Graduate 25th Anniversary

For a special 25th anniversary edition of The Graduate, Dustin Hoffman (Ben), Katherine Ross (Elaine), Lawrence Turman (Producer) and Buck Henry (Screenwriter) were interviewed about the making of the film.

Producer Lawrence Turman LAWRENCE TURMAN: ...the book [The Graduate novel] it had originally published, I read a review in the New York Times. And I thought, "Wow. Sounds like an interesting screenwriter - possible screenwriter. So I read the book and for whatever reason I wasn't so keen on him [author Charles Webb] as a screenwriter but the book has stayed with me. I actually paid a thousand bucks against twenty [thousand (for the movie rights)] - not only that, the thousand bucks was out of my own pocket - but I believed in it and I wanted to get my hands on it.

Talented people are good the first time out. Mike Nichols, I hired him long before "Virginia Woolf". He had done a single Broadway play "Barefoot in the Park" which I saw, liked, and sent him the book not knowing him. I was in New York, got a message on my machine, "Mr. Nichols called. Likes the book." We met and decided to do it.

[On Anne Bancroft] Well, I had seen her on Broadway. She couldn't have been funnier - or sexier. In that scene where she talks about - where they're in bed together [Mrs. Robinson expresses her lost interest in art] - she had a little vulnerability there. Which was a wonderful addition. Early on when Mrs. Robinson asks Ben to take her home, uh, from his parent's party, the scene at her house, there's such a funny, surreal sexual tension. ...I was really struck by that. I really like that thing. It was funny yet serious.

The style of the picture, much of that is Mike's [director Nichols]. I remember we were walking down New York one day, 57th street...he says, "I wonder what the style of this picture should be or what the theme of it is." We walked and walked, he says, "Maybe it's about a boy who saves himself through madness."

[on the spliced scene of Ben jumping onto his raft in the pool but landing on Mrs. Robinson in bed] That's one of the most brilliant cuts I ever thought of - except it was Mike Nichol's. He, uh - again that's pre-production planning. I mean, that doesn't happen accidentally. Like a lot of creative work it's thinking. Well, you know, what's called intuition is your creative talent brainpower but working overtime all the time. I mean Mike is brilliant. He's so smart and he's so creative. And you don't show up and have that happen. You've got to plan that very far ahead.

Mike and I were sitting in the office one day and he turned to me and said, "How about Simon and Garfunkel for the music?" Paul only wrote that amount [two lines] of Mrs. Robinson for the picture. And I asked him - directly and/or through his manager - to write the full song so we would have a merchandising tool - single records out there. And he was sort of reluctant about doing it for whatever reason. And that, um - picture came out, big success, he quickly wrote the rest of it, recorded it and it became a big success.

One thing that Mike did, a wonderful addition, he said, "I'm thinking that maybe the wedding ceremony should be completed before he [Ben] breaks in." I said, "You're kidding". I mean...'cause I don't think it was like that in the book at all. I thought, "Wow, what a strong idea." I was uncomfortable with it. I went back - I thought about it - I went back a few days later and I said, "Boy what a terrific idea." He said, "Well, I'm nervous. I'm thinking maybe I shouldn't do this." I said, "No, no. Your first impulse was good. Stick with it."

As far as the shot...with the cross, I think, probably could have offended one or two people. It could have - and that's strong stuff. But it seemed so - it was in the book - I'm a literal person and I never thought of not using it nor did Mike.

It was a good movie!

KATHERINE ROSS: For everyone who told me they fell in love with's a good thing they don't really know me (laughs). One thing that Mike did - and this I think was invaluable for this film - is that we rehearsed this film like we were going to take it on the road - for three weeks before we ever shot anything. And we started off on a sound stage with chalk marks, you know, and prop furniture and it gave us a chance to go through - to do it a lot, to try anything that we wanted to try.

The most difficult scene in the movie for me to shoot was the scene in which she [Elaine] finds out what had been going on between Ben and Mrs. Robinson. I'm looking at Dustin and then I see him looking and then I turn around and I see her [Mrs. Robinson] in back of me. And then [when I'm] turning back he [director Mike Nichols] wanted me to be crying. And I couldn't do it. And I always sort of felt disappointed in myself in a way, but it worked out. It worked.

