That’s evident in an early scene when Reuben first meets Polly at an art gallery. After complaining of excessive horniness to a group of strangers on the elevator ride, Sandy later interrupts Reuben to relay a bowel emergency. “I’m in a situation here,” he says above a whisper, panting heavily, eyes partially closed. “I just sharted.” In other hands, that scatological portmanteau might have made for an unconvincing gross-out moment, turning Sandy into a caricature. But the scene works—and the word entered the vernacular—because of Hoffman’s stressed and anxious delivery, his intense proximity to Stiller, and his saddled walk to the exit. “The key was how seriously he played it,” Hamburg says. “That was the whole intention—that he’s playing it like the stakes are really high for him.”

As Brian Abrams recounts in his book You Talkin’ To Me?: The Definitive Guide To Movie Quotes, Hamburg and Hoffman spent a number of takes getting the rhythm and emphasis of that exchange just right. It was one of a few instances in which the pair butted heads creatively, a process that fueled Hoffman’s otherwise congenial presence on set. “It was really more of an inner conflict,” Hamburg says. “He wanted to be great.” Ahead of Adam McKay and Judd Apatow’s improvisational influence on studio comedies, Hamburg had a distinct vision for every line and inflection. “I felt like I’d written a really good specific character and that if he just played it straight and committed, it would be memorable,” Hamburg says. “But he took it to places I could have only dreamt up.”

What further separates Sandy from the more disposable “best friend” subgroup is the completeness of his character arc. After sabotaging his community theater production of Jesus Christ Superstar (Hamburg liked the idea of Sandy becoming “a bull in a china shop” around a group of earnest amateur actors), he stops posturing and gives a real performance—this time, in front of board members at Reuben’s office. The final speech in rom-coms is generally reserved for the lead, but Sandy’s throat-clearing, bombastic insurance pitch saves Reuben’s job, lets Reuben save his relationship, and leads to some personal closure for Sandy, who finally accepts his status as a loser. “Yes, he’s a comic character, but he’s meant to have real pathos and really have this kind of earnest moment at the end,” Hamburg says. “I thought it would be really sweet and redemptive.”

Several years later, after an NYU alumni screening of the movie, Hamburg remembers walking home with Hoffman through Greenwich Village. As they talked, Hoffman recalled being initially frustrated by fans recognizing him on the street and shouting “Let it rain!” By then he’d won an Oscar, for 2005’s Capote, and had starred in far more prestigious films, working with directors such as Spike Lee, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Charlie Kaufman. Why was he still being recognized as the sharting, brick-throwing Sandy Lyle?

“I think he wrestled with that for a while,” Hamburg says.

In time, however, Hoffman assured him that he’d learned to embrace Along Came Polly and the way Sandy had unmistakably trickled into the cultural lexicon. “It’s so hard for things to break through,” Hamburg says. “I think he ended up loving it.” Almost a decade since his untimely passing, the actor’s anecdote of appreciation—and the opportunity to have worked with him—still makes Hamburg smile. “It fills me with nothing but a sense of warmth and gratitude.”

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