Pete Hammond

They famously co-starred as Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in the 1976 classic All The President’s Men. And Sunday at the Toronto International Film Festival they were together again – sort of.  In an odd coincidence, both Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman unveiled their latest directing efforts in back to back North American premieres. At 10 PM in another theatre nearby, Redford with little fanfare and no other cast members present presided over the North American premiere of his new all-star drama The Company You Keep which Sony Pictures Classics will release next year. While Hoffman hosted the world premiere of the senior comedy Quartet and then conducted with the cast a post-screening Q&A filled with laughs and behind-the-scenes intel.

Quartet about a retirement home for opera stars features Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Pauline Collins and Billy Connolly as seniors who refuse to go gently into that good night. They were all in Toronto for the debut at the Elgin Theatre, and the crowd-pleasing film will be released by The Weinstein Company in December in time to qualify for Oscars. There had been a little confusion in screening rooms because another new film called A Late Quartet starring another acting ensemble and another Hoffman (Philip Seymour Hoffman) in another musical film. But Dustin’s  Quartet was met by thunderous and lengthy applause tonight, and everyone loved seeing these legends doing what they do best. With the global hit The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, this is a big year for showbiz senior citizens.

Hoffman endeared himself to the crowd right from the start with his introductory remarks. “I’ve been doing this 45 years, and this is the best film town I’ve ever seen. You can tell this is a very big deal for us. We probably will never have an audience like this again,” he said to much applause. As to why he is only now getting around to directing an age when most helmers are retired themselves, Hoffman joked, “I can’t tell you why it took so long to direct. Because I am still working it out with my therapist.” He got the job when he learned about the project while doing Last Chance Harvey, another film he made in England about 4 years ago. A couple of directors had dropped out of Quartet which Ronald Harwood adapted from his own play. When Hoffman volunteered to producer Finola Dwyer, she told him “she’d think about it”.  But he persisted and got the helming gig. He also praised Harvey Weinstein who is distributing the film. “He knows how to do this kind of movie better than anyone in the history of film. And we used many of his ideas and suggestions.”

Hoffman says he became interested in the world of opera stars way back when he was working as a waiter and rooming with Robert Duvall whose brother was an opera singer. (“One thing I noticed is they are extremely horny people. They even get laid between arias,” he laughed.) About his cast, Hoffman said, “It wasn’t difficult to direct them because everything I despised in directors for 45 years I knew they despised. I will never, never be so grateful as I am now to have worked with these great, great artists. It is singularly the greatest experience I have ever had,” he said. Two-time Oscar winner Maggie Smith praised Hoffman. “It was wonderful to be directed by an actor I have admired for so long and to have someone on that side of the camera who understood what we do.” Hoffman cast other roles in the film with real retired opera stars. ”Many of these people worked at La Scala and now they have been passed by in the culture.”

Redford’s The Company You Keep debuted last week in Venice and this was the first look on this side of the globe. A few days earlier, Sony Pictures Classics co-President Michael Barker told me, “It is so great to see Redford back doing this kind of role again.” Redford stars as a successful family man whose violent past as a member of the radical 1960s Weather Underground is exposed by a young news reporter played by Shia LaBeouf. None of Redford’s co-stars were here. And, in his typical low-key fashion, Redford kept his remarks to the crowd brief. “Look the hour is very late and I know we all want to just see a movie. I just want to say this is a great country you have.” And with that the lights came down. When they came up again two hours later, Redford stood and took a bow during enthusiastic applause. It’s the kind of material Redford, who won an Oscar for helming 1980′s Ordinary People, knows how to do very well. The Toronto audience agreed.

Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.