This is a short tribute to Philip Seymour Hoffman, one of the greatest actors to hit the silver screen.
I first noticed Hoffman in Almost Famous. He played the jaded rock critic Lester Bangs, who briefly mentored the lead character, William Miller, on how to conduct an interview with a fairly obscure rock band. It was a short but endearing role in what became one of the great indie films of the new millennium.
from Almost Famous (2000)
Then came Boogie Nights…
from Boogie Nights (1997) (via blu-screens.tumblr.com)
Older than Almost Famous by three years, Paul Thomas Anderson’s breakthrough film featured Hoffman in a small supporting role, playing a gay boom operator, Scotty, who’s in love with the lead character.
To me, of course, he was still ‘that guy who had played Lester Bangs.’
Little did I know of the power brewing inside this actor. It took a while to register.
Next came The Talented Mr. Ripley. (I’d watched that film some time ago but hadn’t placed Hoffman in it.) I was watching the film again, and there he was, playing Freddie Miles, the arrogant, contemptuous socialite.
from The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
And just like that, Hoffman was everywhere, in new films as well as older ones: Scent Of A Woman, Patch Adams, Twister, When A Man Loves A Woman, The Big Lebowski, Along Came Polly … Who can forget the scene with him and Ben Stiller playing basketball?
Over the next ten years Hoffman made his appearance in a bunch of great films, both as leading man and supporting character. He was phenomenal in either position, assuming control of the silver screen when in charge, always complementing the lead when in a supporting role.
His latest and last film with Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master, saw him take charge as Lancaster Dodd, a charismatic writer/kook in charge of a cult of damaged people seeking answers in a confused, post-war America. Playing alongside an inspired Joaquin Phoenix (Freddie Quell) Hoffman helped put together one of the most memorable acting duets in recent times.
But perhaps the role for which I — and many others — will remember him, the role that defined him as a supreme-class actor, was Capote.
This role not only defined Hoffman as one of the greats, but also revealed that carefully concealed part of himself that would later come to surface, after his death. The apparent effortlessness with which he portrayed Capote’s wrangled soul, his haunted, tormented nature, revealed plenty. Here was not an actor giving a great performance. This was a man identifying with his role to the bone.
Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead in his Manhattan apartment on Feb 02, 2014. The apparent cause of death was a drug overdose.
The public was shocked by his untimely death. His loss was tremendous to the field of acting and movie making, and to culture in general.
One wonders what led Hoffman to such loneliness and alienation, what drove him back to drugs (he had been a user from an early age, a habit he’d evidently not kicked, as some had believed) and self-destructive behavior. One can never really say. Gifted people, like all people, have their demons, which they deal with in a number of ways.
Perhaps Russell Brand, recovering addict and activist, put it best. In an article for the Guardian on Feb 06, 2014, he wrote about Hoffman’s untimely death: ‘In spite of his life seeming superficially great, in spite of all the praise and accolades, in spite of all the loving friends and family, there is a predominant voice in the mind of an addict that supersedes all reason and that voice wants you dead. This voice is the unrelenting echo of an unfulfillable void.’
There’s no way to know what really happened. What we can say is that drug abuse is a problem, and the drug laws add to the problem, making it worse. We need to change the laws to make sure that people across the world, be they famous like Hoffman, or unknowns, like Joe and Jane Schmoe, stop dying from overdoses. We need a smarter approach.
Hoffman passed away five days ago. He was unlucky (or lucky) enough to have lived a short but memorable life. This means that even though his body is no longer with us, his spirit is, living on through his performances on the silver screen, and in our fond memories.