Hoffman was born in Houston, Texas, the son of Beulah (née Novoselsky) and David Hoffman, an antique dealer. He graduated from Tulane University with a B.B.A. in economics; and he spent two years at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City, receiving a scholarship for the second, graduating year. His thirteen years of work in New York included many plays, some roles in episodic television, a recurring character on One Life to Live on ABC, hundreds of commercials and a film role in Lady Liberty with Sophia Loren, directed by Mario Monicelli.
He made his first trip to Los Angeles in 1974. In that season, he filmed a theatrical feature, At Long Last Love, for Peter Bogdanovich, two television movies, television episodes of Kung Fu, Rockford Files, Sanford and Son, Police Woman and M*A*S*H, and several commercials. He had recurring roles as the fingerprint technician on Ellery Queen and Principal Dingleman on Square Pegs.
Although most of his work has been in film and television, he has made a few stage appearances, most notably in Sand Mountain, by Romulus Linney, for which he won a Drama-Logue Award, the first staged reading of Martin E. Brooks’ Joe and Flo at the Actors Studio, and the world premiere of William Blinn's Walking Peoria.
He is best known for his work with distinguished film directors, including Peter Bogdanovich, Mario Monicelli, Richard Benjamin, Carl Reiner (twice), Peter Medak (six times) and Alan J. Pakula (twice); Academy Award winners Joel and Ethan Coen, Paolo Sorrentino, Michel Hazanavicius, Steven Spielberg, Delbert Mann, Blake Edwards, Stanley Donen, Sydney Pollack, Ron Howard and Robert Redford (twice as director); and others. His films include: All the President's Men, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, My Favorite Year, The Box, The Electric Horseman, Night Shift, Lucky Lady, Switch, The Milagro Beanfield War, Rio, I Love You, The Pineville Heist the Academy Award winning Best Pictures Ordinary People and The Artist, and many others.
A long-time private acting teacher and coach, he has also been a frequent guest lecturer and teacher at prestigious professional and academic institutions, including (among many others) the American Film Institute, the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, Emerson College, the University of Southern California, Confederation College in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, and the Academie Libanaise des Beaux Arts in Beirut, Lebanon.
In 2008, he returned to Beirut as a U.S. State Department Cultural Envoy to Lebanon to teach acting and directing at the University of Balamand's Academie Libanaise des Beaux Arts, Lebanese University, Notre Dame University and St. Joseph University's Institut D'Etude Sceniques Audiovisuelles et Cinematographiques.
He is a former member of the Board of Directors of Screen Actors Guild and the Fine Arts Advisory Council of Loyola Marymount University. He is an Advisory Director of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and is a member of both the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
He is also the author of the acting textbooks, Cold Reading And How to Be Good At It, and Acting and How To Be Good At It, as well as the Second Edition, with a foreword by Sydney Pollack.