[On Ben and Elaine sitting on the bus in the final scene] I think that we knew that end credits were going to run over part of that. And that it was important just to...kind of keep a life going, you know, not just...get on the bus and sit down and then flop out of character.

[Aftermath]...and I did become I guess what you call hot. I got offered an awful lot of stuff. So much stuff that I totally ran in the opposite direction. I didn't know how to deal with it.

[Feelings on the movie] It all worked. It all worked, yeah.

BUCK HENRY: Mike Nichols asked me of I wanted to write a script. That simple. Gave me a a book called "The Graduate" and I said yes. I think we made six tests. All with actors we admired. Almost all of them with actors that we knew much better than Dustin - actually I think maybe I was the only person who'd seen Dustin perform on stage. And it was clear from the tests that Dustin was really interesting. Our dilemma was that we had concieved of that character - and in fact of all the major characters - as being prototypical southern California, big, blonde people. Our fantasy casting when we were talking about it when it was being written was, um, you know, Bob Redford and Candy Bergen. And for Mom and Dad, Ronald Reagan and Doris Day. All blonde, all healthy - 'surfboards' is what we called them. We wanted a family of surfboards. So here comes Dustin, clearly not a surfboard. So we immediately rationalized it - they're genetic - he's a genetic throwback. Doris Day and Ronald Reagan have had this mutt.

We all were there for the readings, the screen tests, and we knew. We knew Dustin was the guy right away. But I saw him in a play...this must have been around 1963-4. He played a crippled German transvestite. And it was impossible to believe that he wasn't at least one or two of those three things. It was a breathtaking, bravura performance.

Basically it's the core story. About a guy having an affair with the mother of the girl he falls in love with. It's so powerful. You could give it to nine different writers and they'd come up with nine possibly interesting versions.

Katherine, who was as strikingly beautiful as any girl who was in the business - and probably still is - um, that was no problem at all. I mean Katherine was like the dream girl from across the street for anywhere in America. People have asked, "How well did you know Katherine Ross?" And unfortunately I've always had to answer, "Just enough to really admire her."

I was always taken by the - by the love story part of it. A story about one guy's desperation to connect to one person. It's very corny but when Dustin's sitting and writing her name over and over again, it affects me every time. I suppose it's because it's something I've done.

Nichols always wanted Simon and Garfunkel. He always wanted Paul's songs in there. "Sounds of Silence" is clearly the perfect selection for that time and that place.

[On Ben's using the cross the ward off his attackers.]...maybe there's inadvertant symbolism in it but I didn' really was kind of a practical measure. He needed a wepoan and he needed something to bar the door with. In a church, what do you use? I always use a cross.

It certainly made a film writing career for me. It's just...I mean that I never stopped working. What I did get was kind of an endless stream of ideas for what were thought of as anti-establishment comedies. Some of which I actually wrote.

DUSTIN HOFFMAN: ...and then the movie's over - wild applause - and everyone's left. And a woman...who was a reporter, a columnist, a Hollywood columnist, she's kind of legendary - I don't know if she still works - but she had a cane, you know, she had trouble walking. And that's why she was only halfway down the stairs when we came down, 'cause she walked slow - everyone else had left the theater. And we start to walk down and she recognizes me and she just looks up at me - this all sounds like a movie but this is the truth - and nobody else is there and I'm just kind of - I'm feeling strange - it's just a strange feeling - and she looks at me and she says, "You're the young man that played that part." She points her finger - I remember she's got that cane - little itty bitty woman, about four foot ten or something - I'd see her years later. I said, "Yeah." She says...she says... she says, "It will never be the same for you. Life is never going to be the same for you." Just like someone, you know - she says, "It will never be the same for you. From this moment on your life is changed forever."

[on Katherine Ross] She really was gorgeous - I mean she still is - but she was just, I don't know - the hair and she had no make-up on, and she was this wisp of a...I couldn't look at her in the eye. I couldn't...

