Philip Seymour Hoffman, 'greatest character actor of his time'

Philip Seymour Hoffman, 'greatest character actor of his time'

File photo: Philip Seymour Hoffman
AP photo

New York:  Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was found dead in his New York apartment on Sunday, was hailed as the finest character actor of his generation but struggled with fame and addiction.

For more than 20 years, Hoffman mesmerized and entertained film-goers with his portrayal of some of the most repellent and yet electrifying characters of the silver screen.

He transformed movies through calculatingly understated performances and his daring choice of roles, quietly stealing scenes from much bigger stars with his portrayals of misfits in films as diverse as "Boogie Nights" and "The Talented Mr Ripley."

In 2006, he won an Oscar for his chilling turn as the brilliant but self-absorbed US author Truman Capote and was immediately flung into the A-list world of instantly recognized celebrities.

But, for all his success, Hoffman was reluctant in the limelight and, in an interview with Britain's Guardian newspaper published in October 2011, said he thought everyone struggles with self-love.

Heroin relapse

"I think that's pretty much the human condition, you know, waking up and trying to live your day in a way that you can go to sleep and feel OK about yourself," he was quoted as saying.

He spoke about his struggles with drink and drugs as a drama student at New York University, and reportedly checked himself back into rehab in 2013 after having a relapse with heroin.

His career spanned more than 50 films, as well as TV and theater credits, and in 2010 he became a director for the first time with "Jack Goes Boating."

He appeared in Hollywood blockbusters such as 2006's "Mission Impossible III" alongside Tom Cruise and "Hunger Games," but was starred in some of director Paul Thomas Anderson's best films.

He played striking roles in Anderson's "Magnolia," starring Cruise (1999); in "Flawless," in which he plays a melodramatic drag queen opposite Robert De Niro, and in "Punch-Drunk Love."

"Film's hard when you don't have any relationship with the director at all and you just show up," Hoffman said in an interview with Esquire magazine in 2012.

"But that doesn't happen so often with me. I'm lucky that way."

Born Philip Hoffman in July 1967 in Fairport in New York state, he was the third of four children of a Xerox executive and a feminist housewife. They divorced when he was nine.

He became interested in theater and comedy at school, but was also an accomplished sportsman. He left home to study at the Tisch School of Arts at New York University.

"Theater's the most taxing. But to act well is always difficult, no matter the material," he told Esquire.

Incorporating his grandfather's name, Seymour, between his given names, he made his big screen debut in a 1991 independent film called "Triple Bogey on a Par Five Hole."

In 1997, he made waves as a closeted gay crew member in Anderson's porn industry tale "Boogie Nights."

'Gnawing intelligence'

But it was perhaps in Anthony Minghella's thriller "The Talented Mr Ripley" that he made his true breakthrough.

Although cast alongside A-list favorites Matt Damon, Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow, he stole the show in a supporting role as the duplicitous preppie Freddie Miles.

The late Minghella described Hoffman as an extraordinary actor "cursed, sometimes, by his own gnawing intelligence, his own discomfort with acting."

Then came the 2005 biopic "Capote," which put Hoffman center stage on his own.

In Bennett Miller's movie about the outspoken gay author, Hoffman captured not only Capote's effete demeanor and high-pitched voice but also the powerful forces that drove him - and ultimately destroyed him - as an artist.

Hoffman won three more Oscar nominations after "Capote" as a supporting actor playing a foul-mouthed CIA agent in "Charlie Wilson's War" in 2008, "Doubt" in 2009 and "The Master" in 2013.

In "Doubt," he was Father Flynn, an anguished Catholic priest suspected of molesting a teenage student.

Based on John Patrick Shanley's successful stage play, the film's best moments come when Hoffman's character wages verbal warfare with his accuser Sister Aloysius played by Meryl Streep.
Story First Published: February 03, 2014 07:14 IST

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