Dustin Hoffman tried out his role as Dorothy by passing himself off as his daughter's Aunt Dorothy at her parents' evening at school. His performance was so strong he actually convinced the teachers present. They never suspected.
The character of Dorothy originally did not speak with a Southern accent, but in doing research, Dustin Hoffman discovered his voice fell more closely into the range of female pitch while doing the accent.
In an interview for the American Film Institute, Dustin Hoffman said that he was shocked that although he could be made-up to appear as a credible woman, he would never be a beautiful one. He said that he had an epiphany when he realized that although he found this woman interesting, he would not have spoken to her at a party because she was not beautiful, and that as a result, he had missed out on many conversations with interesting women. He concluded that he had never regarded the film as a comedy.
Cinematographer Owen Roizman was initially opposed to Dorothy's character wearing glasses, as the reflective nature of their lenses tend to hamper lighting crews. After some tests, however, it was decided that glasses added a distinct, flattering dimension to Dorothy: Hoffman's prominent nose became less obtrusive and the glasses further feminized his personality, creating a more noticeable gender separation between the Dorothy and Michael characters. The glasses stayed, but a compromise was reached when Sydney Pollack suggested that the production try a special non-reflective coating developed by then Panavision head, Robert Gottschalk. The spray had been used to coat camera lenses, improving light transmission through the front elements. When the spray was used on Dorothy's glasses, it proved to be a godsend.
Dustin Hoffman first got the idea to do this film while working on Kramer vs. Kramer (1979). He felt his character in that film had to be both a mother and a father, so he started thinking about how to play a man and a woman. Several scripts, several writers and a few directors later, this was the result.
Dorothy Michaels (Dustin Hoffman) tells April (Geena Davis) that she thinks of all the younger actresses as her daughters, and "What kind of mother would I be if I didn't give my girls...tips?" In a 2014 interview with Jimmy Kimmel, Geena Davis recalled that since this was her first movie and she was very young and inexperienced (she didn't even know that she didn't have to come to the set on days when she wasn't shooting any scenes), Dustin Hoffman similarly acted as a mentor to Davis. One piece of advice he gave her was: "I know you're going to move to Hollywood and be successful, and your co-stars are going to hit on you, and you should not sleep with your co-stars. It's a bad idea. So here's what to say. When they hit on you, say, 'I would love to', be very flattering, 'but I'm afraid it would ruin the (on-screen) sexual tension between us.'" Davis said that she later used that tactic when Jack Nicholson hit on her, and Nicholson's response was, "Oh my god, where'd you get THAT? What a line. Oh, man!"
During a 2008 appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman (1993), Dustin Hoffman revealed that, while dressed as Dorothy Michaels, he played a trick on legendary actor José Ferrer. While in an elevator, Hoffman introduced himself as Dorothy, a big fan and member of the Dallas Theater. Ferrer bought it and seemed flattered. Hoffman then asked if he could "suck Ferrer's c**k". After a long pause, Ferrer raised his right-hand and said, "Not right now, thank you." After Hoffman exited the elevator, Ferrer looked at Assistant Director David McGiffert and asked, "Who was that scumbag of a woman?" A year later, Hoffman ran into Ferrer again at a benefit and teased him for being fooled.
Dustin Hoffman claimed that after playing Tootsie for the first time, he went home, burst into tears and confessed to his wife that playing a woman forced him to confront his own sexist perceptions of women he never realized he had.
The actors and actresses were told not to approach their characters as comedic characters, but as dramatic characters in a funny situation. In Sydney, Australia, Director Sydney Pollack commented "No one ever laughed during the shooting of any scenes of the film. It's only funny because of its story structure."
During the credit sequence, Sydney Pollack provided the voice of the unseen play director who tells Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman), "We're looking for someone older", then, "We're looking for someone younger", and finally, "We're looking for someone else."
Despite the disputes over who deserved credit for the script, most everyone agrees the character of Michael/Dorothy was largely Dustin Hoffman's invention. He based his female character on his own mother, who was then very ill and near death.
