Patrick J. Adams (from left), Dustin Hoffman and Tom Payne at the LA premiere… (Getty Images )
Actors pull from real-life experiences to find their characters' emotions. Patrick J. Adams and Tom Payne probably didn't expect those experiences to be so immediate while filming HBO's "Luck" with Dustin Hoffman.
"My first instinct was to run as fast as I could from that room because everything in my being was telling me I don't belong there," said Adams, who filmed his three-episode arc for "Luck" before he began work on Season 1 of USA's "Suits."
Adams plays ambitious securities trader Nathan Israel, who was hired by Hoffman's character, Chester "Ace" Bernstein, only after being put through his paces by the mobster during a job interview. The scene from the show's third episode is filled with tension--and a bit of humor--as Ace makes Nathan extremely uncomfortable. Nathan practically begs to be excused to use the lavatory.
That's pretty much what Adams wanted to do as well. When director Allen Coulter asked Adams to give him to make Nathan "a little more affected" by Ace's tactics, Hoffman "went for the jugular."
"I start the scene and Dustin just stares at me. He doesn't say a word. And I just keep staring. I'd stare at him and I'd say the line again and he goes, 'I heard you.' And I'm just stopped cold. I don't know what to do. I don't want to start to improv, so I'm just sitting there staring at him," Adams told me last year.
"Dustin just sort of stops and looks at me and says, 'Oh, I see what's going on here. You're just some young actor who thinks he memorizes all of his lines and you show up here on this set and you--.' And he just lays into me. He gives me this monologue that just terrifies me and it drops the bottom out of me.
"I remember thinking in that moment, 'OK, it's fight or flight. I got to get out of here or I'm just going to lose it.' My hero is just sort of dismantling me here on camera."
Adams then realized what was going on. Hoffman, he said, was helping him find the emotion for his character.
"I just kind of figured out what the best acting in the world is all about, which is that. It's creating that moment," Adams said. "He created a situation where all of a sudden I immediately connected to what I had to say. He created the experience in real life that we were trying to act and replicate on screen."
Payne, too, was able to draw from his real-life relationship with Hoffman for the one scene he had with the veteran actor. Payne plays young jockey Leon Micheaux in the drama set at a California horse racing track. In a recent episode, Leon rode a horse owned by Ace. Afterward, Ace congratulates Leon on the win.
"It wasn't that difficult because my character in the show has the same kind of relationship with him as I do in real life," Payne told me in a separate interview. "He has been around and I'm like the young guy just starting out, so that was kind of easy to do."
Both Adams and Payne said that Hoffman is kind, generous and likes to goof around on set, which he likely does to put young actors at ease. Apparently that doesn't always work though.
"It was quite stressful for me because we were losing the light and Dustin was like, 'Well why don't you try this? Why don't you do it this way?'" Payne said. "And I'm not going to say no to Dustin! So I was like, 'OK, we'll do that. Oh God, we don't have much time. I have to do this right.'
"He still has the spirit of playing when he is acting, which is great."
Adams cited his "Luck" experience as one of the greatest acting lessons he's had, calling the way Hoffman handled their scene a "gift."
"By saying, 'You don't belong here,' [Hoffman] was basically saying, 'You belong here. Now do it. You got here, you got this far, let's do this,'" Adams said. "That has been the single biggest gift I think I've gotten in my career from another actor. It sort of charged me up for this whole process now, because I feel like if I can do that, then I can do anything."
"Luck" airs at 8 p.m. Sundays on HBO. Click to read Patrick J. Adams' full description of his Hoffman experience. Click to read my interview with Tom Payne.