The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times are reporting that Phillip Seymour Hoffman has died, reportedly from a drug overdose. What a sad day, a giant loss, one of the best actors of his generations.
Worth reading today, this 2008 profile of the actor in New York Times Magazine “A Higher Calling”:
From his first roles in movies like “Scent of a Woman,” in which he played a villainous prep-school student, to the lovesick Scotty J. in “Boogie Nights,” to the passionate and ornery rock critic Lester Bangs in “Almost Famous,” Hoffman has imbued all his characters with a combination of the familiar and the unique. It’s not easy; it’s the sort of acting that requires enormous range, as well as a kind of stubborn determination and a profound lack of vanity. In the theater, Hoffman finds refuge in being part of a community. Theater presents considerable difficulties — Hoffman said his most challenging role for the stage was as Jamie Tyrone in “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” on Broadway (“That nearly killed me”). But when he speaks about his work in films, Hoffman’s struggles sound lonelier: his childhood dream was to be on the stage, and the fulfillment of that fantasy seems to mitigate some of the strain Hoffman experiences when he is acting.
“In my mid-20s, an actor told me, ‘Acting ain’t no puzzle,’ ” Hoffman said, after returning to his seat. “I thought: ‘Ain’t no puzzle?!?’ You must be bad!” He laughed. “You must be really bad, because it is a puzzle. Creating anything is hard. It’s a cliché thing to say, but every time you start a job, you just don’t know anything. I mean, I can break something down, but ultimately I don’t know anything when I start work on a new movie. You start stabbing out, and you make a mistake, and it’s not right, and then you try again and again. The key is you have to commit. And that’s hard because you have to find what it is you are committing to.”
For all of his struggles, Hoffman works a lot — he’s a very active co-artistic director of the LAByrinth Theater Company, a multicultural collective in New York that specializes in new American plays. LAB mounted five productions last year, thanks in large part to Hoffman’s diligent involvement with every aspect of the process, from fund-raising to directing to acting. “I’ve seen him tear tickets and seat people at LAB productions,” said John Patrick Shanley, the writer and director of “Doubt” and himself a LAB company member. In his 17-year-long career, Hoffman has also made more than 40 films, including “Doubt,” for which he has been nominated for a Golden Globe as best supporting actor, and “Synecdoche, New York,” which was also released this year. “Synecdoche,” which was written and directed by Charlie Kaufman, is a hugely ambitious film that deals with death and art and how they come to inform one another. Hoffman plays a theater director, Caden Cotard, who wins a MacArthur and uses the prize money to begin an autobiographical play so enormous that it swallows his actual life. The movie is, as Manohla Dargis wrote in her glowing review in The Times, “about . . . the search for an authentic self in an unauthentic world.” The plot may get murky and the worlds within worlds (within worlds) are often confusing, but the film lingers in your memory, largely because of Hoffman’s performance. As he grows old, disintegrates, misses romantic connections and suffers loss after loss in pursuit of his artistic vision, Hoffman remains the emotional center of the film.
A torturous soul, he reflected on the art of acting being the same:
But that deep kind of love comes at a price: for me, acting is torturous, and it’s torturous because you know it’s a beautiful thing. I was young once, and I said, That’s beautiful and I want that. Wanting it is easy, but trying to be great — well, that’s absolutely torturous.
RIP, Phillip Seymour Hoffman.