Amid talk of rehab and Hollywood tragedy, the film industry once again finds itself mourning the loss of an acting veteran this week. Philip Seymour Hoffman, aged 46, was found dead in his New York apartment on Sunday after a suspected heroin overdose. It is natural for the public to succumb to hearsay and gossip in lieu of these events, but many industry greats have side-lined such folly to pay tribute to Hoffman in the past 24 hours. Among the kind words said of the actor and director, De Niro described him as “a wonderful actor” while cult movie co-star Julianne Moore said she felt “so fortunate to have known and worked with the extraordinary Philip Seymour Hoffman.”
Moore and Hoffman first met on the set of Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1997 classic Boogie Nights. Hoffman’s performance as Scotty J – a sympathetically doting gay boom operator – stole scene after scene, the most memorable being his drunken outpouring of misplaced affection. He gained the hearts of viewers and subsequently, roles in the iconic Cohen Brothers’ film, The Big Lebowski and in Magnolia (1999). In quick succession Hoffman depicted a brutally callous Freddie Miles in Minghella’s five-time Oscar nominated The Talented Mr. Ripley and following that gave an endearing performance as “uncool” music aficionado Lester Bangs in Almost Famous (2000). Hoffman bought astonishing breadth to his portrayals of supporting characters, demonstrating his ability to execute a divergent array of personas.
However, it was Hoffman’s starring roles that propelled him into popular culture’s adulatory limelight. With the release of Miller’s biopic Capote (2005), Philip Seymour Hoffman finally reached personally unprecedented levels of critical acclaim in the acknowledgement of his remarkable talents as a character actor. His portrayal of the title role, writer Truman Capote, won him an Academy Award, Golden Globe and BAFTA. Hoffman embodied Capote’s epicene manner entirely, managing to achieve a quiet intensity and avoid the trap of artificial ostentation. Seemingly, this exquisite display of acting came at a price; Hoffman, as with all his roles, threw himself so deeply into capturing the troubled psyche of Capote, he completed filming having suffered for his art. In interviews he never shied away from expressing the hardships of his vocation, saying that “just because you like to do something doesn’t mean you have fun doing it; and I think that’s true about acting.”
Other notable performances include his Oscar nominated roles in Charlie Wilson’s War and Doubt – in which he played Father Flynn – as well as his depiction of the unusually light-hearted Count in the quintessentially British comedy, The Boat That Rocked. More recently, in his last major role in controversial drama The Master (2012), Hoffmann was nominated for an Academy Award after his characterisation of the predatory Lancaster Dodd.
Philip Seymour Hoffman will be remembered alongside industry heavyweights for his ability to capture the essence of, arguably, the most alluringly complex on-screen characters the twenty-first century has seen. His work in film was persistently fearless and uninhibited. Hoffmann brought a real and endearing quality to life’s oddball eccentrics, and for that, we are sincerely grateful.