‘Midnight Cowboy’: Dustin Hoffman Improvised His Famous Line When He Nearly Got Hit by a Car

Midnight Cowboy wasn’t just one of the best movies of the ’60s, it might be one of the best dramas of all time. A big part of what made it great was the dynamic chemistry between its two stars: Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight. While the film is remembered for being an all-around great movie, there’s one scene in particular that stands out as being memorable.

It also spawned one of the most famous lines in cinematic history: a flustered Hoffman, almost hit by a car, yelling out, “I’m walking here!” on a New York street. Here’s the story behind that famous line. 

Dustin Hoffman shooting a scene for 'Midnight Cowboy'
Dustin Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy | John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

What was ‘Midnight Cowboy’ about? 

According to IMDb, the film is a drama about two men attempting to make it in New York any way they can. A young, impressionable man from Texas named Joe Buck comes to New York City, fancying himself a hustler.

He eventually partners up with another street hustler named Ratso Rizzo. While the two start out as adversaries, they eventually become unlikely business associates and even friends.

The movie focuses on how cruel the world can be, and how hard it is to “get ahead” in that rough world. The two attempt to scam their way to the top, deepening their unlikely friendship at each turn. 

When and where was ‘Midnight Cowboy’ filmed and who starred in it? 

RELATED: Who Is Jon Voight And What Is His Net Worth?

Midnight Cowboy starred Voight and Hoffman in roles that helped solidify them as major players in Hollywood. According to Bowery Boys History, the film was shot in New York City during the spring and summer of 1968.

The film is filmed mostly in New York City, featuring the city prominently. It showcases the seedier side of the Big Apple. When film buffs compile their list of quintessential New York films, most will give a spot to this movie.

Midnight Cowboy presents New York at its grittiest. Director John Schlesinger captures the city in all its grimy glory, using it as an effective set piece for the story.

Ratso and Joe are trying to make it big any way they can in the city where it’s hardest to do that. It’s hard to imagine this film taking place anywhere else. Schlesinger’s direction was so strong that some scenes felt like the viewer had been dropped directly into the middle of an average New York day or night. 

There’s one scene in particular that feels very “New York.” It’s the film’s most iconic sequence, and one of the most famous in film history. 

How Dustin Hoffman improvised his most famous line from the movie

The film’s most famous scene is when Voight and Hoffman meander through a crosswalk only for Hoffman to nearly be hit by a cab. Hoffman bangs on the hood of the cab and bellows, “I’m walkin’ here!”

According to Groovy History, Hoffman said he improvised the line. The story behind how the shot was set up is almost unbelievable (per the Groovy History article): 

“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.”

Hoffman, ever the method actor, said that the cab entered the crosswalk and he did everything in his power to stay in character while filming:

“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.”

It ended up being quite lucky that Hoffman was able to maintain his composure, and it led to a truly legendary line reading.