Chipping Campden, Cotswolds - save 50%
TalkTalk have created this exclusive biography of Philip Seymour Hoffman - we believe it to be the most comprehensive on the web
It was as natural as rain, as predictable as stealth taxes - one day Philip Seymour Hoffman would win an Oscar. What was surprising was that when it happened, in 2006, he was voted Best Actor and not Best Supporting Actor, for over the last 14 years Hoffman had delivered a series of usually small but almost always scene-stealing performances. Remember the smarmy preppy betraying Chris O'Donnell in Scent Of A Woman? The annoyingly officious cop decked by Paul Newman in Nobody's Fool? The puppy-like production boy rejected by Mark Wahlberg in Boogie Nights? The fantasist creep-caller in Happiness? The absurdly efficient PA of The Big Lebowski? The sweet nurse reuniting Tom Cruise and Jason Robards in Magnolia? The shamelessly seedy tabloid creep in Red Dragon? The pervy priest in Cold Mountain? All Hoffman, all brilliant.
The lead roles were few and far between, the financial imperative unfortunately dictating that looks matter. So, when given the chance, Hoffman really pulled out the stops. His drag queen, giving music therapy to a stroke-suffering Robert De Niro in Flawless, was compellingly human. His widowed petrol-sniffer in Love Liza, crushed by confusion and depression, was heartbreaking. And then there was Capote, with his awesome display as the famed author, his morals withering as he hunts down the data for In Cold Blood. Hoffman was clearly among the very best. Maybe he WAS the best.
He was born Philip Hoffman on the 23rd of July, 1967, in Fairport, New York state, a village of approximately one square mile set within the spread-out former farming town of Perinton, itself a suburb of Rochester and close to Lake Ontario. Hoffman himself has described the place as being much like Kansas, but in the past it had been known for its industry. After the building of the Erie Canal, Fairport had been an active port and had thrived through its selling of baking soda, pectin and the original open-top sanitary can, a breakthrough in the safe use of factory-canned goods.
Fairport was rural conservative and far from cosmopolitan (come 2000 its population was still 97% white). But the Hoffmans were relatively well-to-do and certainly more geared towards a cultured life. Philip's father, Gordon S. Hoffman, was a Protestant and a salesman for Xerox, travelling the country to update systems in the early days of computers. His mother Marilyn, meanwhile, a Catholic, was a homemaker keen to widen the minds of her four children - Jill, Gordon Jr, Philip and Emily. In this she would succeed dramatically. She and Gordon would divorce when Philip was 9 and, though the kids would continue to enjoy good relationships with their father, she took it upon herself to mould them, regularly taking them to the theatre and cinema. For herself she began to study law and, an ardent feminist, would hold political meetings in the family's backyard, usually attended by no-nonsense businesswomen and other female high achievers, all divorced and all kicking male ass. Eventually, in 2000, she would be elected to the position of judge, in the same New York election that saw Hillary Clinton made senator (the election would be followed by her son Philip, narrating the documentary Last Party 2000).
In his youth, Philip's biggest influence was probably his elder brother Gordon - very energetic, very creative, very smart. Something of an entrepreneur, Gordon would be forever finding money-making schemes, taking young Philip to cut down trees in someone's yard, or picking strawberries to sell on the street corner. Philip idolized him and, as it so often the way with younger brothers, his efforts to emulate Gordon, to live up to his status as the charismatic Gordon's brother, saw him rise above many of his peers, particularly in sports. By the time he'd reached Fairport High School, he'd revealed a talent for tennis, basketball, baseball, American football and, understandably given his stocky build, wrestling. He'd even smack a few golf balls around the grounds of the Martha Brown Middle School.
Being such a jock, Philip was certainly not dreaming of a life on the stage. He had made a screen debut of sorts, at age 9 playing a prison guard in Gordon's Super-8 suspense movie The Last Escape. Marilyn had taken him on numerous theatre trips and he'd ben impressed, at age 12, by Arthur Miller's All My Sons. Around the same time he recalls being moved by Michael Mann's The Jericho Mile. But when it came to moving people himself, he was more inclined towards hurling, shoulder-charging or pinning them. As said, he was a real jock (which, of course, would lead to many an argument with his feminist mum). His only contribution to the local arts scene was to sabotage neighbourhood plays involving his younger sister, Emily.
Things would change, though, after an unfortunate neck injury received while wrestling. Philip could no longer participate and so looked for another sport on which to concentrate. On his way to a baseball trial he met an older girl to whom he'd taken a serious shine. She was going to audition for a school play and he, consumed by teenage desire, followed her, actually winning a minor role as Jeff Thatcher, buddy of the play's titular Tom Sawyer. As with sports, Hoffman would prove a natural talent, if a tad showy and over-keen. His drama teacher, Midge Marshall (who'd deliberately keep the kids away from the standard musicals in favour of Shakespeare and "serious" material) would later tell how, as Radar in a production of M*A*S*H, he stole one of Hotlips' big scenes and was told he'd never be given a lead till he learned to work within the troupe. It wasn't that he was a rabid attention-seeker, simply that he'd already begun to research and analyse his characters, to exert his imagination in an effort to bring them to life (in this he was being advised by brother Gordon). As such, he was guaranteed to stand out.
