IN MEMORIAM: Philip Seymour Hoffman

IN MEMORIAM: 1967-2014


A lot of deaths feel sad. Philip Seymour Hoffman’s feels like a robbery.

– James Poniewozik

I find myself standing in my living room. I’m just staring at my DVD shelf, and looking at all the films I own that starred Philip Seymour Hoffman. And it’s all just so sad. I was checking twitter 15 minutes ago when a new update appeared at the top of my news feed:

@Variety – WSJ Report: Philip Seymour Hoffman Found Dead in New York.

46 years old, a master of his craft, already one Oscar on his shelf, and he’s gone too soon.

Early reports are that Hoffman was found in his bathroom by a playwright he was working with, a needle in his arm, and evidence of heroin found at the scene. It’s news that rings sadly true as Hoffman has reportedly struggled with drugs in the past. The actor had done a stint in rehab last year. More of that news will inevitably come out in the coming weeks as investigations of his death come to a close. Now I want to celebrate one of my favorite actors. One who is sadly, tragically gone too soon.

I would guess that the first time I saw Hoffman was in the film Boogie Nights, where he portrays a confused gay boom operator with an unrequited crush on porn star Dirk Diggler. It’s a weird supporting role that not every actor would be dying to take. It’s a small side role, and he’s dwarfed in the film by stars Mark Wahlberg and Burt Reynolds. The character, Scotty, is savagely uncool. He’s pale and flabby, a hanger-on who lingers around the edges of the shoots and stands in stark contrast to the chiseled physiques of the film’s “stars.”

But if you’ve seen much of Hoffman’s work, it seems exactly like the role he would want. Hoffman’s acting is always exceedingly human. He brings life to characters that exist in the margins. He makes Scotty, who could have been a one note joke, into a real character struggling with his own unfulfilled desires in the midst of a film fixated on the idea of lust and physical love.

Hoffman was never a movie star. He was an actor. An actor’s actor with an incredible talent. He was nominated for Tony awards three times, and he even directed a few films. He starred in a swath of movies that any film buff is sure to admire. There’s all of his collaborations with Paul Thomas Anderson: Hard Eight, the aforementioned Boogie Nights, one of my all time favorite films Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love, and The Master. The latter film earned Hoffman what will likely be his last Oscar nomination for his performance as Lancaster Dodd, the leader of a Scientology-like religious movement. Then there’s Almost Famous, The Big Lebowski, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, The Savages, Charlie Wilson’s War, Doubt, Synecdoche, New York, Moneyball. The list goes on and on.

But Hoffman is probably best known for his starring role in the 2005 film Capote. The film won Hoffman the Academy Award for Best Actor for portraying author Truman Capote as he researches the murders of a Kansas family for his nonfiction novel In Cold Blood. He captures all of those Capote tics. The weird, effeminate voice, that assured arrogance of knowing he’s a genius. Capote is mannered and cultured. He’s a brilliant man of letters. It’s the complete opposite of Hoffman’s role in Boogie Nights. Scotty is probably a boom operator because he dropped out of high school. It just shows Hoffman’s incredible range.

I’m finding it hard to write about Hoffman’s performances. How do you describe brilliant, vibrant abilities with words on a page? It just seems like such an impossible task.

Hoffman just had such incredible range. A sharp, political insider in The Ides of March. An overmatched clubhouse baseball manager in Moneyball. A possible child molesting priest in Doubt. A brash pirate radio rock and roll DJ in The Boat That Rocked. He was unquestionably one of the greatest actors of his generation. That is beyond question.

My favorite of Hoffman’s performances is probably his work in Magnolia, his third collaboration with Paul Thomas Anderson. It’s a mosaic drama with an ensemble cast that examines the interconnected lives of characters in Los Angeles. It’s a film about forgiveness and humanity. All of the characters are revealed to have wronged each other, and they’re all searching for forgiveness. Hoffman, again, isn’t the biggest character in the film. He plays a hospice worker who is helping another character in his final days of his struggle with cancer. Here Hoffman again brings his humanity to the screen. He shows the audience an incredible empathy as he aids his patient, Earl, with his final request – a desire to reconnect with his estranged son. He helps Earl die like a man, not just a patient number and a list of medications.

It might not be anyone else’s favorite Hoffman performance. It’s not as acclaimed or well known as much of his other work, but I think it’s his most human. And when I think of Philip Seymour Hoffman I always think of human characters, and the incredible skill that he brought them to life with. That’s probably what makes it my favorite.

As I said before, this is all just so sad. If my writing is jagged it’s only due to my incredible sadness. One of our greatest actors is gone too many years before his time. It feels like we’ve been robbed of three more decades of great performances. For an actor so identified with his portrayal of Truman Capote, another creative genius who died too early in part due to drugs and alcohol, it’s tragic to realize he died thirteen years Capote’s junior.

Philip Seymour Hoffman. Gone too soon.

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