When a public figure dies, no matter what the causes may be, they leave you with a hollow feeling of the things they might have done in the future. That’s what we felt when Heath Ledger was found dead in 2008 and that’s exactly the case with the passing of American actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman on Sunday February 2nd, 2014.
Hundreds of fans gathered at his apartment building in Greenwich Village in New York City after the news spread, the early cause was believed to be an heroin overdose after the actor was found with a needle in his arm.
Woody Allen once said he didn’t want to achieve immortality through his films, but by not dying, yet the truth is when you’re in films, your imprint stays forever in your work, and what Seymour Hoffman showed us is his immense talent, his penchant for the unusual not judging his characters but finding the humanity under their skin and leaving the judging to the audience.
Hoffman’s career began in television, before he was given supporting roles in films like ‘Scent of a Woman’. Usually actors that don’t quiet fit Hollywood’s cannon of “beauty” are relegated to supporting roles, however his powerful and out of the ordinary performances lead him to create characters that, even if supporting, inhabited a full dimension of each of the films he was in: Tod Solondz’ ‘Happiness’, Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘Boogie Nights’ and ‘Magnolia’, The Coen Brother’s ‘The Big Lebowski’, Antony Minghella’s ‘The Talented Mr. Ripley’ and Cameron Crowe’s ‘Almost Famous’ attest to this.
Actors of this level often resort to the indie universe for better material, and so he had his first starring role as a “gasoline fumes” addict in Love Liza, before he was brought in by Bennett Miller to personify Truman Capote in 2005. Even if there was another film about Capote that same year, there was no doubt he was the true thing and was almost unanimously given the Academy Award as best actor.
Three other nominations for best supporting actor would follow: “Charlie Wilson’s War”, “Doubt” and “The Master”. And he directed his first film in 2010: “Jack Goes Boating”.
In any case, his work is out there as part of our filmic memory.
Here, is a list of some of the performances that highlight his infinite and unusual talent.
(2005) Directed by Bennet Miller
One of Hoffman’s qualities as an actor is his sense of pride. He doesn’t only embody his characters as much as he loves them, he understands them and is proud of walking in their shoes. That is exactly what you feel of his Capote. His presence is majestic, almost breathtaking. For two hours you forget the real Truman and enjoy this ghostly presence as he moves snake-like to create his masterwork “In Cold Blood”. His Oscar win was not only deserved. It was written on each frame.
(1997) Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
One of his first supporting roles that is not just a technical device for the film, Scotty J. is a show stopping vision in a film about the porn industry in the late 70’s. As part of Jack Horner’s film crew, he is a loner and closeted gay who has a crush on Mark Wahlberg’s character. His memorable scene in which he tries to kiss Dirk Diggler and is rebuffed is one of his highest points in his early career.
(1998) Directed by Todd Solondz
Most of the characters in Solondz excellent film are repulsive but always treated with respect. Take Hoffman’s character for example: an everyday man that makes obscene phone calls to Lara Flynn Boyle’s character. Watch his scenes and you will, at some point be shocked. Hoffman, knows how to be the character and doesn’t shy away from their acts.
(2012) Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
As a reflection of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, Hoffman became a leader. A man whose every word is measured to cause an effect, to sell and idea, and to be supported by the people he inspires in a post World War II America. Hoffman gets what he likes the most: long, almost monologue-like scenes where he can take construct his character in a dimension you could not imagine, even adding some extra mystery for a second viewing, and working with Amy Adams and Joaquin Phoenix proved rewarding for him.
(2008) Directed by John Patrick Shanley
With his Oscar nominated performance as Father Flynn, Hoffman is able to develop his interest in imbuing his characters with mystery. Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep) is certain there’s something “obscure” with him. He wants to change the rules, he is too open and sometimes, too “friendly” to the children. The film will never allow you the benefit of knowing if he had actually engaged in a sexual encounter with one of the boys, and Hoffman is careful to plague his performance with details that might make you think “Yeah, he did it”. Yet he is also careful to plant the seed of doubt.
(2002) Directed by Todd Louiso
Hoffman’s first starring role is a man under the influence of an addiction to inhaling gasoline fumes and the grief of his wife’s suicide, which is worsened by a letter she left, that he hasn’t been able to read. Hoffman’s brother Gordy Hoffman wrote the screenplay, so it was a personal project for him.
(2007) Directed by Tamara Jenkins.
Hoffman plays the other half of the siblings Savage in the very poignant film by Tamara Jenkins about how to care for an ailing father and how they should sort material things once he’s gone. The timing between Hoffman and Laura Linney is perfect.
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
(2007) Directed by Sidney Lumet
In Lumet’s last film, Hoffman plays brother to Ethan Hawke in an organize robbery of their parent’s jewelry store that goes horribly wrong. Lumet built the film from different points of view so you can see how things develop from each side and Hoffman’s is not the prettier.
Jack Goes Boating
(2010) Directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman
His only film as a director, Hoffman gave himself the lead in a romantic comedy that is not particularly common. He is a limo driver who falls for Amy Ryan’s character as they go on a blind date. Hoffman has the chance to play an uncommon man in a romantic setting that has never been part of his life.
Mission Impossible III
(2006) Directed by J.J. Abrams
There are more interesting characters in Hoffman’s career, but right after Capote he was given the “bad guy” for Tom Cruise’s franchise and he enjoyed it, as much as we did.