Philip Seymour Hoffman was one of my favorite actors. I was 18 and beginning my love affair with the cinema and my roommate bought a movie called BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD, a Sidney Lumet film that would leave a profound impact on me. Hoffman’s acting in that film left me devastated and shaken for years after I first saw it. Although I couldn’t articulate it at the time, Hoffman displayed such a blatant vulnerability that impacted the way I saw movies. I didn’t feel that I was watching a performance, but rather that I was a voyeur watching somebody’s life unravel in front of me. I’ve only revisited the film a couple times since but I’ve never gotten over it.
As my interest in cinema grew I would seek out every movie I could get my hands on, but in particular, Hoffman’s movies stood out. I was for a time obsessed with the actor who had scared me with his explosive anger and confronted me with his ability to capture devastating emotions. Hoffman could, in a single beat go from dominating the screen to being a pathetic, quivering mess, emasculated by his own sins. He could be funny, he could be sad, he could be devastating or he could be heroic.
Hoffman’s Oscar-winning role as Truman Capote in CAPOTE is of course one of his best known performances, and rightly so. Yet again, he disappeared into a role so profoundly, shedding any resemblance of his own personality so as to be completely unrecognizable. Hoffman is not exactly an unrecognizable face but he absolutely succeeds in bringing Capote to life. Of course, this is but one of many such performances in a career so full of masterful work.
Some of Hoffman’s best moments can be found in PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE (“That’s that” is one of the funniest deliveries I’ve ever seen)
His song in THE MASTER, which begins as a love ballad and quickly turns terrifyingly sinister.
His heartbreaking confession of admiration in BOOGIE NIGHTS
Of course, his turn as music journalist Lester Bangs in ALMOST FAMOUS
His wonderful profanity-fueled political turn in CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR
And so many more great performances. What they all have in common is Hoffman’s ability to put aside his own ego and emerge into a role full of raw emotion. He never holds back. His screen presence is always so full of power in both strength and weakness.
Although it began with Lumet’s film, my fascination with Hoffman still continues to this day. He is an inspiration, not just as an actor, but as a human being, full of life, passion, and kindness. He was so real. Here’s to you, Philip.