Jon Voight has been a busy working actor for more than six decades. He won the Best Actor Oscar for his role in Coming Home and nearly won twice more. But most people would recognize him for a scene where he doesn’t even speak.
But cinephiles probably know his best for the role of Joe Buck, a naive gigolo who’s moved to New York looking for his fortune. Unfortunately, he teams up with Dustin Hoffman’s character “Ratso” Rizzo, a fast-talking, ailing con-artist who drags Buck down further and further.
Midnight Cowboy is a masterpiece. And it’s still the only X-rated film to win Best Picture. (It’s seen been downgraded to an R-rating) It also picked up golden statues for Best Director and Best-Adapted Screenplay. But it’s most only know it for one scene. One that wasn’t scripted.
Dustin Hoffman’s Ratso is explaining where Buck should go to make more money when they step off the curb and into traffic. A yellow cab skids to a stop to keep from hitting Hoffman, to which he replies by slapping the hood and screaming, “I’m walking here!”
“We used to improvise all the time. Dusty and I,” Jon Voight told CBS. “We were walking across the street, and he hits the cab and says, you know, ‘Hey, I’m walkin’ here! I’m walkin’ here!’ And ‘Up yours, you …’ whatever it is. And then he turns around to me and I’m thinking, This is great. Let’s stay in character. Stay in character, don’t cut. And we got it.”
That wasn’t supposed to happen, and Hoffman, a well-known method actor, just went with it.
Dustin Hoffman Recalls That Scene
Midnight Cowboy had a tiny budget. So much so, the production couldn’t afford some of the filming permits. So, they would “steal” shots, meaning they’d film without permission.
There has been some confusion over the years, with some cast members saying the “I’m walking here” scene was always in the movie, but Hoffman says that’s not possible. That’s because they didn’t have the permits to film there.
“We had to steal the shot, which is what we did,” Hoffman told Entertainment Weekly last year. “There was a van on the other side of the street, and (Director John) Schlesinger was inside [with] the camera people. You couldn’t see from outside, but they could see from inside — they shot that scene [with a] long lens.”
Hoffman said they filmed the shot eight of nine times, and on one of the last takes the cab ran the light, giving us the famous outburst.
“Probably what I was really saying was, ‘Hey, we’re making a movie here!'” Hoffman joked to the magazine. “But it just came out the way it came out.”