When Rain Man premiered at Berlin International Film Festival in 1988, no one could have predicted how well the drama movie would be received. Least of all, Dustin Hoffman, who early on in filming, had become convinced that his performance sucked.
In fact, according to the Associated Press [via Deseret News], Hoffman was so sure his portrayal of Raymond Babbitt, a middle-aged autistic savant, was bad that he tried to quit the movie. “It was death,” Hoffman said. “It was the worst work I had ever done. I said, ‘I can’t do it.'” It go to the point where Hoffman suggested that he be replaced by Richard Dreyfuss.
Hoffman would eventually win an Oscar for his performance. So what happened? Well, apparently, it all came together for Hoffman during an improvised line about Hanes underwear. “It looked like to me that you could have talked about your underwear forever,” Hoffman said director Barry Levinson told him. “And I suddenly realised that yes, this character is in the now, and he is nowhere if he’s not in the now.”
Rain Man would go on to win a Golden Bear at the Berlin film awards and dominate the Oscars taking home four of the big prizes, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay, while Hoffman would win the Best Actor award.
While Hoffman was diligent in his research for Rain Man – he reportedly studied scientific papers, talked to various professionals, visited psychiatric facilities and spent time with savants and their families – the ‘80s movie has been criticised in recent years for its portrayal of people on the autism spectrum.
Despite what the film would have you believe, savantism is rare and poorly understood by medical professionals. Hoffman’s portrayal has informed stereotypes that people on the autistic spectrum have, for a lack of a better word, superpowers or are always great with numbers.
Like Tom Hanks recently saying it would be inappropriate for him to take the Philadelphia role these days, we don’t necessarily think Hoffman would take the Rain Man role if it were offered to him now.