But Philip learned quickly. Having been taken to see Robert Downey Jr (only two years his senior) in a 1983 production of Alms For The Middle Classes at the local Geva Theatre, he'd caught the bug and pressed on. In a school adaptation of The Crucible, he impressed Midge Marshall when, playing the minor role of John Proctor's jailer, he bothered to make his character depressed and drunk. Such efforts would win him the lead in the senior class play, Death Of A Salesman. To this, he would devote all his energies. Before the performance, his mother tried to soften the more-than-likely blow of failure by asking what he really wanted from the experience. He replied "I want a standing ovation, because I want them to know how hard I worked". And so he proceeded to slip on a pair of horn-rimmed spectacles and transform himself into the 57-year-old Willy Loman, performing next-to-flawlessly before an audience of 600. At the curtain call, each actor would receive a smattering of polite applause. Hoffman, though, would achieve his goal of bringing the crowd to their feet.
It was all going so well. In the summer before his senior year, Philip had been accepted into a programme for High School kids, run at Saratoga Springs by New York's Circle Repertory Company (here he would meet Bennett Miller and Dan Futterman, some two decades later to serve as director and writer respectively on his major breakthrough hit Capote). 1984 had also brought his first professional job with the local Shipping Dock Theatre, having been plucked from school by director Barbara Biddy for a part in A Breeze In The Gulf.
Graduating in 1985, he enrolled at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts (Bennett Miller would also attend). He knew he wanted to act, but that was about it as far as direction went. He got into drinking, girls and serious loafing. At one point he and some friends attempted to form their own company, to be named Bolstoy, but after reading through one Eugene O'Neill play they decided they were too hungover to rehearse in the mornings, the only suitable time for such extra-curricular work. There would, naturally, be real work, too, Hoffman studying at the Circle In The Square Theatre School, on Broadway at 50th Street and then affiliated to NYU (other alumni include Kevin Bacon, Benicio Del Toro, Felicity Huffman, Linda Fiorentino and Gina Gershon). Various acting methods would be explored and furiously argued over with his fellow thespian drinkers.
Come the end of his university career, having scored a BFA degree in Drama, Hoffman was deeply in love and seriously considering dropping out, he and his girlfriend planning to avoid the conservative traps of jobs and responsibilities and simply "be" together. At least, HE thought they were planning that and was astounded when she suddenly announced she was about to audition for 1989's Williamstown Theatre Festival in the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts. Rapidly getting his butt into gear, he scored an audition, too, and soon found himself performing before director Austin Pendleton, well renowned for his work on film and with Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Pendleton liked Hoffman immediately, later recalling "Phil came in, straight out of college, and he was just exceptionally far along in his work". Hoffman was also exceptionally far along in his attitude. His college drinking and dabbling in other forms of intoxication had by 1989 gone too far. With his dreams of thespian success thus threatened, he panicked and checked into rehab. Soon he was back on track.
Pendleton would hire Hoffman and become something of a mentor. In July, 1989, he'd direct Henry IV Parts I and II at Williamstown, Philip appearing in Part I as a member of the funeral procession, then in Part II as Peter Bullcalf. Hoffman would stick around for August, too, appearing alongside Pendleton as a Peasant's Son in Brecht's Mother Courage, the title role being taken by Olympia Dukakis. Also appearing at Williamstown that year would be Christopher Reeve in John Brown's Body and a young Marisa Tomei in The Rose Tattoo. Still impressed by his young charge, Austin Pendleton would, immediately after Williamstown, cast Hoffman as Edgar in a production of King Lear he was directing at the Hole Theatre in New Jersey.
Now living in New York City, Philip began building his experience in off-off-Broadway productions, in classics and revivals. When he wasn't bumming around, drinking coffee with his mates, he supported himself by working as a waiter, as a children's carer, as a lifeguard at a swimming pool in a high-rise gym (here he enjoyed the thrill of once meeting one of his heroes, Miles Davis), and as a cashier at the trendy restaurant Indochine. Each time he'd eventually be sacked for incompetence brought on by lack of motivation. What he wanted to do was act and, though he had set his heart on a stage career, he was up for screen work. Having taken his grandfather's name to become Philip Seymour Hoffman (Equity already having a Phil Hoffman in their books), 1991 would see him appear on TV in an episode of Law And Order, also featuring Samuel L Jackson, and make a film debut in Amos Poe's Triple Bogey On A Par Five Hole, a kind of comic mockumentary where a family of kids were interviewed by a screenwriter after their robber parents were killed trying to hold up a golfing foursome. He also scored a small role in Cheat, set in a 1750s Europe ravaged by plague, where the lives of two libertines are thrown into turmoil by the appearance of an innocent young brother and sister. Better still, the same year he found himself cast in Al Pacino's upcoming movie Scent Of A Woman.
