'I'm Walkin' Here!:' Dustin Hoffman's 'Midnight Cowboy' Ad-Lib
By | March 15, 2019
It's an involuntary reaction for many of us -- when a car pulls into the crosswalk we're about to use, we just blurt out "I'm walkin' here!" And thus Midnight Cowboy's Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman) lives on.
Film was changing at the tail end of the 1960s. Straight forward stories about good-guy heroes and dastardly villains were falling out of fashion and being replaced by films about rebels and people on the wrong side of the law. Many moviegoers felt like they knew the flawed people on the screen, perhaps for the first time. 1969’s Midnight Cowboy was the first in a long line of grimy movies, and it’s the only film with an X rating to win an Academy Award for best picture.
At the time Midnight Cowboy was a lightning rod for controversy despite making $40 million on a $3 million budget, but as time rolled on the thing that everyone remembers from the movie is Dustin Hoffman’s immortal line.
Midnight Cowboy follows Joe Buck, a wide-eyed male prostitute played by John Voight as he attempts to navigate the mean streets of New York City. He gets a little help from a street hustler named “Ratso” Rizzo played by Dustin Hoffman. In the most famous scene in the film Voight and Hoffman walk across the street when they’re almost hit by a cab, Hoffman slams his hands on the front of the car and shouts, “Hey! I'm walkin' here!” From that moment the line was cemented in film history.
Dustin Hoffman Improvised The Line
The “I’m walkin’ here scene” from Midnight Cowboy feels so organic and alive that when Hoffman shouts at the cabbie it’s as if it’s immaculately staged. However, according to Hoffman, he made up the line on the spot because he and Voight were truly almost run down by a cab. Hoffman explained:
It was a low-budget movie. Nobody wanted to make this movie, Midnight Cowboy. People walked out during previews; it was considered filthy in 1969. Very low budget. Consequently, on Sixth Avenue, there was no money to stack it with extras. So it’s what they call a stolen shot. We have radio mikes on, the van is across the street, we rehearse it by ourselves. You know, the director [John Schlesinger], me and [Jon] Voight. And we would have to do this dialogue walking. And the hidden camera across the street would go with us, but we couldn’t stop the signal, so we had to reach the dialogue at a certain point so we wouldn’t have to stop. It would have to be turning green when we hit it. So we rehearsed it ourselves and we finally got — oh, so we’ll start this far back, then we’ll do this pace and then we’ll get there when it just hits green — perfect — and we can just continue. And we do it, and the first take a cab jumps the light … I wound up saying, ‘I’m walkin’ here!’ But what was going through my head is: ‘Hey, we’re makin’ a movie here! And you just f**ked this shot up.’ But somehow something told me you’d better keep it within the character.