answer some of the questions that the director has posed for them."
Given how embarrassing a mum like Kate's can be, the pair also discussed their own folks. "My father didn't know boundaries," recalls Hoffman. "I took him to the set with me on The Graduate, and when I went to the bathroom, he ran up to Mike Nichols, introduced himself, and said, 'I think you're lining up that shot wrong.' Top that!" Thompson couldn't, of course, but noted: "Although I know my mother's proud of me, she still feels that pride is unpleasant and faulty in some regard and she will not give in to it under any circumstances."
As to whether this is the last time Hoffman and Thompson will work together, don't bet on it! "Maybe someone will write us a play," says Hoffman. Counters Thompson, who's working on the screenplay for a new film version of My Fair Lady: "Maybe I'll just write us another something before I drop off the twig."