Having relocated to Los Angeles in pursuit of a young lady, Hoffman now scored a few more small film roles. In 1992's My New Gun, grungey and seemingly irresponsible James Le Gros appropriated a firearm from yuppie neighbours Diane Lane and Stephen Collins, but turned out to be less of a maniac than a sweet, sweet guy, looking after his mum and working hard (alongside Hoffman) at a local fast food outlet. Then there'd be Leap Of Faith where Philip played alongside Meat Loaf as a member of the cynical, trick-laden entourage of Steve Martin, a flamboyant, faith-healing huckster who's not wanted in Sheriff Liam Neeson's small mid-Western town. And then came the release of Scent Of A Woman, the movie that changed everything for him.
Scent Of A Woman saw Chris O'Donnell as a preppie who, needing cash, agrees to look after blind and cantankerous former general Al Pacino who immediately switches their roles and decides to show the kid a riotous good time in New York City. In the meantime, O'Donnell's facing expulsion as he and school-buddy Hoffman know who damaged the headmaster's Jaguar, but won't grass. Won't grass, that is, until Hoffman (amazingly fresh-faced as he was well into his twenties) bottled it under pressure from his rich dad and, swapping smarminess for hangdog treachery, threatened to send O'Donnell down alone. A remake of the 1975 Italian classic, the movie would bring Pacino an Oscar for his outrageous performance. For Hoffman it was even more important. When cast he was still working in the prepared foods section of a deli. Now, having played a major minor role in a money-making, Oscar-winning hit, the domino effect took hold. He would never need to take another non-acting job again.
Though he was still avidly engaged in theatre, he would appear in no fewer than seven movies in the next two years. First would come Joey Breaker, concerning a callous and intolerant New York City talent agent (Philip would play his long-suffering personal assistant) who's forced to re-evaluate his life when he falls for a soon-to-be-leaving Cedella Marley (daughter of Bob). Then there'd be the shlock horror of My Boyfriend's Back, where a high school boy comes back from the dead to continue a relationship with his new girlfriend. She appreciates his devotion while friends and family help the poor zombie requite his need for human flesh, Hoffman playing a young sap who, having accidentally hit himself on the head with an axe, has his stomach revoltingly fed to the undead chap. It's worth noting that this abject slice of silliness featured not only Hoffman but also his mentor Austin Pendleton, as well as the young Renee Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey. And it was directed by Bob Balaban. Bizarre, eh?
Hoffman's last film of 1993 would be Money For Nothing where John Cusack played a Philadelphia dock worker who stumbles upon $1.2 million and, deciding to keep it, spends five dangerous days trying to launder it. Hoffman would shine as a barfly who tries to rat Cusack out and collect the ransom, an abandoned subplot that was far more intriguing than much of the main action. 1994 saw him move on to The Getaway, a remake of the 1972 Steve McQueen thriller where crime boss James Woods springs Alec Baldwin from a Mexican jail and, in repayment, gets Baldwin and his Bonnie Parker-like wife Kim Basinger to turn over a dog-racing track. Helping them in this nefarious endeavour is sadistic thug Michael Madsen and lowlife sidekick Hoffman and, when all goes wrong, a lethal pursuit begins.
The Getaway was a violent movie that made it difficult for the likes of Woods and Hoffman to bring some kind of inner life to their characters. Very different would be The Yearling, a TV adaptation of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, originally filmed in 1946 with Gregory Peck. Set just after the American Civil War, this would see Peter Strauss struggling to raise a family in rural Florida and his young son bringing harsh experience upon himself by adopting a fawn. Close by, meanwhile, live the rival Forrester family, rough and bellowing dealers in venison and moonshine, with Philip appearing as Buck, who likes to drink, fight and (literally) chase women even more than the rest of the boys.
It was already becoming noticeable that Hoffman was making the maximum from the opportunities offered. In When A Man Loves A Woman, where all-controlling airline pilot Andy Garcia attempts to deal with wife Meg Ryan's alcoholism and recovery, it's a powerful moment when he returns home to find her in earnest conversation with a fellow recoverer, the pair sharing an intimacy he and his wife have lost. This was Hoffman, his restrained annoyance at Garcia's interruption and obvious desire for the man to go away making the scene all the more affecting. He'd add weight, too, to Nobody's Fool, where Paul Newman would play a free-spirited old rascal who's been avoiding responsibility all his life, in the process losing his family and his dignity as he's ordered about by boss-man Bruce Willis. Hoffman would provide Newman with a glorious redemptive moment by playing a comically officious warden attempting to bust him for unpaid parking tickets and eventually getting punched out for his pains. It certainly worked as Newman found himself Oscar-nominated for the first time in eight years.
1995 would be a big year for Hoffman, not due to another series of increasingly prominent film roles, but because he so aggressively confirmed his dedication to theatre by joining LAByrinth. This was a New York theatre troupe founded in 1992 to promote Latino actors and writers. By 1995 it had become a multicultural collective, mixing emerging artists with seasoned pros and giving everyone a chance to write, act, direct, design and produce. Hoffman had just met co-founder John Ortiz in November 1994 while performing in The Merchant Of Venice in Chicago and the team spirit Hoffman had begun to learn back in that school production of M*A*S*H made him an ideal collaborator. He'd begin by producing Schmoo, a serio-comic piece combining videos and monologues to give voice to often ignored groups like the young, the old and the mentally impaired. He'd also appear in Divine Horsemen where a botched robbery forces a hit man, a pickpocket and a tired old man to consider the value of life and freedom.
