I wrote this paper for a film class in college 3 years ago & feel like it’s appropriate now to remember one of the best actor’s of our time. RIP PSH.
"A Man of Fathomless Character"
Remembering Phillip Seymour Hoffman
Fidgeting nervously with his hands as he wipes a bead of sweat from his forehead, the man readjusts the simple pair of glass panes framing his eyes. These windows of clarity are the only things separating his vulnerable eyes from millions of impressionable minds hidden behind a single camera lens. A black turtleneck conveys the serious nature of such an intellectual, though the man himself knows and cares little of what cloth or fabric represents his character. “What’s your advice to other aspiring actors?” a voice asks. As the man speaks, a warm and confident tone envelops the air, breaking through the insipid barriers of, yet another, inquisitive process. His words land with such admissible honesty, one cannot help but to appreciate the wisdom of such a being. “You have to act wherever you can. Wherever you get a chance to act, whether it’s an audition or something you don’t want to do, if it’s in a room that somebody else has paid rent for, then you’re given a chance to practice your craft and in that moment you should act as well as you can, because when you leave that room there’s absolutely no way the people watching you can forget it.”
The same man now sits, a month later, adorned in a tailored black tuxedo amongst a sea of Hollywood’s most prestigious talent. The seconds tick by with the aroma of fevered anticipation relishing in a stagnant atmosphere as he watches five separate clips of five separate world-renowned male actors. Thunderous applause from a gallery of seasoned artists is heard solidifying recognition of admirable work. An elegant, oversized white envelope is delicately ripped open, colliding worlds of agonizing patience and wander with daunting hope and expectation. “And the Oscar goes to…” The applause fades out and is replaced with a frigid, stiffening silence that pierces through each candidate’s spine and stirs a plague of tormented unknowing, “Phillip Seymour Hoffman for Capote.” The silence is shattered once more with supportive applause and hearty cheers as the orchestral melodies of accomplishment dance through the air. The award-winning actor delivers his thank you speech and finally, recognizes his mother for taking him to his first play, stating, “Her passions became my passions.”
For the first time in his life, at age 38, Philip Seymour Hoffman won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal in the title role of Capote. The dramatic film adaptation follows Capote during the six-year period he reported and assembled his non-fiction account of a family of four murdered in Kansas, titled In Cold Blood. Shot in thirty-six days, the movie won 44 awards and was nominated for 43 more. Philip Seymour Hoffman prepared for the role with fevered intensity, dedicating himself to his craft. He lost 40 pounds and spent numerous hours at, director, Bennet Miller’s apartment studying old documentaries of Truman Capote. During the film process, Hoffman had to stay in character physically and vocally. It took him nine months of preparation and when the cameras finally stopped rolling, he was admittedly exhausted. “I remember I immediately started talking like myself, like that,” Hoffman says. “And, I thought to myself, ‘I’m never — I’m never gonna do that again. I’m not gonna act like him anymore.’” Throughout the process, he knew the risk was high for the role and worried about it’s success. “Just the possibility of humiliation,” he says. “Yeah, failing was high. Yeah, it was huge. People knew who he [(Truman Capote)] was. It was — he’s an iconic figure. The fear, the nightmare of just being embarrassingly bad in the role was very real.” Despite his anxiety, Hoffman won 23 awards for his portrayal as Capote (including his Oscar for Best Actor), ranked #35 on Premiere Magazine’s “100 Greatest Performances of All Time,” and gained a satisfyingly deep fulfillment of his craft. “Researching this work has changed my life, it’s altered my point of view about almost everything,” says Hoffman. “What is it? What is his personality? What makes him tick? I knew that deep down inside I had to understand it for myself in some personal way.” When asked how he identified with Capote, Hoffman says, “The ambition, the drive, the wanting to be the center of attention, the wanting to succeed. … They’re all inside me somewhere.”
