Despite the emotionally complex and often tortured roles depicted on screen, movie audiences often believe that the actors, by contrast, walk off the set to glamorous and joyful Hollywood lives. Consequently, when Philip Seymour Hoffman died on Sunday, Feb. 2, the news shocked viewers who were unaware of the actor’s lifelong struggle with drug addiction. Hoffman is survived not only by his partner and three children, but by the host of disturbed characters he masterfully depicted and the filmmakers he worked with to craft these performances.
Movie audiences are familiar with many director-actor partnerships. Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter are predictable stars in any Tim Burton movie, while Michael Caine has acted in every Christopher Nolan movie since “Batman Begins.” Hoffman was director Paul Thomas Anderson’s muse. He appeared in five of Anderson’s six feature films beginning in 1996 with “Boogie Nights” and ending with “The Master” in 2012, in which he played Lancaster Dodd, a character thought to be loosely based on the founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard. As in all of his films, Hoffman played the character with the rare depth and complexity that only a select few actors can achieve.
Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin worked with Hoffman on the films “Moneyball” and “Charlie Wilson’s War.” His painful yet honest obituary in Time magazine remembers Hoffman as “this kind, decent, magnificent, thunderous actor, who was never outwardly ‘right’ for any role but who completely dominated the real estate upon which every one of his characters walked.” Those who worked with Hoffman felt the haunted persona that fed his characters as well as his destruction.
In the days since his death, Hoffman has been hailed as one of the greatest actors of this generation, although he generally was not included in Hollywood’s glittery, movie star cliques. He played characters with commitment, whether for an Academy Award nominated biopic or a teen dystopian series. Although he was honored only once with an Academy Award for his performance as Truman Capote in the film “Capote,” viewers will remember him for the extensive breadth and passion he demonstrated in his career.