[on Ben getting a hotel room] Nichols was working very specifically, and he set the scene up so that when I - he says, "I want you to come in, I want you really to be asking for some prophylactics." On the whole walk over...should be shot I walk over - when I get there - and he even shows Buck Henry [who played the hotel clerk] coming up at the last second, just like a woman pharmacist would. And he [Nichols] says, "And you pretend she's a woman pharmacist. And when you say, "Could I have a room, please" what you're really saying is, "Could I have some prophylactics, please" to a woman pharmacist."

Wonderful director, Nichols. He had no plan, but he had a lot of options that he knew he was going to discover in the editing room. He was doing what I think an artist is supposed to do: he was painting, he was just feeling his way.

I did a play called "Eh?" Broadway. And...I got very good reviews, I was like an unknown in New York. I'd been in New York ten years. It was like a breakthrough part for me. And, uh, I picked up the Sunday Times one morning and my face was plastered all over the Arts and Leisure section - still from the play "Eh?". And...the most esteemed drama critic of the day had written an article comparing my performance to Buster Keaton. I had never seen a Buster Keaton movie. And I guess Nichols unbeknownst to me had been trying to cast that movie, not just the part of Benjamin but also the part of Elaine...I think for a couple of years. And...the movie was made in 1967 and I think the book was written in about '62. So I think they had gone through so many a period of years, and finally a draft they want to shoot, then they couldn't cast the part.

I'd just gotten an agent after being in New York almost ten years...and while I was doing "Eh?" she said there's this Mike Nichol's movie that they've been trying to cast. And I just immediately said, "Great," - you know - "So what? Because I'm not going to have a chance." In the book Charles Webb says that the character is, uh, his name is Benjamin Braddock. Right away I'm in trouble. He's like six feet tall or something. He's blonde-haired, blue-eyed - says it right in the book. Head of the debating team, track star, WASP. And I just felt it can't be that desperate. And I had heard that they had tested everybody....and I still believe today that Katherine Ross and was like the bottom of the barrel. Had we tested earlier we would not have gotten the role - we'd tested a year earlier.

The next thing I heard my agent says to me, "You have to sign a contract before you do the test. I said, "What do you mean?" "All the actors that have tested over the months -or years or whatever it is - have signed contracts." And they do it. They did it then, I think they might do it today. So it's an option contract. If they don't pick you the contract is void. If they do pick you, you owe them six pictures at a certain amount of money which escalates. Two pictures were to go to Nichols, two pictures were to go to Turman, the producer, and two pictures were to go to Joel Levine the distributor. And I remember saying to my agent, "F*** it." (laughs)
Later friends told me that was one of the shrewdest business decisions I had made. But I knew nothing about business. I wasn't making it for that reason. I...was stubborn even in those days, and I did not want to be forced - the thought of being forced to do a part I didn't want to do was abhorrent to me. And the thought that I would have to make a movie and then after that these people could submit, you know, could force me to do six movies was just, you know, crazy.

Now I go to the screen test for The Graduate. I fly out there. They give me three days off from the play, my understudy takes over. And I fly out and I remember they sent me that script. I only had about two, three days to memorize it. I'm a very slow memorizer. I did very badly in school - ten pages is a lot. And I couldn't sleep I was so nervous the night before I flew out because I hadn't memorized it. I stayed up all night trying to memorize it, tried to memorize it on the airplane. I land in Los Angeles.
So here I am for the first time in a movie studio. It was Paramount - I can't remember. And I walked into this palatial office, high ceilings, lots of like rooms connecting to rooms and I see Nichols. I recognize him against a bar. It was like out of a movie set. And there's glasses and everything and he went, "Hi. Would you like a drink?" You know, he's always so casual. And he comes over to me and he shakes hands and...immediately I'm feeling miserable. I just have bad feelings about the whole thing. This is not the part for me. I'm not supposed to be in movies. I'm supposed to be where I belong: an ethnic actor is supposed to be in ethnic New York, in an ethnic off-Braodway show. You know, I know my place.
And we started talking - and I can read him - I feel I can read him - like he feels he's made a big mistake. Next thing I know there's Katherine Ross. Now he brings in Katherine Ross. And she's really beautiful - and that throws me (laughs). Because immediately the idea - I'd never thought of it - but suddenly, who I'd be reading with...The idea that the director was connecting me with someone as beautiful as her - it became an even uglier joke. It was like a Jewish nightmare. Anyway, I'm sitting here, she's sitting there, Nichol's is sitting there and pretty soon he's not looking at me at all. And he had never met her before. And he starts talking to her. And I can feel it slowly - I'm going into the wall. And he's just zeroing in, zeroing in, and zeroing in on Katherine Ross. And I'm saying to myself, "I get it. He's got the hots for her." (laughs) And I'm just here to screen test for someone that he really has a crush on. And he's saying things to her, "You really remind me of my first wife." (laughs) "I can't tell you how much you remind me -" And it looks like flirtation to me, you know. I mean I couldn't blame the guy. I felt, you know, I'm a cipher.