Hoffman would remain with LAByrinth indefinitely, returning regularly, first mostly to act, then to direct and produce. He could even be seen selling sodas in the lobby of their base at Chelsea's Centre Stage on 21st Street. His output now was extremely varied. His only screen appearance of 1995 would be in The Fifteen Minute Hamlet, written by Tom Stoppard and imagining Hollywood-style producers cutting Shakespeare's classic for maximum action. Directed by Todd Luiso (an actor friend Hoffman had met on Scent Of A Woman and with whom he'd shared a flat in the early days) and starring mentor Austin Pendleton, the short would see Philip in multiple roles and would wind up winning Best Short at the New York Comedy Festival.
Between 1996 and 1997, Hoffman would balance his work with LAByrinth and on screen. With the troupe he'd appear in the comic-bookish musical comedy Queen Latina and her Power Posse, and also Race, Religion, Politics which explored prejudice and bonding as construction workers relaxed in a bar. In his cinematic dealings, meanwhile, lasting and vital relationships would be formed. Most important would be Hard Eight, the debut feature of director Paul Thomas Anderson, where old gambling hand Philip Baker Hall takes loser John C Reilly under his wing and shows him the casino ropes, Hoffman popping up as a gregarious Texan on the craps table. Anderson had seen something special in Hoffman in Scent Of A Woman and, having hunted him down for Hard Eight, would cast him in his next three movies, to great success. Hoffman would furthermore strike up a lasting friendship with Reilly that would also be mutually rewarding.
Hoffman's next two movies both saw him deliver knockout performances in minor roles (this had by now become his trademark). In Twister, estranged couple Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton chased after tornados, trying to learn their inner workings before corporate raider Cary Elwes can steal their thunder. Hoffman would play their keen team-mate, energetic and rebellious, treating this deadly pursuit as an extreme sport and thus revving up the audience. Trivia fans will be fascinated to know that, in an early scene where Hoffman is viewed sitting on a lawn chair, a sudden burst of laughter sees him raise one leg and give us a full-on Sharon Stone (his bits were edited out on VHS and DVD). As if to atone for his embarrassment, Twister went on to become a massive $241 million hit and paid him enough to move back to New York.
Hoffman's only cinema release of 1997 would see one of his finest efforts. This was Boogie Nights where Paul Thomas Anderson explored the porn industry of the Seventies, a more innocent time before hardcore and the advent of video. Here porn baron Burt Reynolds would sign up young stud Mark Wahlberg and turn him into sex superstar Dirk Diggler. As we follow his rise and fall, a series of stories play out involving Heather Graham's Rollergirl and a host of Anderson regulars like William H Macy, Julianne Moore and John C Reilly, with Hoffman appearing as Scotty, a star-struck production gofer who falls for young Diggler. The scene where he finally succumbs to his own desire, throws himself upon Wahlberg and is politely but firmly rejected is one of cinema's most cringingly human moments, "Can I kiss you on the mouth?" quickly turning to a mournful "I'm a fucking idiot". Aside from this, Anderson would employ him in the background throughout, knowing that Hoffman's reactions would add reality to every scene. He wasn't wrong.
Hoffman would go AWOL from LAByrinth for much of 1997 and 1998. It wasn't that he was skiving, rather he was devoting all his considerable energies to a succession of features that would see him enjoy no fewer than six releases in 1998. First came the Oscar-nominated short Culture where a young newspaper editor was undermined and ruined by his nasty old biddy of a secretary. Then there'd be the Tarantino-style Montana where fixer Kyra Sedgwick and hit-man Stanley Tucci were hired by crim Robbie Coltrane to track down his drug addict mistress. Hoffman would appear as Coltrane's right-hand man, a noxious Iago who, seeking power for himself, frames Sedgwick and Tucci for the murder of Coltrane's son. Following this would be Next Stop, Wonderland, a Sleepless In Seattle-type romance of near-misses and final bliss where dumped nurse Hope Davis moves ever closer to a sweet guy working at Boston's Aquarium. Here Hoffman would provide the catalyst for the cute action, playing the self-regarding left-wing activist who leaves Davis at the start, providing her with a video explaining his reasons but unhelpfully taking the VCR. Next Stop, Wonderland would be one of the great successes of the Sundance Festival, prompting Harvey Weinstein to cough up $6 million. Sadly, it wouldn't turn out to be his most profitable deal.