This Academy-Award winning actor who has the uncanny ability to take small supporting roles and transform them into memorable characters isn’t driven by fame, money, or success. In fact he admits to be a struggling artist, consumed with the craft of being an actor, grateful for recognition, but suspicious of fame and celebrity and how it might change him and what he does. Hoffman doesn’t see fame as a tool for measure in his work. He states, “My passion to develop as an actor didn’t have anything to do with people knowing me. I had no idea that would happen. To become famous, to become a celebrity is something that I thought happened to other people.” It is this unique insight into the artist that makes him so curiously likeable. With 54 major motion picture titles under his belt, many people still don’t recognize Philip Seymour Hoffman as a big movie star. This is perhaps because he is very keen on keeping his private life out of the media. He states, “I think part of being an actor is staying private. I do think it’s (an) important part of doing my job — is that they believe I’m someone else,” Hoffman explains. “You know, that’s part of my job. And if they start watching me and thinking about the fact that I got a divorce or something in my real life. Or these things, I don’t think I’m doing my job.” Unlike many Hollywood sellouts today, Hoffman has a pure passion for his craft and it is obvious in the type of works he chooses to do. He is constantly redefining his boundaries and setting new goals for himself. He found the drive at a young age and hasn’t stopped for anything else since.
Growing up middle-class in Fairport, New York, Philip Seymour Hoffman was raised by his single mother. In high school, he was a competitive jock who excelled in baseball and wrestling, until a neck injury cut his athletic career short. He recreates the moment he found acting by recalling a particular memory, “And this woman that I had a mad crush on — woman, girl, she was in high school — walked by the other way. And, ‘Where you going?’ And she goes, ‘I’m going to audition for a play.’ You know and I kept walking — ‘I think I’ll go too.’ And I turned around. And I followed her in,” Hoffman recalls. “And I auditioned for the play. And I got to be with her everyday. You know what I mean? It was like you’re just a teenager. And you have a crush, you know. And then all of a sudden it’s not about the crush. All of a sudden you realize you like doing theater. And it’s, you like being an actor. You like hanging out with these people.” Hoffman graduated from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, where he received a B.F.A. degree in Drama in 1989. He made his first feature film debut in an independent movie titled Triple Bogey on a Par Five Hole in 1991 and a year later snagged a role in his first major release film titled My New Gun. While many believe his breakthrough role came in 1997 as Scotty J. in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights, Hoffman seems to disagree. “Other people disagree with me, but Scent of a Woman really was my breakthrough. I was working in the prepared foods section of a deli when I was cast in that movie, and I’ve never had a non-acting job since. That’s amazing.” To add on to his numerous lists of film credits, Hoffman also keeps an active stage career thriving. He’s been nominated for 2 Tony Awards and promised himself he wouldn’t go more than two years without doing a play and hasn’t. He believes in an all around training method so that his skills won’t decay or become rusty. Hoffman believes that discovering moments onstage by exploring the same events over and over again are what every actor needs, especially on film. His experimental directing ventures for Jack Goes Boating proved successful. Reviews weren’t raving, but overall the offbeat flick has raked in somewhere around $521,922. Many critics thought they saw this coming, as Hoffman is the Co-Artistic Director of LAByrinth Theater Company in New York, for which he’s directed quite a few shows. This life experience of directing proved useful for Hoffman’s lead role as Caden Cotard, theater director, in another one of Charlie Kaufman’s existential works, Synecdoche, New York.
Philip Seymour Hoffman comments on his character’s, Caden Cotard, career in the film by stating he uses “directing as an attempt to do something with his life.” Hoffman describes the personal venture maddening when art and life become tangled together. He relates with his character in the film because they’re both artists, trying to create art out of something to get closer to the truth. The process of the film was difficult for Hoffman because he didn’t want his relations to his character to get in the way, and in that he discovered, “art and life are very similar ultimately, in that, they both don’t answer themselves.” Hoffman’s work in Synecdoche, New York was an impressive self-loathing venture that got Hollywood buzzing. As Roger Ebert puts it, “You have to see [the film] twice to fully understand it.” The existential philosophy of the movie turned many audiences off, however, Hoffman’s portrayal of a man who finds himself continuously struggling with the life he’s built around himself, as time passes as if in another dimension, is believable and conveys a wide range of emotion that only the most talented and gifted of actors could take on. The self-application of life into an art form is so pure and real that it cannot be contained. Hoffman does a fine job at revealing human flaw in wanting to control and understand something, when life doesn’t work that way, and in the words of Hoffman, “neither does good art.” The true frustration of life’s inability to cooperate is evident for Hoffman and that’s what makes the film watchable. This role is very appropriate for Hoffman and fits right into his catalogue of work, offering yet another side of the actor for audiences to explore.
Philip Seymour Hoffman may not be the actor to grace magazine covers with washboard abs and a dazzling bleached smile, but his talent and drive take him far beyond that. He is continuously consumed in his work and the depths of characters he will take on are fathomless. He is a man that would rather you remember the characters he’s played than remember himself. There can be no greater marking of a fine artist than one who values his work above himself.