I was planning on finishing up my Monthly Roundup post the afternoon I heard about Philip Seymour Hoffman‘s passing at a young age of 46.
It’s one of those times where I’ll always remember where I was when I heard about something. I was in line at a Target check out when I fired up my Twitter app and saw the news. I didn’t get a chance to find out how he died, so I presume it was a heart attack or something, it never occurred to me that it was substance abuse related, though I knew he struggled with prescription drugs addiction and went to rehab last year. Of course later in the day I found out the cause of death… that he has died from an apparent drug overdose in his Manhattan apartment. Undoubtedly, my shock turned to grief. Yes I know he’s just an actor whom I don’t know personally, but I still can’t help feeling saddened by this. He also died the exact same age as my late mother (who also have three children), though the circumstances were entirely different, they both were gone way too soon
I have to admit I don’t know much about his life as an actor or otherwise. Apparently Hoffman is a pretty busy guy, completing 40 films in the span of a relatively short 17-year-long career as well as working as a creative co-artistic director of LAByrinth Theater Company. On top of winning a Best Actor Oscar for Capote, he was also nominated for two Tony awards for his stage work in True West and Long Day’s Journey into Night.
This quote from the NY Times gives us a glimpse to how he approaches his craft as an actor:
“In my mid-20s, an actor told me, ‘Acting ain’t no puzzle,’ ” Hoffman said, after returning to his seat. “I thought: ‘Ain’t no puzzle?!?’ You must be bad!” He laughed. “You must be really bad, because it is a puzzle. Creating anything is hard. It’s a cliché thing to say, but every time you start a job, you just don’t know anything. I mean, I can break something down, but ultimately I don’t know anything when I start work on a new movie. You start stabbing out, and you make a mistake, and it’s not right, and then you try again and again. The key is you have to commit. And that’s hard because you have to find what it is you are committing to.”
Seems that he often ‘lost himself’ in a role…
“…I’d finish a scene, walk right off the set, go in the bathroom, close the door and just take some breaths to regain my composure. In the end, I’m grateful to feel something so deeply, and I’m also grateful that it’s over … And that’s my life.”
There are many essential PSH films I still need to see. In fact, I’ve only seen a paltry 9 films from his stellar resume, but I feel compelled to write this tribute to him as he’s always been very impressive in everything I’ve seen him in. Starting with Scent of A Woman where he played an unethical classmate of Chris O’Donnell, out-acting the protagonist effortlessly. Through a series of supporting roles, he’s always memorable no matter how small his role is. I equate him to someone like Stanley Tucci, Paul Giamatti or Chris Cooper in that he always makes the best of whatever role given to him AND his performance is usually one of the best (if not the best) part about the film. In the Ides of March for example, his portrayal of a grizzled campaign manager is one of my favorite parts of an otherwise so-so political drama. Even in popcorn action films like Mission Impossible III, he still gives a compelling performance as the ominous villain. He’s threatening without turning his character into a caricature. He seems to be drawn to antihero/flawed type of characters, whilst somehow make them sympathetic and intriguing, i.e. A Late Quartet as an adulterous married man.
The latest performance I saw him in was in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and I said in my review that his Plutarch is my favorite character. I couldn’t wait to see more of him in the final film of the franchise as his character arc is easily the most interesting. Alas they might have to re-cast his role unless they’re done filming his scenes.
I hope to catch up on more of his films such as Magnolia, Capote, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, Jack Goes Boating, etc. For sure I’ll watch the yet-to-be-released John le Carré spy thriller A Most Wanted Man where Hoffman played a German civil-rights lawyer, complete with a German accent. I couldn’t find a trailer, but here’s a clip:
My heart goes out to his longtime partner, costume designer Mimi O’Donnell and their three children. Rest in peace Mr. Hoffman. You will be sorely missed.
What are some of your favorite performances from Philip Seymour Hoffman?