More successful would be the Coen brothers' The Big Lebowski, which reunited Hoffman with his Boogie Nights co-star Julianne Moore. Here super-dude Jeff Bridges would find himself assaulted (and his prized rug horribly mistreated) by a gang of thugs mistaking him for a millionaire of the same name. An outraged Bridges then visits the millionaire, demanding a replacement mat, and gets involved in a wildly twisting kidnapping scam, Hoffman appearing as the millionaire's hilariously straight-laced and ingratiating private secretary, struggling to maintain his composure as His Dudeness waxes lyrical. Far blacker would be Todd Solondz's Happiness, a hard-hitting mix of stories concerning emotional incompetence, the search for love, despair, and the essence of normality. Murder and paedophilia would be unflinchingly contemplated, with Hoffman appearing as a sexual fantasist who, in the safety and loneliness of his own room, reads porn, gets drunk and makes obscene calls to women, one of whom is neighbour Lara Flynn Boyle who rather likes it. Another neighbour takes a fancy to him, but he's too introverted to notice, making for a sweet but strange and disconnected romance.
Happiness saw a brave performance from a deliberately overweight and sniffling Hoffman, dressed for the most part only in his tatty underwear. His last outing of 1998, though, would see him resolutely in the mainstream. This was Patch Adams, another attempt to flog Robin Williams' unique brand of buccaneering humanism. Here'd Williams would play a middle-aged med student battling against a coldly machinic system in order to validate his notion that laughter is the best cure for absolutely everything. It was massively sentimental throughout, though Hoffman managed to introduce a little sanity as Williams' conformist room-mate. When Williams accuses him of being a prick, Hoffman wearily replies "Maybe I am. But you ask the average person when death comes knocking at their door whether they want a prick on their side or some kindergarten teacher who's gonna kiss their ass. When that day comes, I want the prick". Most viewers unhesitatingly agreed, but the prick still had enough supporters for Patch Adams to take a healthy $135 million at the US box office.
Aside from those six film releases, 1998 would also see Hoffman back on the stages of New York. At the New York Theatre Workshop he'd appear in Mark Ravenhill's Shopping And Fucking (its run extended twice despite an aggressive press reaction). Next he'd rejoin LAByrinth, making his directorial debut with In Arabia, We'd All Be Kings, where various druggies and whores discuss life in a newly cleaned-up Times Square, and co-producing Dreaming In Tongues, a piece using comedy, music and dance to explore language and communication. Acting as costume designer on In Arabia would be Mimi O'Donnell, a newcomer to LAByrinth. She and Hoffman would begin a relationship and, in 2003, she'd give birth to a son, Cooper Alexander.
That Patch Adams was such a financial success was something of a crime considering the relative failure of Hoffman's next two movies. The first of these was Flawless, director Joel Schumacher's first attempt to get gritty after accusations that he'd glammed up the Batman franchise to a disastrous degree. The film would see Robert De Niro as a homophobic and stultifyingly conservative security guard who, having suffered a severely debilitating stroke, is forced to take rehabilitating singing lessons from his drag queen neighbour, Hoffman. Both leads were superb, De Niro desperate for help but unable to hide his distaste while Hoffman teases and tests him, keeping just the right side of fabulous.
Next would come a reunion with PT Anderson and the usual crew, this time with the addition of Tom Cruise and Jason Robards. Dealing with coincidence, chance and the unpredictabilities of life and love, as well as the pernicious influence of the past, Magnolia was both hugely amusing and heartbreaking as it interwove its tales of deceit and despair, hope and redemption. With every member of the ensemble delivering the goods, it would be tough to make a mark, but Hoffman naturally managed it, bringing massive empathy to his part as the nurse who brings about a death-bed reconciliation between a dying Robards and his macho sex therapist son Cruise.
Where Flawless and Magnolia were critically lauded but financial flops, Hoffman's final film of 1999 was a screaming success on both counts. Directed by Anthony Minghella, set in the 1950s and based on the novels of Patricia Highsmith, The Talented Mr Ripley saw ambitious poor boy Matt Damon sent to Italy to bring back spoilt millionaire's son Jude Law. Befriending Law and his girlfriend Gwyneth Paltrow, he leeches off them and learns their ways, gradually developing a crush on the charismatic Law - an unrequited passion that turns murderous when Law finally tires of him. Hoffman would provide another stirring cameo as Freddie Miles, a rich friend of Law's who both recognises Damon for what he is and cruelly taunts him for it. When Paltrow throws a strop on a yacht and Law reluctantly goes below deck to service her, Damon cannot help but watch from above, leading Hoffman to bait him with a supremely irritating "Tommy, how's the peeking? How's the peeking, Tommy? Tommy, Tommy, Tommy, Tommy . ..."
Very different would be his turn in David Mamet's State And Main where a movie production, respectively directed by and starring former co-stars William H Macy and Alec Baldwin, switches location from New Hampshire to smalltown Vermont and encounters a series of comic problems. Baldwin, already in trouble over his predilection for high school girls, is hunted by Julia Stiles, starlet Sarah Jessica Parker refuses to bare her breasts, and sensitive screenwriter Hoffman must be cajoled into making his script more racy, something he cannot do till aided by sweet local bookshop owner Rebecca Pidgeon. It was an ensemble piece, for sure, but still the closest Hoffman had yet come to a romantic lead.
Hoffman's next role would be small but telling. In Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous, a movie basically covering Crowe's own entry into music journalism, Philip would appear as famed rock hack Lester Bangs, encouraging the boy writer, explaining why it was not only OK but actually advisable for him to be "uncool". Hoffman was on-set for just four days, but he made them count, his opinionated, obsessive Bangs adding weight to a rather frivolous movie.
