After receiving the great honor of writing for this website, I decided that I wouldn't just review films; everyone’s a critic. I didn't want to be a blogger who spends fifteen minutes a day writing half-thought out articles on the newest celebrity gossip and rumors. I didn't want to regurgitate news; to merely re-report information you already knew – nothing superfluous.
But today is different.
We all lose loved ones. Death is imminent and most often untimely. We grieve, we mourn, and then we do our best to find some substance to fill the void left in the wake. However, when a celebrity dies, we may feel a minuscule amount of empathy for a short period and nothing more. It’s not like we know them, especially actors. We may say a few words, show our surprise, but five minutes later we move to the next topic.
“I’m afraid I’ll be the kind of actor who thought he would make a difference and didn't.”
On Sunday, February 2nd, 2014, there was no “next topic”. The second I read the report of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death, my heart sank and my mind went blank. It’s difficult to explain; the confusion, the sadness, the sense of loss. Even now, three days later, I find it nearly impossible to accurately describe the feeling. After all, it’s not as if I knew him.
But that’s the beauty of film-making. The greatest actors connect with you whether you want them to or not. I believe that the writer and his script are the most important aspects of a film. But, from time to time, we are blessed with an actor who supersedes the paradigm. They don’t depend on the perfect script or great dialogue. A stage is all they need. Give them Shakespeare or Dr. Seuss and they can grip you to your seat and make you sink into their world. They can lift your spirits or rip out your heart; with a laugh, with words, with the pauses between the words; just their voice.
Hoffman’s voice was calming and authoritative; inauspicious and imposing; understated and overwhelming; inconsequential and dynamic. It is impossible to think of any of his characters lines without hearing his voice in your mind – always at just the right volume and timbre.
“I think you should be serious about what you do because this is it. This is the only life you’ve got.”
Hoffman birthed his characters. Like a magician, he made characters appear out of thin air; all of a sudden, right before your eyes, stands a living, breathing person named Lester, Phil, Scotty, Jacob, or Lancaster. None of them speak or move alike; nor do they make the same facial expressions or have the same mannerisms. Each is a completely unique entity of their own. Hoffman spawned a litany of performances that are each singular and incomparable.
He had so many more characters to bring to life.
Watching him act is like watching Beethoven compose a sonata or Picasso paint a masterpiece. If acting is an art that can be perfected then Hoffman came as close as anyone to accomplishing that feat. He acted with precision and balance, nothing superfluous.
There are few actors whose films should be seen based solely on the fact that they’re in them, but Hoffman was one. Whether he was the star or a supporting character, he inhabited the role and made you hear the words exactly as you should. His characters always got their message across.
“In life, do you ever really know if you’re missing an opportunity? No, you really don’t.”
It’s difficult to fathom a substance strong enough to fill this void; this loss of excellence. We, living today, are incredibly lucky to have been able to observe this man at work and to be influenced by him. Just as John Lennon will never write another song, Hoffman will never act another role, and the world is all the lesser for it. Any words I can provide will surely be insufficient as will any I read from better writers than myself. The only thing left to do is to watch as many of his performances as possible; to laugh, to cry, and to mourn.
Phillip Seymour Hoffman was an actor, a writer, director, producer, father, but above all, he was an actor, an unmerciful and honest actor, unlike any we’re likely to see again in our lifetimes.
RIP Mr. Hoffman. You will be missed.
*Quotes in bold are quotes taken directly from Philip Seymour Hoffman interviews.