Director Sydney Pollack had originally wanted Dabney Coleman to play Dustin Hoffman's agent. During a conversation that Hoffman had with Pollack, Hoffman wanted to know what forced his character to wear a dress and pretend to be a woman. Pollack's response was that, if he didn't, he would never work again. Hoffman replied that he wouldn't put on a dress if Coleman told him he would never work again, because Coleman was a fellow actor, and he wouldn't believe him. Because Pollack was the Director, Hoffman insisted he would convince Hoffman to wear a dress. Pollack still refused to play the part, so Hoffman sent him red roses every day with the note, "Please be my agent. Love, Dorothy" until Pollack agreed to take the role.
Jessica Lange credits Sydney Pollack with guiding and shaping her performance. "He has almost impeccable taste about what's right and what he needs and doesn't need", she said shortly after filming. "I really think he did something with my performance in the editing room, made it more interesting."
Dustin Hoffman's two-hour make-up preparations included shaving his legs, arms and the back of his fingers while in a sauna, taping back his facial skin to tighten his features and installing daintier-looking false teeth. No amount of make-up, however, could conceal Hoffman's five-o'clock shadow for very long. He could only be filmed for three to four hours at a time.
While being profiled for "The Directors" series, Sydney Pollack claimed that Dustin Hoffman refused to continue working on the film unless Pollack played his agent. Pollack refused up until Hoffman's agent Michael Ovitz intervened and Pollack reconsidered. He later agreed to play the role. The scenes featuring Hoffman's and Pollack's characters were meant to reflect what happened behind the scenes between the two when they would argue. In fact, Hoffman and Pollack quarreled so furiously during filming that they never did another film together. While they did discuss mending fences in order to work on Rain Man (1988), ultimately Pollack declined the director's spot for that film, leading to the hiring of Barry Levinson.
In an interview conducted a year before his death (in 2009), Writer Larry Gelbart revealed that he nursed a grudge against Dustin Hoffman, because Hoffmann claimed that his friend, Writer and Producer Murray Schisgal, had conceived the movie. In his last major interview, given in 2008, Gelbart told salon.com's Mike Sacks: "Tootsie (1982) is my vision, despite Dustin Hoffman's lifelong mission to deprive anybody of any credit connected with that movie, except for his close friend, the Writer and Producer Murray Schisgal. I say that because Dustin appeared with James Lipton on Inside the Actors Studio (1994) in 2006 and declared that the Tootsie (1982) idea sprang from Schisgal's intestines. I don't know much about gastroenterology, but I do know that the central theme for Tootsie (1982) came from me. And the central theme was that Dustin's character, Michael Dorsey, would become a better man for having been a woman. That was the cornerstone of the film. All of the other details are just floating around that idea."
Dustin Hoffman and Sydney Pollack feuded so intensely over small things that Hoffman ended up suggesting that Pollack play his agent so they could get that into the film (and, perhaps, give Pollack a chance to vent).
Ellen Foley has a mostly non-verbal role as the assistant to the soap opera producer. Her character originally had dialogue, but it was cut because Foley was recording an album that hurt her speaking voice.
The name of the television soap-opera was "Southwest General". The television show in this movie is a parody of General Hospital (1963), even referencing the "Sally Armitage is Max Hedges!" storyline plot twist.
Jessica Lange once said of this movie: "It took Sydney Pollack a long time to get me to do Tootsie (1982). I asked myself if I wanted to play some frothy, ditzy character after I had just done Frances (1982). Obviously, I'm thrilled that I did."
Jessica Lange said that at first she had trouble modulating her performance for a comedy. Having just completed the highly emotional drama Frances (1982), she found herself giving too much intensity to some scenes, particularly one that called for her to be angry. "I came out of my dressing room and tore the set apart", she said. "After the take, there was this incredible stillness."
Dustin Hoffman's performance was one of two performances portraying struggling actors, reduced to appearing on television and ending up doing something outrageous during a live transmission, nominated for an Oscar in the same year. The other is Peter O'Toole's in My Favorite Year (1982). Neither actor won.
The film lingered in development Hell for a year as producers waited on a revised script. As pre-production began, the film ran into additional delays when Dick Richards left the role of director due to "creative differences". He assumed the role of producer instead, being replaced by Hal Ashby, who was subsequently forced to leave the project by Columbia Pictures because of the threat of legal action if his post-production commitments on Lookin' to Get Out (1982) were not fulfilled.