After filming these last five films, Hoffman was burned out and would, of course, seek to recharge himself in the theatre. He'd play Gene in The Author's Voice at New York's Drama Department. At LAByrinth he'd co-produce Stopless, concerning addiction and spirituality, Orthodox jews and the sex industry. He'd also direct Jesus Hopped The A Train, a very popular two-act drama where a youth on remand on Riker's Island for shooting a cult leader in the buttocks discusses freedom and justice with a brutal prison guard, a lawyer trying to save him and a serial killer who's been born again. Returning to acting, Hoffman would then reunite with friend John C Reilly for Sam Shepard's True West at the Circle In The Square, where Hoffman had studied over a decade before. True West had been launched back in 1980 with Peter Boyle and Tommy Lee Jones starring, then hit a peak in 1982 with John Malkovich and Gary Sinise. Hoffman and Reilly would now breathe new life into it, playing the blocked screenwriter and useless drifter, brothers whose lives are upturned when their roles are strangely reversed. To make the production even more interesting, the two actors would switch roles every three nights, their reasoning being that Shepard considered the two leads, Austin and Lee, to be a single split personality anyway.
If True West was a big stage hit (it also earned Hoffman and Reilly Tony nominations), so was Hoffman's next outing, The Seagull. A new translation by Tom Stoppard, this was directed by Mike Nichols for the Shakespeare In The Park festival and boasted an all-star cast featuring Meryl Streep, Christopher Walken, Kevin Kline, Natalie Portman and John Goodman (earlier Hoffman's co-star in The Big Lebowski). Working with such masters was an opportunity Hoffman could not miss - he's perfectly honest about his need and desire to learn from others - but it did mean he missed the prize-winning triumph of Jesus Hopped The A Train at 2001's Edinburgh Festival.
2001 would end with another theatrical success as Hoffman directed young Oscar-winner Anna Paquin (earlier his co-star in Almost Famous) in her stage debut, The Glory Of Living, an absolute sensation. The next year would see him at last taking the international plaudits for Jesus Hopped The A Train, taking it first to London's Donmar Warehouse, then the West End's Arts Theatre.
2002 would also bring another raft of cinematic releases. First would come Love Liza, a movie first mooted back in 1996 when Philip and his brother Gordon were both home for the Labour Day celebrations and Gordon dared show his brother a script he'd just completed. Now Philip was famous enough for the necessary million dollars to be raised and the film had gone ahead, directed by old friend Todd Luiso, now himself better known as the sensitive record store clerk in High Fidelity and the nanny in Jerry Maguire. Love Liza was an amazing picture, funny and killingly raw, with Hoffman as a website designer who comes home one day to find his wife dead and a suicide note left. Unable to open it, unable to let go, he now spends painful weeks in personality collapse, losing his job, becoming addicted to petrol fumes and joining a motorized toy club to hide his shameful secret. So much of the movie concentrated on Hoffman's face, he had only his eyes and expressions to keep us rapt, and he did it so brilliantly, so movingly no one could deny he was now one of America's finest screen actors.
There'd be three more Hoffman releases in 2002. Next he'd be back with PT Anderson for Punch-Drunk Love where a frustrated Adam Sandler, constantly on the edge of ultra-violence, would enjoy a sweet romance with Emily Watson. Hoffman, in a tiny but effective role, would play his main bugbear, an equally rage-filled scumbag running porn from his Utah mattress company, who sends heavies to batter Sandler when he refuses to pay up in a phone-sex scam (a comic one-minute Hoffman-starring short would appear on the DVD version of the film). This would be followed by Red Dragon, a remake of Michael Mann's Manhunter, featuring Anthony Hopkins, Ed Norton, Ralph Fiennes and, once again, Emily Watson. Here cop Norton would come out of retirement and enlist the help of Hopkins' Hannibal Lecter in catching Fiennes' psychotic Tooth Fairy. Hoffman would arrive as another annoying Freddy, this time tabloid hack Freddy Lounds, a nosey, unethical slimeball who gratifyingly meets a fate even worse than the one Hoffman suffered in My Boyfriend's Back.
After Red Dragon would come Spike Lee's 25th Hour where Hoffman would again appear alongside Ed Norton and Anna Paquin. Here Norton would play a smart drug dealer busted by the DEA and about to start a seven year stretch. He has one day to say goodbye to family and friends, and spends the evening with close buddies Barry Pepper and Hoffman, a geeky, socially inept high school English teacher. After Boogie Nights and Happiness this was another of Hoffman's classic cringers as he's attracted to flirty youngster Paquin. He knows it's wrong but, tortured and tantalized, he circles ever closer to thoroughly inappropriate contact.