I remember the next day before the screen test - I'd love to shoot it someday...if I ever did a biography - it was...surrealistic in my memory. It was...I show up at the studio - and really I didn't know anything about studios. And they take me into this make-up department. And it's a rather large make-up department. It's a long room with lots of chairs. It's like the old Hollywood. I mean, today we get made up in campers, trailers. In those days there still was remnants of the studio. And these things were - you know , these chairs were upholstered and everything. You know it was like who knew who had sat in those chairs...the Joan Crawfords.
And it reeked of that...And people that are there it's like an operating room. And...they ask me to take a seat. And apparantly Nichols had talked to them, he's not there. I take a seat and they start working on me. And I think they worked on me for over two hours. And I'm not getting any prosthetics on, you know, they're not putting a toupee on. They're just trying to do something with whatever is there. And then Nichols comes in and he looks. I remember him saying something - he was very nice - but his ambivelence was clearly showing through. He said, "Can't you do something about his eyebrow." (laughs) I know...a guy I used to live with - I don't have it so much because as you get older one of the things you lose is your eyebrows - but he used to kid me, he said I have one eyebrow. So they plucked me. I had never been plucked before. (laughs) I didn't like being plucked very - but they plucked my eyebrows. He said, "Now what are we going to do with his nose?"...And he started shading it or whatever..."And his neck is too thick." I do - my neck is like 16 1/2 inches. So they put a turtleneck on me to try to slim it down, they did something with my hair and it was maybe one of the most demeaning experiences I've ever had and it was not intentional on their part.

We start doing the scene - I go up on my lines, Katherine goes up on her lines...we start getting it right but we're very tense, we're no good, he yells cut, cut, cut. I remember one point I pinched very gently Katherine's - probably her right buttocks. You know, as a way to help loosen us up. I kind of patted her and gave her a little - and she turned on me. Later we became friends but at that moment she just whirled on me and said, "Don't you ever do that to me again!" Suddenly everybody kind of heard it - the crew and whatever - and I just sat there and they didn't know what was going on. She said, "How dare you!" I said, "Sorry, sorry." (laughs) "I was just get us relaxed. Sorry." And then if it was bad up to then it was going to get worse after that. She later apologized. She said it was her own tension, too.
So we started again. Cut. Cut. I mean, we were shooting from ten in the morning - as I remember they don't even break for lunch - and this is going on for hours. It's a torture. Went back, somehow finished the scene...they printed a couple of takes. There wasn't one that was any good. And I went around shaking - I was so relieved when the day was over... - and I went around shaking the hands in this room with the crew: thank you, thank you, thank you. And apparently when I started going from one person to another I had my hand in my pocket...I forgot to thank the prop guy. So I took my hand out of my pocket...and when I took my hand out to shake his hands subway tokens came out of my pocket...about eight or ten of them. And they all spilled out. L.A. crew, they don't know what a subway token is. And he says, "No, I'll help you with that" as I started to bend over to pick them up. And he picked them up for me. And he gave them to me. And I remember what he said. He said, "Here, kid. You're gonna need these."

