Farina (left) and Hoffman both shine in HBO’s Luck

Luck has arrived. The HBO drama about life at a racetrack premieres tonight at 10 p.m. on HBO and HBO Canada.
The series boasts a terrific cast: Dustin Hoffman as mob boss Chester “Ace” Bernstein (fresh out of the slammer and not too happy), Nick Nolte as a grizzled old trainer with a special horse. Dennis Farina, John Ortiz, Richard Kind, Jill Hennesey, Jason Gedrick and Kevin Dunn all have roles in the series.
Behind the scenes is one of the most respected writers in television: David Milch. Milch joined Hoffman and Nolte, along with pilot director Michael Mann, at the HBO TCA press tour session in Pasadena earlier this month.
Milch admits he knows the track world well, having studied it for 50 years. The pilot takes you into the grandstand as well as out on the field in the paddocks. Milch makes no attempt to ease non-track fans into the day-to-day parlance, and if you don’t know a trifecta from a Tribeca, you may find yourself a little up track. The characters are so rich and the the drama so real you’ll still want to go along for the ride.
Hoffman told reporters he’s never really been a track guy. The series is shot at Santa Anita near Pasadena and Hoffman found the scene there quite fascinating. “It was extraordinary to see what [Milch] was talking about,” he said, “to see 300 people in a place that used to have thousands and thousands. To see people that had just bet not going back to watch the race but seeing it on TV and they’re there at the track. That’s extraordinary.”
I had the same impression recently after a visit to Woodbine race track in Toronto’s upper west end. Admission to the track is free, yet the draw seems to be the hundreds of slot machines downstairs. On the upper level, there are more people standing around the food concessions than outside–in the sunshine–watching from the grandstand. People literally have their backs turned from the races so they can cheer on the action on the many TV screens inside.
Hoffman told some great stories in the scrum after the session. I’ve relayed a few in today’s Toronto Star, you can read that story here. One of the stories was about the time he was dressed up as Dorothy from Tootsie and ran into Jose Ferrer in an elevator. Hoffman is an excellent story teller and loves to dish about old Hollywood. Here he is on Letterman telling the very same story about Ferrer:

Hoffman also told that Paul McCartney story, the one were he was over at McCartney’s house, read him the story about Picasso’s last words and watched while McCartney wrote a song about it right on the spot. (It’s on the Band on the Run album.) “He started playing and he plays the story I just told him. I’ve never seen anything like that happen.”
Here’s more from Hoffman from the Luck press tour scrum after the HBO session:

How did you prepare for this role?

I talked to the director, Michael Mann, I had a conversation with David Milch a lot. Actors say they work from the inside out or from the outside in. We found a hair do Michael liked… 
I always say to actors, “Don’t consciously work it, let it happen by itself. You know when you put the right dress on in the closet, it gives you a feeling you want to have. It is the look…
Do you have a favourite film out of all the ones that you have made?
I don’t have one. {Hoffman pauses and thinks.] 
I did a film called Straight Time which was unsuccessful. It was about convicts. It’s nice when convicts say you got it right, they don’t romanticize you. I thought that was good work.

How important are the drivers in the world of the mob?
People that know about the mob…these drivers –Luciano started out as a driver. A lot of these big gangsters were originally drivers. They’re the only one you trust. They are the confidant to the person they’re driving. They are the bodyguard to the person they’re driving. I say at the end of the pilot, “I don’t trust anybody, not even myself.” I dunno if my wife would take the bullet for me (laughs).
The session ended when the female reporter who asks the same question of everybody asked her “What are you doing to ‘Go Green'” question. Hoffman won over the rest of us with his answer:
“Don’t drink anything, don’t eat anything.”

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