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The Directors: Paul Weitz and ‘Little Fockers’

Reuniting cast members of the “Fockers” franchise six years after their last cinematic outing proved easy enough, save for one holdout. Despite pleas and personal visits from the filmmakers and costars, Dustin Hoffman passed on reprising his role in “Little Fockers,” and they shot the movie last year without him.

Then, in August, the famously analytical actor changed his mind and shot several scenes for the movie, due in theaters Dec. 22. The scenes, most of them pairing Hoffman with on-screen “Fockers” wife Barbra Streisand, were more or less identical to what Hoffman read last year.

So what changed?

“I don’t think he wrapped his head around it until he saw the preview in the theater,” jokes “Little Fockers” director Paul Weitz. “Then the light bulb went off.”

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The third “Fockers” film has Jack ( Robert De Niro) reluctantly passing the mantle of family leadership to his neurotic son-in-law Greg ( Ben Stiller). Hoffman and Streisand reprise their roles as Greg’s parents, and the cast adds newcomers Jessica Alba and Harvey Keitel.

Here’s Weitz on working with the Hollywood equivalent of the 1927 Yankees:

On De Niro: “He was a producer on ‘About a Boy,’ so I’d already gone through my period of being thunderstruck. I didn’t find anything jaded about him. He’s eager not to have false beats and [to] attack a scene in new ways each time. I’d just seen the film ‘Everybody’s Fine,’ and it’s interesting to look at that and then his performance here and see the choices he makes playing characters confronting mortality.”

On Streisand: “She surprised me with her honesty and lack of pretension. You’re hanging out with a woman who was such a force in film in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and she’s telling you how acting makes her a nervous wreck.”

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On Hoffman: “I spent a day with him when we were wooing him and he said, ‘I’m not going to do this, and I’m worried I’m going to upset you.’ But how could I be upset? He has such a love for life and conversation, and I had the chance to absorb that for a day and then, ultimately, work with him.”

On Keitel: “He’s friends with Bob, so we thought it’d be fun for him to do this. It’s just a couple of scenes, but man, he wears his heart on his sleeve for the art of filmmaking.”

On Alba: “She plays a pharmaceutical rep, and at every screening, we get one or two doctors who tell us she’s very accurate in her bouncy salesmanship. She does a really good comedic performance akin to a screwball comedy of the ‘30s or ‘40s, which is hard to do and not have a lot of egg on your face.”

calendar@latimes.com


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