She's very excited, my agent. It was like it was good news or something. You know, "He wants you to call! He wants you to call! I think, I don't know, I'm not sure." I mean...why would a director - if they're going to say no - you know, you didn't get the part - they wouldn't say call the director tomorrow at such and such hour. The appointed time came, 'cause we had to wait until noon, it was like noon or something because it's three hours earlier in L.A. And I called him - it was his home number - and I think I woke him up. And I thought, "Oh, shit!" Actors always think things like that, you know, because - subconciously -"He would have said you got the part but when you woke him up he said-" (laughs) You always think in those terms. So anyway..."Oh, I'm sorry I woke you." "No, that's allright." And there's this pause. (pauses) And I didn't know what to say. I says, "You told me to call you," He says, "Yeah." Long, long pause, until I almost thought we were disconnected. And I hear the magic words, which were, "Well, you got it." Those four words: well, you got it.

First week of rehearsel he knew the right questions. He said, "Did you have any idols when you were growing up? Who were your idols? Any movie stars, any you-" I said, "My brother, my big brother. It was just the two of us. My brother Ronnie...almost seven years older than me. He [Nichols] asked me one time, "Does your brother ever get uptight?" I said, "Yeah." He said, "Well, what happens to him when Ronnie...gets uptight?" And I could imitate my brother pretty good. You can always imitate the person you worship, (laughs) if you can imitate anybody. And I said, "Well, he holds his breath when he's really upset. And he doesn't breathe. He stops breathing. That's how I used to always know he was pissed off at me when we were kids And then little spurts of air would come out." (demonstrates by blowing air through his nose) And he said "...Let's do the scene like that."
It'd do it, it would come out his [brother's] nostrils, they would flare (demonstrates once more). And I did the scene like that. And Bancroft was wonderful, 'cause she would - you know, she wanted to create her own thing...She's sitting, she's waiting, she's focusing on me, you know. [Nichols says] "Try doing it again, now." I did it uptight, my brother uptight - "Let's do that scene again." It was the scene at the table before we get the room in the hotel. And I don't want to go through with it or something. He says, "Try doing it again. And just forget about your brother now. Just let whatever remnants of-" - I know this sounds - this is kind of technical now, you know - "but just let the essence of it remain." And I did it. And I sat there with her at the table, "Well, Mrs. Robinson I really don't wanna-" - I'm still trying to be him [his brother] but I'm not trying to be him, I'm just retaining the essence - and suddenly (makes whimper sound) came out instead of (blows air through nose again). It was born. And I...wasn't even aware that I had done it. But he broke into hysterical...laughter. And he has a great laugh, Nichols. He's crying....(whimper) 'cause I was just holding my breath the way my brother did. Well, in the final product in the film, he lays in those (whimpers) a few more places. It's his directorial flourish.

And then another example would be that - when she's sitting on the bed and she takes - in the hotel room - and she takes her blouse off, she has her bra on, I'm supposed to start to remove her bra or something. And we're trying to work on this. And no director works likes this, directors just say, "Okay, do it," and they go for some shlocky comedic thing...a derivitive of something you've seen 50 - you know, very few directors are going for that thing [artisitry], or how to arrive at it...We'd sit down again, and Bancroft would take a walk. "Can you tell me about the first time you ever got laid? Can you tell me about the first time you ever touched a girl?" And suddenly this memory comes back to me. I was kind of sexually obsessed - always have been - even before you're supposed to be. And, um...I was telling him all this, had heard about stories about what you do...Ninth graders would tell you when you were in the seventh grade, if you want to get a the girl's coming down the stairs - you look for a ninth grader as they have the most developed breasts (laughs), this was guy talk, see - and as the girl is coming down the sairs, you pretend like you're putting on your jacket as you're going up the stairs and it just happens to grab. And I failed at it. I missed a girl. And she knew what I was doing and she just turned around and started laughing at me, I remember...I just grabbed her face or something.
He [Nichols] says, "Let's try that." He didn't tell Anne Bancroft. So we're doing the scene - it's in the movie - and suddenly...she takes her shirt off and I just come over. He says, "Try to recreate that scene" - I come around in back, she didn't know what I was going to do. She had no idea, we we're just rehearsing. So I come from up behind, suddenly this hand comes from behind her (demonstrates with hand mockingly clutching a breast). This is the great seduction. I just stand there holding it. Not even...I didn't even move my hand. My hand goes there and she was shocked, Anne Bancroft, just shocked. And she just went like this. Nichols started laughing - again. Well, I didn't want to break the scene - you're not supposed to break the scene...but I started laughing. The whole thing suddenly - and we're in the middle of the scene - and I just started breaking up. And I did what any actor would do - 'cause when you're acting you're acting and you might as well be on the stage - is I turned away and walked over to the wall and stood against the wall until I stopped breaking up. And I couldn't stop breaking up so I started banging my head against the wall...I was laughing so hard, just during this rehearsel. I was just going like this (demonstrates) trying to stop laughing. And Nichols doesn't know that's why I'm doing it. He still thinks it's part of the scene and he is in hysterics by now, he gets it as the character. It's in the movie.

