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Philip Seymour Hoffman


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Philip Seymour Hoffman was born in 1967 in Fairport, New York. After a quiet, comfortable upbringing (his mother was a judge, his father a Xerox executive), Hoffman attended NYU's Tisch School of the Performing Arts. He graduated in 1989, and quickly started getting roles in Off-Broadway productions, television guest spots, and he made his film debut in the independent 1991 film Triple Bogey On a Par Five Hole. I first noticed him the following year in the small role of a spoiled, backstabbing college student in Scent of a Woman.




He continued getting small roles in films such as The Getaway (1994), When a Man Loves a Woman (1994), Nobody's Fool (1994), and Twister (1996). In 1995 Hoffman joined the LAByrinth Theater Company, based in NYC, and he would maintain a working relationship with the group for the rest of his life. In 1997, Hoffman landed another small supporting role, this one garnering him the most attention yet in his film career. His turn as the painfully shy and awkward Scotty who has an unrequited crush on pornstar Dirk Diggler in Boogie Nights was cringeworthy and human at the same time, a kind of trademark of many of Hoffman's characters.




This lead to a number of remarkable performances for some of the best filmmakers of the time: The Big Lebowski (1998), Happiness (1998), Flawless (1999), Magnolia (1999), and The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), where his performance as the cynical and suspicious Freddie Miles was a stand-out in a film with many fine performances.




Then followed a role as famed music journalist Lester Bangs in Almost Famous (2000), a heart-wrenching turn as a self-destructive widower in Love Liza (2002), small but stinging roles in the Hannibal Lecter film Red Dragon (2002) and PT Anderson's Punch-Drunk Love (2002), as well as a solid role as a schoolteacher infatuated with his student in Spike Lee's 25th Hour (2002). One of Hoffman's best performances came with the following year's Owning Mahowny, as a gambling addict on a downward spiral.




After a handful of small roles, Hoffman would have a significant screen triumph in 2005's Capote, where he starred as eccentric author Truman Capote. The role won Hoffman an Oscar as Best Actor.




He followed that up with an against-type role as the chief villain in a major tent-pole action film opposite Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible 3. Another great performance came with 2007's The Savages, as one member of an acidic family dynamic. Next he appeared in director Sidney Lumet's final film, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. His performance as a desperate man who involves his hapless younger brother (Ethan Hawke) into a plan to rob their parents' jewelry store drew uncomfortable parallels with Hoffman. Both his character, and by this point Hoffman himself, were both battling powerful opiate addictions.




Hoffman earned his second Oscar nomination, this time as Supporting Actor, for 2007's true-life political tale Charlie Wilson's War. His burned out CIA field agent offered much dry comedic relief in a film full of broad characterizations.




Hoffman next starred in Charlie Kaufman's bizarre Synecdoche, New York (2008). He followed that up with another Oscar-nominated turn, this time as a Catholic priest accused of inappropriate conduct in Doubt





After roles in Pirate Radio (2009), the odd indie romance Jack Goes Boating (2010), and the political drama The Ides of March (2011), Hoffman then threw his fans a curveball with his terrific yet unlikely supporting role in Moneyball, the 2011 adaptation of the non-fiction bestseller, where Hoffamn plays Oakland A's manager Art Howe.




Hoffman earned his final Oscar nomination for his next role, this time as an L. Ron Hubbard-esque cult leader in 2012's The Master, which would mark the fifth collaboration with director Paul Thomas Anderson.




Hoffman appeared in a couple more films (A Late Quartet, God's Pocket) as well as landing a high profile role in the wildly popular Hunger Games films. Suddenly, however, things came to a startling, crashing halt, as he was found dead of a drug overdose on February 2, 2014. He had one more film yet to be released, 2014's A Most Wanted Man, as well as appearances in the final Hunger Games films.


Philip Seymour Hoffman may seem like an unlikely performer for me to profile on here, as he doesn't quite fit with the other classic stars that I usually discuss. However, the sad reality is that I've been going alphabetically through my notebook of performers' whose work I'd like to see, and Hoffman was the next one in line. The one thing they all have in common is that they are all deceased. Hoffman's talent at bringing depth and compassion to some of society's more unlikable characters will be sorely missed, as will his focused intensity and mercurial role choices. He was one of the most versatile actors in film during the last two decades, and I for one will always lament all of the interesting roles that we will miss seeing him in.  

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Thanks for the extensive and well-written precis of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Lawrence. I love this actor. He did some of the finest work this side of 1990. Two years after his most untimely death, I'm still sad about it. What an intelligent, versatile, and perceptive actor he was.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I'm a big fan of this actor.  I know I usually watch movies from the classic era of Hollywood, but there are actors from this era that I follow and Hoffman was one of them.


I have seen a lot of his movies for someone who usually watches movies made during the studio system.


I was saddened when he died. 


I've seen between 15 and 20 of his films so far.


Thanks, Lawrence, for starting a thread on an actor who left us too soon.

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Thanks for this topic and comments.

Cringeworthy and human pretty much says it all regarding PSH's roles and performances.

My favorite performances so far were in "Boogie Nights" and "Moneyball".  But who didn't give a great performance in "Boogie Nights"?  Even Ricky Jay was very good.

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I would recommend one of Hoffman's last films, A Most Wanted Man (2014) especially if you are a fan of John Le Carre.  It was another outstanding performance and deserved more attention than it got.

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