The Graduate is a movie I love every single aspect of. To me, it’s about as close a movie gets to perfection. By far, one of my favorite aspects of it is the cast. Dustin Hoffman as Benjamin Braddock and Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson are two of my favorite performances ever committed to celluloid; a career-defining film for both of them.
Nobody has ever played an awkward young guy quite as brilliantly as Dustin Hoffman did in The Graduate. He projected just the right amount of nervous energy and uncertainty. Mrs. Robinson is such a wonderfully rich role for a more mature woman and Anne Bancroft played that very complex character to the hilt.
Last week, I talked about how it’s hard to imagine The Graduate without songs like “Mrs. Robinson” and “The Sound of Silence,” but neither of those songs were originally intended to be used in the film. It’s even harder to imagine The Graduate without Anne Bancroft or Dustin Hoffman, but remarkably, neither of them were even close to being the first choices for their roles.
Jeanne Moreau was director Mike Nichols’ first choice to play Mrs. Robinson, but the producers didn’t want her. Lana Turner, Shelley Winters, Susan Hayward, Patricia Neal, Angela Lansbury, Judy Garland, and Doris Day were all considered for the part. Ava Gardner was very interested in the part, but Nichols wasn’t very interested in her.
Before Dustin Hoffman came into the picture, Mike Nichols had considered Warren Beatty, Robert Redford, Burt Ward, Robert Wagner, George Hamilton, Anthony Perkins, George Peppard, and Jack Nicholson for the part of Benjamin. Robert Redford was a top contender for the part, but ultimately Mike Nichols didn’t think audiences would find him believable as an underdog type.
When Hoffman was approached about auditioning for Benjamin, Dustin thought he was so wrong for the part that he wondered if he was being made fun of. After Nichols convinced Hoffman it wasn’t a joke, he agreed to come in for a screen test with Katharine Ross and the result was nearly disastrous. When he arrived for the screen test, Hoffman looked so common and unpolished that producer Joseph E. Levine mistook him for a messenger. The test was supposed to be a love scene and at the time and not had Hoffman never done a love scene before, he was convinced that someone like Katharine Ross would never be interested in a guy like him. Dustin was certain he had failed miserably, but he got the part because he had the awkward quality they had been looking for all along.