On the 2nd of February, Philip Seymour Hoffman passed away from a drug overdose, at the age of 46. He was perhaps the greatest actor of his generation, one whose name on the credits meant there was at least one great thing worth watching a film for.
He was born in 1967 and shared his mother’s passion for theatre. He began acting in high school, and then started out with small roles in Law and Order and Scent of a Woman, in which he was noticed by wunderkind director Paul Thomas Anderson. Anderson gave him a small but memorable role as a cocky loud-mouthed gambler in Hard Eight. They collaborated four more times, each role displaying a very different yet similarly fantastic Hoffman.
He took part in an eclectic variety of projects, from small independent films like ‘Happiness’ to Hollywood blockbusters like ‘Mission Impossible 3’ and ‘Catching Fire’, and was able to turn each role into a scene-stealing master-class of bravura, or a work or understated perfection. He was both a great supporting actor and a leading man, and won an Oscar for the title-role of Capote. He also made his directorial debut with ‘Jack Goes Boating’ and was acclaimed for his work in the theatre, starring in ‘Death of a Salesman’ in 2012.
He leaves behind a wealth of terrific performances, each one displaying his versatility and charisma. These are just 5 of my personal favourites. Honourable mentions must go to his roles as a sycophantic assistant in The Big Lebowski, a love-struck gay boom operator in Boogie Nights, a priest accused of paedophilia in Doubt, and for being, by far, the only good thing in Patch Adams.
5) Freddie Miles, The Talented Mr. Ripley
Hoffman provides this haunting drama with a spark of lively comic relief as the brash snob Freddie, and is the vulgar self-assured foil to Matt Damon’s nebbish Tom Ripley. It’s a film packed with great actors, including Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Cate Blanchett, yet from the moment Hoffman blazes onto the screen in a red convertible, he steals the show.
4) Truman Capote, Capote
The role that won Hoffman the Oscar, and rightly so. Hoffman doesn’t usually change his accent for roles, yet here he does a spot-on impression of Truman Capote’s high pitched voice without turning it into a caricature. Hoffman shows a determined intelligence behind the camp socialite façade. It’s the role he’s best known for, and it’s clear why.
3) Lancaster Dodd, The Master
Paul Thomas Anderson has always directed Hoffman to great performances .The Master, though, is Hoffman’s best work, where he plays the Master himself, Lancaster Dodd, the charismatic leader of a pseudo psychological cult called The Cause. The character is based on L. Ron Hubbard, but, with his theatrical flair and powerful persona, seems equally inspired by Orson Welles. Hoffman’s charisma leaves you in little wonder why so many would devoutly follow his mad theories.
2) Caden Cotard, Synecdoche New York
This is a puzzling masterpiece that’s filled with dream-like surrealism, yet is grounded by a remarkably restrained performance by Hoffman. Caden is a pretentious playwright who has the wild ambition to build a life-size replica of New York and populate it with actors, in order to portray life as truthfully as possible. It is Hoffman’s most understated performance, portraying a lonely man afraid of the inevitability of death. In the wake of Hoffman’s own death, it feels more profound than ever.
1) Sandy Lyle, Along Came Polly
Talk about stealing the show : Along Came Polly is a passable Ben Stiller romantic comedy. Not terrible but definitely not extraordinary either. That is, of course, unless Philip Seymour Hoffman is onscreen. He is hilarious as washed up former child star Sandy, a delusional doofus, blissfully unaware about his lack of acting talent or basketball skills. Hoffman had always been good at comedy, but this is him at his show-stopping best. It’s a mark of how great he was that he could turn even the most mediocre script into something sublime to watch. That is why Philip Seymour Hoffman was my favourite actor. And you’ll never hear Daniel Day Lewis talk about ‘sharting’…