The Philip Seymour Hoffman I Knew

Of course, I didn’t know Philip Seymour Hoffman.  But like the rest of you, I knew the version of him that he gave us in his movies and interviews.  I loved that version because he was hilarious and serious and chubby and flawed and honest and vulnerable.

Since writing is cathartic and I’m as confused about his death as everyone else, I’m making a list of the Philip Seymour Hoffman roles that will most haunt me.  I’m hoping it helps.

5. Along Came Polly (2004)

Hoffman was the only memorable part of this movie.  It’s a Ben Stiller rom-com, so I sleepily watched it, but when the scene drops with Hoffman on the basketball court I woke up.  Hoffman nails the character of Sandy Lyle (what a great name).  I love this role, because his hilarity completely took me by surprise.  My favorite quotes bellowed by Lyle as he misses shot after shot: Make it rain!  Raindance!  Raindrops!  White chocolate!

Philip Seymour Hoffman4. Fresh Air Interview with Terry Gross (2008)

This was the interview that gave me a glimpse into Hoffman as a man.  I was in awe listening to his approach to craft.  His desire to find the flaws in his characters and make those flaws naked was inspiring.  He felt so damn human.  And humble.  I recall Gross asking him at one point about his relationship to alcohol.  He told Gross that he has no idea how anyone has just one drink.  He understood that he was an addict and one drink would lead to twenty.  That response has been with me since his death.

3. The Big Lebowski (1998)

Brandt!  His reaction when Bunny Lebowski (Terra Reid) propositions the Dude (Jeff Bridges) shows Hoffman’s ability to stay in character in even the wildest of moments.  It’s brilliant straight man comedy, and different from his hilarity in Along Came Polly.  Let’s recap.

Bunny: I’ll suck your cock for a thousand dollars.

Brandt: Ah hahahahaha.  Wonderful woman.  We’re all very fond of her.  Very free-spirited.

Bunny: Brandt can’t watch, though, or he has to pay a hundred.

Brandt: Ah haha.  That’s marvelous.

2. Capote (2005)

I’m not going to say anything about his portrayal of Truman Capote that hasn’t been said.  His work in this film is genius in the real sense of the word: the voice, the mannerisms, the duplicity of character.  When I think Truman Capote, I think Philip Seymour Hoffman.

1. Love Liza (2002)

This movie ripped my heart out of my chest cavity and threatened to never put it back.  For whatever reason, it’s this performance by Hoffman that will always haunt me.  Maybe it’s the presence of his wife’s suicide letter Hoffman’s character Wilson Joel carries with him throughout the movie.  Perhaps it’s his raw back and forth with Kathy Bates.  Or possibly it’s his character’s decision to begin huffing gasoline to suppress the pain of loss.  It’s a character walking into the abyss.  It’s dark.  It’s gripping.  It’s beautiful.  Most likely all these reasons combined won’t allow me to shake this performance in the wake of Hoffman’s death.

That helped.  A little.  We’re all blessed to have laid witness to the brilliance of a great actor.  Rest in peace, Mr. Hoffman.

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