The poster just inside the door in Michael's apartment depicts an orchid (Dactylorhiza maculata). The poster belongs to a series of Swedish school posters produced in the first half of the twentieth century showing Swedish flora. It was painted by the German scientific artist, Max Richter, under the supervision of Swedish botanist Gunnar Samuelsson.
Although the project was designed specifically for Dustin Hoffman, he refused to play the role until he was sure he had passed a screentest as Dorothy, because he wanted to be convincing as a woman, and not just a parody drag act. He so identified with Dorothy, that when asked during the test if she would ever have children, he broke down crying in character and responded, "I think it's a little late in the day for that." Hoffman later told The New York Times, "I felt so terrible I would never have that experience. Nothing like that ever happened to me. I've been acting for nearly thirty years, and I've never had a moment like that before in my life."
First credited acting role in a theatrical movie of Producer and Director Sydney Pollack in approximately twenty years, with his last at the time having being as Sergeant Owen Van Horn in War Hunt (1962). In this movie, George Gaynes portrayed a character called John Van Horn.
Hal Ashby was assigned as director, but he was forced to leave the project by Columbia Pictures because of the threat of legal action if his post-production commitments on Lookin' to Get Out (1982) were not fulfilled.
The film represents the first of two (to date, May 2015) Academy Awards won by Jessica Lange, who won the Best Actress Oscar for Blue Sky (1994). Lange has been nominated for an Oscar six times, all being for Best Actress, except for Tootsie (1982), losing four times and winning twice. Tootsie (1982) is the only ever time (to date, May 2015) that Lange has been nominated for the Best Actress in a Supporting Role Academy Award.
Jessica Lange has appeared in two films that have been nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards: this movie and All That Jazz (1979). Both films are about performance, and neither movies won the Best Picture Oscar.
In an interview with Gaby Wood for The Telegraph, Dustin Hoffman claimed to have co-written many of the movies in which he acted: "Another one was Tootsie: my friend and I co-wrote the early drafts. He took credit. I didn't want to."
At one point during Michael Dorsey's surprise birthday party, he stands in front of a black-and-white poster which features a man's narrow, emaciated face; Dustin Hoffman is holding his head in a position similar to that of the man in the poster, tilted forward. The man in the poster is Samuel Beckett, who wrote "Waiting for Godot". Beckett won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1969.
Most movies have only one screenwriter; this one has many: The film was adapted by Larry Gelbart, Barry Levinson (uncredited), Elaine May (uncredited), and Murray Schisgal from a story by Gelbart and Don McGuire.
According to the preliminary production information, Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman) is divorced. Hoffman's character in the then recent movie Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) was also divorced. And in both movies, the male character had to assume some female characteristics being either the mother of the child or portraying a woman.
The nickname of Sandra Lester (Teri Garr) was "Sandy", the nickname of Leslie Nichols (Charles Durning) was "Les", the nickname of television star Dorothy Michaels (Dustin Hoffman) was "Tootsie", and the nickname of actor John Van Horn was "The Tongue ".
Dustin Hoffman appears in drag in this movie. This fact was blatantly promoted in the picture's promotions and publicity so most audiences already knew the story element prior to seeing the film, that Hoffman would be appearing in drag.
Dustin Hoffman was arguably (and is still arguably) the most critically acclaimed and respected actor ever; winning two academy awards for Kramer Vs Kramer and Rain Man; and getting raves for his performances in movies like Tootsie and the the Graduate, and plays like Death of a Salesman; and being one of the most versatile actors of his generation. His career abruptly came to an end in November of 2017 in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein and Me Too Scandals in Hollywood; when various women came forward and accused him of sexual misconduct. He has not worked or appeared publicly since then and has kept mostly a low profile. Time will tell whether he will ever be able to revive his career again; skeptics are saying he won't.
Dustin Hoffman played "dual roles" in this movie: Michael Dorsey and Dorothy Michaels, the latter being a cross-dressing character which is played by the former. Both character names share slightly different versions of the name Michael(s) and each character's names have initials which are the reverse of each other ("MD" and "DM", respectively).
Bernie Pollack: The film's Costume Supervisor and brother of actor and Director Sydney Pollack as Actor #1. This was the second of three times that he appeared in one of his brother's movies, the first was Bobby Deerfield (1977), and the final one was Havana (1990).