He had been overlooked in 1992’s Sham Saint, an over-the-top, sentimental comedy starring Steve Martin, went unnoticed as Al Pacino’s assistant in The Scent of a Woman that same year, and as a cop in Winter in Nobody’s Fool. (1994) alongside Paul Newman. Now he was recognized, perhaps on a weary evening of TV, in the 1996 disaster film Twister. And, of course, the unfortunate factotum in Burt Reynolds’ medium-sized porn operation in Boogie Nights was also Hoffman. And in “The Big Lebowski” he again played a somewhat strange domestic on the sidelines. He then had an uncanny presence in Todd Solondz’s “Happiness” (1998) as a nasty anonymous caller who does terrible things: a monster turned whimpering pity. Hoffman had made more than 20 films when his great career began.
Philip Seymour Hoffman was born on July 23, 1967 in Fairport, Rochester, north New York, and was educated at the Tisch School For The Arts at New York University. He was one of the founders of the LAByrinth Theater Company and has acted in O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night and Shakespeare’s Othello, Chekhov’s The Seagull and Sam Shepard’s True West – all part of a solid American Theater training, but also creative ambitions, from which careers such as those of Willem Dafoe or William H. Macy emerged. In “The Savages” you see a little of the harshness of off-theatre, and as a critic Hoffman is merciless. He had the means to upstage Hollywood stars—instead, he rather illuminated their performances: his small role in Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr. Ripley belies the dangerously cheerfulness of Jude Law and the pallor of Matt Damon; he underscores the performance of Jason Robards (again as caretaker) in Magnolia, has the more rewarding role in Flawless but doesn’t steal all the scenes from Robert de Niro – and is his villain in Mission: Impossible III (2006). While very cool, Hoffman isn’t trying to steal the show from Tom Cruise in his vehicle.
Most recently, in the wonderful film “Strings of Life”, one saw very impressively how Hoffman literally played second fiddle to Christopher Walken and almost perished from it. Maybe it’s just imagination – but the brutality with which Robert Gelbart throws his life away because he doesn’t just want to be the best companion may have something to do with the radicalism and limitlessness of Philip Seymour Hoffman as a person. The interplay of life and film is even more eerie in “Before The Devil Knows Your’re Dead”, Sidney Lumet’s sophisticated 2007 psychological crime thriller: The inconspicuous, supposedly sovereign Andy Hanson, played by Hoffman, rings an apartment doorbell, enters and can be given an IV with heroin in a room, so to speak, during the lunch break.
In 2003, Hoffman starred again with Anthony Minghella in the hauntingly elegiac “Cold Mountain,” and went on to land his first starring role in the short film, Owning Mahowny, as a gambling addict who invests every penny in his addiction, embezzles money, and then must flee from the injured: a petty bourgeois as a trembling affliction that upsets the big game. Hoffman then spent half a year preparing for the role of Truman Capote, lost weight and trained the author’s notorious falsetto voice. The Oscar for “Capote” (2006) was one with announcement. It would have been hard for other actors to step back into the second row, but Hoffman was now giving his richest performances: the sobbing CIA man in Mike Nichols’ Charlie Wilson’s War (2007), the Brecht specialist in The Siblings Savage” (2007), the priest in “A Question of Faith” (2008), the political adviser in “Days of Treason” (2011), who ends up being sent to the desert. In between, he shot his own, very touching film, “Jack Goes Boating”, which was unfortunately renamed “Jack In Love” in Germany. Also in the baseball film Moneyball, a Brad Pitt play, Hoffman provided a striking vignette as a moaning coach who won’t budge. The Master was his fourth film with Paul Thomas Anderson, following Boogie Nights, Magnolia and Punch-Drunk Love. So the best director of this generation and its best actor stayed together.
Philip Seymour Hoffman has been married since 2003 and has three children. He openly confessed to being addicted to drugs as a young man and returned to drugs and snorting heroin in 2012, after which he was committed to rehab. But then it went on: filming. Hoffman has appeared in more than 50 films in all, with the next two already planned, including a directorial project with Jake Gyllenhaal.
One cannot see into the heart of a man, and it is fair to say that no one knew this man. Hoffman rarely dressed up, and he wasn’t the “chameleon” that’s often written about. His unpretentious art was to convey to us, in every incarnation, the dignity of men who are weary and burdened, in love and in despair, shy and courageous, men who falter and fail and err, who are in the wrong place, in the wrong body or in the wrong life . There were no false gestures, no theatrics, and he played the sad and the embarrassing as everyday horrors. His characters often have a phlegm that belies their drive and their demons. When he is injured in “Strings of Life”, he is comforted by an admirer, and the next day his wife finds him in the shopping mall and dissolves the marriage. After she’s gone, Hoffman slowly picks up his jacket and leaves. The tragedy is happening entirely within.
On the night of February 2, Philip Seymour Hoffman died of a heroin overdose at his Manhattan home, aged 46. There is no consolation for that.