Hoffman would now rejoin LAByrinth for their 2002/3 season, directing Our Lady Of 121st Street, where a family contemplated their lives at the funeral of their beloved but feared mother. The production would receive rave reviews in the New York Times, as would Hoffman's next stage effort, Eugene O'Neill's semi-autobiographical A Long Day's Journey Into Night. Directed by Bob Falls, a former colleague from The Merchant Of Venice at Chicago's Goodman Theatre, this saw Hoffman as James Tyrone Jr, the alcoholic son of an actor father Brian Dennehy and druggie mum Vanessa Redgrave, struggling for redemption during a single day at the family's summer house. The play would bring Hoffman his second Tony nomination.
Keen to contribute to theatre in any way he could, Hoffman would in 2003 also teach an advanced Directing The Actor class for one semester at Columbia University's Graduate Film Division. He'd furthermore deliver a masterclass in the movie Owning Mahowny. Actually filmed back in 2001 and based on a true story, this would see him as a Toronto bank VP who steals $10,000 to pay back gambling debts but becomes so addicted to his vice he ends up embezzling $10.2 million. Utterly obsessed with losing more than he can afford, he ignores girlfriend Minnie Driver and fascinates casino manager John Hurt - it was a brilliant portrayal of fixation.
2003 would end with another of those now typical scene-stealing cameos. This was in Cold Mountain, a reunion with Ripley director Anthony Minghella, as well as with former co-stars Jude Law and Natalie Portman (plus My Boyfriend's Back underling Renee Zellweger). Here Law is pulled from a blossoming love affair with Nicole Kidman and tossed into the bloody mayhem of the American Civil War. His slow homecoming would be a true odyssey with a succession of dramatic encounters, one of which would be with Hoffman, playing a disgraced and debauched priest attempting to drown a black woman he's made pregnant. Joining Law on his journey, for a while he adds leavening humour as he bargains with prostitutes, shamelessly steals things and explains the reasons why God really doesn't mind.
The next year would see a return to comedy with Along Came Polly, another big hit where risk assessor Ben Stiller's marriage collapses and he takes the unusually daring step of dating a seemingly incompatible Jennifer Aniston. Amidst the slapstick and the projectile vileness, Hoffman would play Stiller's best friend, a former child star tormented by people thinking he was dead, and forever falling on slippery floors. There'd be more comedy in 2005's Strangers With Candy, a big screen prequel to the 1999-2001 TV series where Amy Sedaris starred as a 47-year-old former junkie whore returning to high school. Hoffman would appear very briefly as a member of the Board of Education but most would have to wait to see it as Warners, recently sued for millions over The Dukes Of Hazzard, secured definite copyright clearance for any posters and background props used in the film.
Strangers With Candy aside, 2005 would be another big year for Hoffman. On stage, for LAByrinth, he'd direct Eric Bogosian and Sam Rockwell in The Last Days Of Judas Iscariot, written by Stephen Adly Guirgis, who'd earlier penned Our Lady Of 121st Street and Jesus Hopped The A Train. On TV there'd be Empire Falls, a four-hour HBO miniseries set in a forgotten town in Maine where repressed diner-manager Ed Harris is trying to keep his family together under extreme financial pressure. As Harris's story gradually unfolds, in flashback we see his mother, Robin Wright Penn meet mysterious stranger Hoffman on a visit to Martha's Vineyard, a meeting that has serious repercussions for Harris, his family and the town itself. Based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Richard Russo (who also penned Hoffman's Nobody's Fool), it was a classy production all round, with Hoffman himself being nominated for an Emmy.
Hoffman's next film would be the one that made him a household name - Capote. Written and directed by his old Saratoga Springs camp-mates Dan Futterman and Bennett Miller (and featuring his My Boyfriend's Back director Bob Balaban), this would follow writer Truman Capote from 1959 to 1965, from when he reads an article on the Clutter family murders in Kansas through to the publishing of his famous book about the case, In Cold Blood. With Catherine Keener as his sidekick, transcriber and conscience, Hoffman was literally amazing as the brilliant, waspish and openly homosexual southern gentleman Capote, with his strange affectations and odd high-pitched voice. But it was not just a physical characterisation, he also had to deal with Capote's emotional and moral dilemma as, having befriended killer Perry Smith, he actually needs him to die to complete his book. No one was surprised when Hoffman won a Golden Globe and a BAFTA for his efforts, as well as that coveted Oscar.
That Hoffman should follow Capote with Mission: Impossible III was not a surprise. He did, after all, know its star Tom Cruise well from Magnolia. Beyond this, Cruise was looking for a rare form of villain - a human being who's gone insane. When Kenneth Branagh dropped out, who better to call than Hoffman, one of the finest screen actors of his generation. Thus he turned in a fine performance as an irredeemable swine selling arms to Arab terrorists and North Koreans, kidnapped by agent Cruise and, remaining ever insolent, turning the tables. Naturally, the effects came first, but Hoffman did lend a slight sense of real danger.
