**I wrote this for http://www.film-addict.com on Sunday night after he passed, and I thought it was worth sharing here.**
Since we get so caught up in their ability to create, perform and dazzle us with their ability, moviegoers forget that the men and women who have the ability to transform are not invincible. Sports fans fall under the same spell, forgetting the larger than life athletes can fall prey to the same addictions and hazards that befall many people every year. Philip Seymour Hoffman had a serious drug and alcohol addiction over 23 years ago in college, and was able to kick the habit before he entered the world of film. Today, he fell prey to the deadly habit of heroin use and was found dead, hypodermic needle in his arm and fully clothed, in his Manhattan apartment. He was 46 years old.
Recent film fans remember him guiding young Katniss Everdeen in November’s Catching Fire. He had finished filming the next installment, Mockingjay: Part 1, but was in the midst of filming Part 2. Hoffman won an Oscar for Capote in 2005 and was nominated for Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master last year. More than the awards though, Hoffman was a chameleon. He slipped into comedy roles early on in his career before becoming a tour de force dramatic actor. In Sidney Lumet’s Before The Devil Knows You Are Dead, he was the older brother of Ethan Hawke who had to wrangle out of the most deadliest web of deceit and murder. When I think of his acting prowness, I think of Hoffman’s conniving brother plotting an escape from hell and vocally slapping around Hawke’s inept brother.
Hoffman convinced you he was a gambler, a cheat, a murderer, a Tornado chaser, a bad basketball player, a musician and a famous writer. That’s what the greatest actors do. They convince you they can be completely different people and do it sometimes up to 3 times a year. In The Master(admittedly a hard film to love), Hoffman played a man condemned by his own religious beliefs and seemed to hit a high that the rest of the film could never reach. Hoffman could dominate a troubled film, elevate a bad movie and brighten up an already strong film. He was part of an all star cast including Christopher Walken and Catherine Keener in 2012’s A Late Quartet and gave a heartbreaking performance as a musician stuck in a career trap. It was another great performance and something we came to expect from the actor.
Look at his small yet pivotal role in Almost Famous as Lester Bangs. Playing the old rock journalist guiding our young William along his path to not being “uncool”. Speaking the majority of his part over the phone with Patrick Fugit, Hoffman conveyed a soulful yet preachy older poet, making a last minute attempt to tutor a young mad soul about the depths of which music will drag you down.
In Capote, he was marvelously and truly left his body for the role of Truman Capote. Playing a writer trying to put together a novel on a murder case and developing an altered way of speaking, Hoffman stepped outside his comfort zone. He played the bad guy tormenting Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible 3 and was brilliant as Tom Hanks wise cracking government helper in Charlie Wilson’s War. In Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York, Hoffman played a famous theater director trying to balance women troubles, self doubt and the biggest project of his career. Once again, the film was troubling but Hoffman made it addicting and easy to watch.
He picked up trash like Along Came Polly, playing Ben Stiller’s best friend, a man who couldn’t play basketball but soaked the grease from a NY slice of pizza and thought he was the greatest theater actor ever. The film was crap but Hoffman was hilarious. He played the nerdy nitpicking fellow student and colleague of Robin Williams in the heartwarming yet sappy Patch Adams and gave it the right amount of spiked attitude.
He played Art Howe in Moneyball, an unhappy brother in The Savages, the incorrigible Officer Raymer in Nobody’s Fool and the creepy Scotty in Boogie Nights. There are so many great movies he was a part of. The Big Lebowski, Magnolia, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and Twister to name a few.
His role as Edward Norton’s best friend in Spike Lee’s 25th Hour was memorable to me because of the idea of hanging out one last night with your friends before one goes to jail the next day. I have watched that film over 7 times and Hoffman’s gentle yet curious professor, longing for his young student played by Anna Paquin, never loses any steam or power. Hoffman took what seemed like a role we saw a million times and made it something truly special and thought provoking.
I didn’t know Hoffman personally and can’t sit here and condone his drug use, but it’s sad loss for the world of film. He made 64 films in his career and was never shy about his addictions in interviews and media sessions. In 2006, he announced he was clean but in 2012 he relapsed and went into rehab. At a Sundance party last month, he appeared out of it yet managed to complete interviews for his new film God’s Pocket, directed by John Slattery and starring Christina Hendricks. In addition to Mockingjay: Part 2, he was shooting a Showtime series Happyish and was set to direct Ezekiel Moss, a film co-starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Amy Adams. He never shunned himself from the public or ran from his flaws.
In the end, Hoffman fell prey to addiction yet left behind a resume of films that any actor should covet and any film fan should make time to dive into. He was a hero of cinema because he never phoned in a performance or took a paycheck for a movie. He gave something different to every role, and a piece of himself in the process. Unfortunately, in real life, he didn’t have enough pieces to mount a good fight against a deadly addiction. He also left behind 3 kids, which is very sad. This isn’t a place to make light of what Hoffman did to himself or the circumstances of his death. It’s to bring to light what he gave to cinema and his children for the future.
“The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.”-Lester in Almost Famous