Pressed by Hoffman to play his actor-character's exasperated agent in "Tootsie," Pollack finally consented to his first big-screen acting role since the 1962 film "War Hunt," during which he met Redford, who also was making his film debut.
Pollack later appeared in a number of films, including Woody Allen's "Husbands and Wives," Robert Altman's "The Player," Stanley Kubrick's "Eyes Wide Shut" and the recent Oscar-nominated Tony Gilroy film "Michael Clayton." Pollack also turned up in guest roles on TV series such as "Frasier," "Will & Grace" and "The Sopranos."
"I don't care much about acting," he told the South Bend Tribune in 2002. "It's more about watching other directors work."
Basinger, head of the film studies department at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., and the author of numerous books on film, said Pollack "was a fabulous actor, and he understood actors and got the best out of them" as a director.
"Here's a man who could have himself been a movie star of a certain type had he so chosen, because he really is that good an actor," she said, adding that Pollack, who spoke to film students at Wesleyan several times, also "cared about education" and was a "natural-born teacher."
Pollack's experience as an actor and acting teacher helped earn him a reputation as an "actor's director."
"He talks in a language that actors can understand," Ed Harris, who played an FBI agent in Pollack's 1993 dramatic thriller "The Firm," told USA Today at the time. "He won't just say 'speed up' or 'slow down'; he'll talk to you about the situation."
Fonda, who earned an Oscar nomination for her leading role in "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?," has said the darkly dramatic film was "a turning point for me, both professionally and personally."
With Pollack's guidance, she said, "I probed deeper into the character and into myself than I had before, and I gained confidence as an actor," she wrote in her autobiography, "My Life So Far."
In a 1993 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Pollack said he liked to talk to his actors at length.
"When I start a scene, I say, 'Let's not make this a movie.' It's my way of wanting it first to be realistic. You're not doing it to be observed. You're doing it alone. I tell actors, 'Watch "Candid Camera," then flick the channel to something else, then turn back. You'll see how phony the acting looks because real reaction so often means doing nothing.' It's always simple. The tendency with actors is to think that if you're doing more, you're doing more."
The son of a pharmacist, Pollack was born July 1, 1934, in Lafayette, Ind., and moved with his family to South Bend.
"I think of it with great sadness," he said of his experiences in South Bend in a 1993 interview with the New York Times. "It was a real cultural desert. There weren't many Jews like us, and it was real anti-Semitic."
His parents divorced while he was growing up, and his mother, who he said "had emotional problems and became an alcoholic," died when Pollack was 16. Although his father envisioned him becoming a dentist, Pollack left home after graduating from high school and moved to New York to become an actor. After studying with Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre, Pollack became Meisner's assistant.
Pollack, whose career was interrupted by Army service from 1957 to 1959, had a small role in the 1955 Broadway comedy "The Dark Is Light Enough" and later appeared on "Playhouse 90" and "The United States Steel Hour," as well as series such as "The Twilight Zone" and "Have Gun Will Travel."
As an actor, however, he viewed teaching as his meal ticket.
"I knew I wasn't going to be any great shakes as an actor -- the way I looked I would play the soda jerk or the friend of a friend," he told the New York Times in 1993. "I taught. That's how I made my living."
Pollack's work as an actor on director John Frankenheimer's two-part adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's "For Whom the Bell Tolls" on "Playhouse 90" led Frankenheimer to ask him to work as a dialogue coach for two children in his "Playhouse 90" production of "Turn of the Screw."