When we were shooting in La Verne, California, there's a point where I'm upstairs yelling "Elaine, Elaine, Elaine" on the glass, trying to stop the wedding. The reverend - or priest, I can't remember whom - had agreed to lease out his church to the movie crew - and had never done it before. And somehow was misinformed - the way they're always misinformed - "It'll just be a couple of days. We'll clean up everything" - they have no idea that it's the Gulf War that they're allowing into their premise.
And the cables and the cameras and the 150 people and it goes over, and the nicks in his beautiful church and whatever, and the man is walking around like a cliche, you know, "Oh, my God!" Everyone would look at him from day to day, he'd be shaking his head because this beautiful edifice of his was being slowly just chewed up. So we finally get - after a few days - up to this thing when I have to run down the street and run up the stairs, over and over again. And now we finished that part and now we're going to start pounding on the glass. And there's this huge glass in this one location...and he [reverend] says "Don't! That's a gift, that big plate glass! You'll break it!" I started rehearsing, I started pounding on it, you know, and I'm always afraid that if I, you know, I have to give Nichols what he wants. "Elaine! Elaine!" and the glass is shaking. He says, "Please stop!" He started screaming.
And we all stopped to look at him. He says, "That's it! That's it! Leave! Everyone leave! Movie's over! Get out!" "What's the matter?" "That's a gift!" "We'll replace - " "I don't care if you'll replace it! It's a gift! I don't want it broken." Very pregnant silence. Nichols comes over to me, "Is there any way you can knock on the glass so it doesn't break or so it doesn't shake?" I says, "I don't know. What am I supposed to?" So some guy - you know, everything becomes a big deal in movies, everyone's...the expert - somehow somebody - the head of props - comes over and says, "I think if you spread your arms and you just tap like that, that it won't, you know, it's the pounding." "So you want me to stand here - I've just run miles, I've run up the stairs, I'm screaming, I'm half out of my mind - and when I get to this window I spread my arms and I go (demonstrates the tapping and laughs). And the priest, reverend is saying "Yes! Yes! That's all he can do! Or you will all be -" And Nichols says, "Try to make it work." (laughs) And I do it. And I start doing it like that. And that's what's in the movie. And every piece of film criticism I ever read is: Nichols has Benjamin in a Christ-like position, and this was somehow a Jesus thing and that's why his arms are outstretched. (laughs)

[Aftermath] I was standing in line in unemployment and suddenly a guy is snapping me...a photographer, out of nowhere. I said, "Where are are you from?" He says,"Life magazine" and he leaves. And then it comes out in Life magazine; there's a big picture of me, the graduate, standing in line in unemployment. And it unnerved me so I stopped going down - pissed me off - because I...couldn't go to unemployment anymore. The dirty looks from the others it was too much.

I was twenty-nine years old and I was excited and I was scared and I said probably one of the worst lines of my life. (laughs) I felt I should say something that's momentous. And I remember Anne [Bancroft] standing there, she just looks at me, waiting for a cab - trying to get a cab, suddenly it started to snow and I just looked up and I said, "Anne," she says, "What," I said, "See that snow?" she said, "Yeah," I said, "That's real." (laughs) I thought I was...I was trying to root myself.

I think the only other time I ever had this experience was actually the one right after, it was Midnight Cowboy.