July 9, 2013 at 12:08 PM ET
Dustin Hoffman's turn as a woman in the 1982 film "Tootsie" was much more than just a dress-up comedy for the iconic actor. A tearful interview that is resurfacing and going viral shows how much it meant for Hoffman to view life as the opposite sex.
In the Sydney Pollack-directed film, Hoffman stars as Michael Dorsey, an actor struggling to find work until he dresses as a woman (Dorothy Michaels) and lands a role as the female lead on a soap opera. With Jessica Lange, Teri Garr, Bill Murray and Charles Durning along for the ride, hilarity ensues. But for Hoffman, the transformation left him believing the film was not a comedy.
The actor says in the American Film Institute interview that the film's co-writer, Murray Schisgal, once asked him, "How would you be different if you had been born a woman?" Hoffman found a distinction between this question and what he calls a common "sexist" question men have on what it might "feel like" to be a woman.
Hoffman says he went to the studio and asked for make-up tests so that he could see if he could walk down the streets of New York dressed as a woman and not turn heads because he looked like a "freak."
"When we got to that point and looked at it on screen, I was shocked that I wasn't more attractive," Hoffman recalls. "I said, 'Now you have me looking like a woman, now make me a beautiful woman.' Because I thought I should be beautiful. ... And they said to me, 'That's as good as it gets.'"
It's here where the actor starts to choke up, recalling a later conversation with his wife.
"It was at that moment I had an epiphany, and I went home and started crying, talking to my wife. And I said I have to make this picture, and she said, 'Why?' And I said, 'Because I think I am an interesting woman when I look at myself on screen. And I know that if I met myself at a party, I would never talk to that character because she doesn't fulfill physically the demands that we're brought up to think women have to have in order for us to ask them out. She says, 'What are you saying?'"
Fighting back tears, Hoffman continues: "I said, 'There's too many interesting women I have not had the experience to know in this life because I have been brainwashed. That ['Tootsie'] was never a comedy for me."
Hoffman received an Academy Award nomination for best actor for his role.
The YouTube clip has set off a fresh round of comments from men and women about Hoffman, the movie, and what physical appearance means for members of both sexes.