Gaby Hoffmann: Now playing adults

August 31, 2012

At the age of 30, having deliberately stepped away from acting and show business for five years to figure out what she wanted to do, Gaby Hoffmann has decided that acting is a choice she wants to make for herself – after a successful career based on a choice someone else made for her.

“Going into my 20s, I was uncertain, trying to figure out what my relationship to acting is,” Hoffmann says in a telephone interview. “I’d started acting as a child. But I wanted to see if it was something my true personality was interested in. I stepped away from offers when I took five years off to go to college. I’ve only really just decided to whole-heartedly embrace acting.”

So Hoffmann – who was launched with her first two films, 1989’s “Uncle Buck” and “Field of Dreams,” both at the age of 7 – has rededicated herself to working as an actor, though she recognizes that her progress may be slower this time.

“The early part of my career was the 1990s, and I was living in New York working as an actor,” Hoffmann says. “It was the world I was in. A lot of companies had a great deal of money. Now independent film is either part of the Hollywood system or it’s become smaller. For me, the biggest change is that I’m no longer part of that conversation.”

But she’s working at finding work. She actually got a call from the casting director of “Nate & Margaret,” in which she plays a party-animal pal of the male title character, a gay college-age filmmaker (who has a “Harold & Maude”-ish relationship with the other half of the title). And she recently did a bravura turn on “Louie” opposite Louis C.K., who let her talk her way through a break-up with him guided only by his facial expressions, shrugs and other body language.

“I’m not offered a whole lot – but ‘Nate & Margaret’ (which was released Aug. 28 on DVD after a brief New York run) was a call and a script,” Hoffmann says. “I thought it was sweet and well-written and unusual. Otherwise, I’m out fighting for parts. The ‘Louie’ role was just something that I saw a casting director about and wound up getting.”

The second child of Janet Mary Hoffmann (better known as Andy Warhol superstar Viva), Hoffmann grew up a few years removed from her mother’s days as part of the Warhol collective known as The Factory: “I still have a couple of recollections of Andy, although he died when I was 4 or 5,” she says. “I have a great interest in that period, although my mother has a complicated relationship to it. After all, it was a big part of the narrative of her life. But it has little to do with what I’ve done. Her career is the opposite end of the spectrum than mine.”

Hoffmann started doing commercials as a 4-year-old, to earn money to help support her family.

“I wasn’t voicing an interest in acting,” she says. “But my parents needed the money. They had a friend in advertising who thought I could do commercials. It took off. I liked doing it. I enjoyed being on sets.”

She worked steadily and with major names: Nora Ephron, Woody Allen, James Toback, Kenneth Lonergan, Mel Gibson. But once she reached her teens, something else began to pull at her.

“I had been wanting to go to Bard College since I was 7,” she says. “It was the only thing I ever cared about. I kept working – and then I stopped to study writing and literature.”

Still, while she pursued other thoughts and interests, she found herself “missing acting – I mean, I’d been doing it since I was 5,” she says. “It was a huge part of my life. I think I was in denial about that for a while.

“But I discovered that I really did love film and acting. Before this, it hadn’t been a decision I made for myself. It was just a solution to the economic state of the family. So I just did it. I never thought about what I wanted to pursue until I was in college and had abandoned acting.”

Actors who have success as children can find it difficult to make the transition to older roles as they age. It’s less the move from childhood to adolescence than from juvenile to adult.

“I made that transition more difficult for myself because I made the decision to go to school,” she says. “I didn’t expect it to be a major transition, so I didn’t provide for that. It made it more difficult for myself.

“But I finally know I’m truly interested in acting. It’s not just a default choice. So I’m taking the work I can get. I shot a couple of other independent films. We’ll see if they surface. You never know.”

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