Hoffman would have no releases in 2006, then return the next year with a triple whammy. First would come The Savages where he and Laura Linney would be brother and sister, both of them emotionally damaged by their early life with foul-mouthed and aggressive father Philip Bosco. With Bosco now on the way out, they are forced to care for their father, examining their past at the same time. It would be a moving comedy drama, with great characterisations, with Hoffman a professor and reluctant carer, unable to commit to his Polish girlfriend even when he could save her from deportation. Linney would be Oscar nominated for her efforts, Hoffman being nominated for a Golden Globe. After this would come Sidney Lumet's Before The Devil Knows You're Dead, where Hoffman and Ethan Hawke would play brothers both in need of cash, the otherwise respectable Hoffman because of his drug habit, Hawke because he's losing his family. They plan to rob their father Albert Finney's jewellery store - no one gets hurt, the insurance will cover it - but it all goes wrong, , leading to deep guilt, grief and remorse. As you'd expect from Lumet, it was tight, credible, moving and intriguing.
Hoffman's final release of 2007 would be Charlie Wilson's War, directed by Mike Nichols, who'd earlier directed Hoffman in Central Park. Set in the 1980s and based on a true story, this would see Tom Hanks as a hard-drinking, womanising Democrat politician joining forces with Julia Roberts' right-wing socialite to arm the Afghans in their struggle against the invading Russians. A complex deal must be brokered whereby Israeli arms are shifted through Pakistan and this involves Hoffman, a chain-smoking, also hard-drinking maverick CIA agent with a chubby gut and poncey hairdo. He's frustrated at being wasted by the agency and revels in the plan, delivering a series of great speeches, caustic insider talk of the highest order. It was an excellent political comedy, complicated but easily understandable, and Hoffman would find himself Oscar nominated once again. Really, he could have been nominated for any of his releases in 2007.
It was a busy time. Hoffman and Mimi O'Donnell had in 2006 had another child, daughter Tallulah, and 2007 would see him back in theatre. From February to April he'd be back at LAByrinth for Bob Glaudini's comedy Jack Goes Boating. Then, at the end of the year, he'd be off to Australia to direct Andrew Upton's Riflemind for the Sydney Theatre Company (Upton and wife Cate Blanchett being about to take over as artistic directors of the company). This was a tale of drugs, betrayal and resentment concerning a rock band considering a comeback, Hugo Weaving playing the moody, guilty singer and Marton Csokas his jealous brother. Hoffman would be back at LAByrinth in March of 2008 to direct and appear briefly in The Little Flower Of East Orange at Manhattan's Public Theatre, once again written by Stephen Adly Guirgis. In September, he'd take Riflemind to London, where John Hannah would take the lead at the Trafalgar Studios. Unfortunately, perhaps due to potential audiences suffering from the banking crisis, the play would close in October, three months early.
Onscreen, 2008 would bring yet more prestigious releases. First there'd be Synecdoche, New York, written and directed by Charlie Kaufman. Filmed in the Bronx (and therefore keeping Hoffman close to his family), this would see him as a visionary theatre director - arrogant, vulnerable and self-pitying - who aims to blow Broadway away with the harsh reality of his new work and attempts to build a replica New York City in a warehouse. He'd have almighty problems, though, with the women in his life, ruining his marriage to Catherine Keener (his co-star in Capote), chasing after Samantha Morton, then Michelle Williams, then Emily Watson and receiving unhelpful advice from therapist Hope Davis. Eventually a mystery illness begins to rob him of his faculties and his disintegrating life begins to blend with the fiction of his play. It was challenging and uplifting stuff. After this would come the powerful drama of Doubt, winner of a Tony and Pulitzer for writer/director John Patrick Shanley (who'd earlier won an Oscar for Moonstruck). Set in a Bronx junior school in 1964, this would see Meryl Streep (Hoffman's co-star in the Seagull) as a headmistress nun, stern and autocratic, who does not see eye-to-eye with Hoffman's Father Flynn, a genial priest and sports coach who relates well to the locals. When Streep is informed that one of the pupils has begun to act strangely, she suspects Hoffman of paedophilia and relentlessly seeks a confession from the outraged clergyman. The movie would see Hoffman nominated for an Oscar, a Golden Globe and a BAFTA.
2009 would see Hoffman lending his voice to the extraordinary claymation short Mary and Max, created by Adam Elliot who'd won an Oscar for his short Harvey Krumpet six years before. Mary And Max would concern two pen-friends, a chubby girl from suburban Melbourne and an obese Jewish New Yorker suffering from Asperger's Syndrome. It was melancholy, moving and true, and would also feature such Australian superstars as Toni Collette, Eric Bana and Barry Humphries. Hoffman's next feature would be foreign-made, too. This was The Boat That Rocked, written and directed by Richard Curtis, the tale of a pirate radio station defying the authorities by broadcasting from out on the North Sea back in 1966. Hoffman would play one of the DJ's, the self-styled Count of Cool, competing in the decadence stakes with his groovy Brit rival Rhys Ifans, much to the frustration of long-suffering station boss Bill Nighy.
Considering Hoffman's future, several things are certain. He will continue to teach in schools. He will continue to support LAByrinth and other small but vital theatre projects, and he will star on Broadway. On film, he will continue to upstage the great and the good with magnificently well-considered cameos. And, should the right projects come along, he will headline in his own right. As we know from Love Liza, the guy can carry a movie just with his face. Philip Seymour Hoffman - we salute you.