Hoffman, Philip Seymour
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Born July 23, 1967, in Fairport, NY; companion of Mimi O'Donnell (a costume designer); children: Cooper (with O'Donnell). Education: New York University, B.F.A., 1989.
Actor in films, including: Triple Bogey on a Par Five Hole, 1991; Szuler, 1992; Scent of a Woman, 1992; Leap of Faith, 1992; My Boyfriend's Back, 1993; Sliver, 1993; When a Man Loves a Woman, 1994; Twister, 1996; Hard Eight, 1996; Boogie Nights, 1997; The Big Lebowski, 1998; Happiness, 1998; The Talented Mr. Ripley, 1999; Magnolia, 1999; Flawless, 1999; Almost Famous, 2000; State and Main, 2000; Love Liza, 2002; Punch-Drunk Love, 2002; 25th Hour, 2002; Owning Mahowny, 2003; Cold Mountain, 2003; Along Came Polly, 2004; Strangers with Candy, 2005; Capote, 2005; Mission: Impossible III, 2006. Television appearances include: Law & Order, 1990; The Yearling, 1994; Empire Falls, 2005. Stage appearances include: Food and Shelter, Vineyard 15th Street Theatre, New York City, 1991; The Merchant of Venice, Goodman Theatre, Chicago, IL, 1994-95; Defying Gravity, American Place Theatre, New York City, 1997-98; True West, Circle in the Square Theatre, New York City, 2000; Long Days Journey into Night, Broadway production, 2003. Also co-artistic director of the LAByrinth Theater Company, New York City, and director of productions for it, including: Jesus Hopped the A Train, 2000; Our Lady of 121st Street, 2003.
Awards: Golden Globe award for best performance by a male actor in a film, Hollywood Foreign Press Association, for Capote, 2006; Screen Actors Guild award for best performance by a male actor in a film, for Capote, 2006; Academy Award for best actor, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, for Capote, 2006.
After spending more than a decade as a character actor best known for his scene-stealing secondary roles, Philip Seymour Hoffman appeared as the lead in Capote in 2005. His portrayal of Truman Capote—a gifted but controversial writer as well as one of the few openly gay celebrities in his day— won him critical acclaim as well as an Academy Award for Best Actor. The film chronicled the story behind In Cold Blood, a 1966 nonfiction crime thriller that would become Capote's most enduring work. "Hoffman, in his sublime, must-see feat of a performance, plays that famous foppish lilt like a hypnotist's instrument, " asserted Entertainment Weekly critic Owen Gleiberman, "getting you to forget, in 30 seconds, that you're seeing an impersonation. He makes Capote a mesmerizing raconteur who gets people to trust him by nudging his fragility and genius into the center of every encounter."
Born in 1967, Hoffman grew up near Rochester, New York. His father worked for one of the area's biggest employers, Xerox, and his mother was an attorney and civil rights activist who later became a family-court judge. By his teen years, Hoffman's parents had divorced, and he was a year-round athlete who played football and baseball, and also put his solid, somewhat stocky frame to use on the highschool wrestling team. A neck injury from that sport ended his athletic career. He joined his school's drama club almost entirely by accident, when a young woman whom he liked walked past him in school, and he asked her, "'Where you going?' And she goes, 'I'm going to audition for a play.'" Hoffman recalled in an interview with Steve Kroft for the CBS newsmagazine 60 Minutes. "And I turned around. And I followed her in.… And then all of a sudden it's not about the crush. All of a sudden you realize you like doing theater."
Hoffman became so involved in his new hobby that he went away to acting camp. At the New York State Summer School of the Arts in 1984, he met two fellow thespians who would become lifelong friends, Dan Futterman and Bennett Miller. Futterman later wrote the Capote screenplay, which Miller would direct. All three went on to New York University together, enrolling in its Tisch School of the Arts. After graduating with a B.F.A. in drama, Hoffman began appearing in Off-Broadway plays. He made his television debut in a 1990 episode of Law & Order and appeared in his first big-screen role, Triple Bogey on a Par Five Hole, a year later.
Hoffman spent the next five years appearing in a slew of movies, but almost always in supporting or minor roles. These include a nasty prep-schooler in Scent of a Woman, and as the post-recovery pal Meg Ryan's character befriends in When a Man Loves a Woman. His career fortunes began to change around 1996, when he appeared in the big-budget Hollywood action-pic Twister, and then in Hard Eight, one of the first feature films by writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson.
When Anderson was writing his next project, an epic overview of the Southern California pornography industry set in the 1970s, he wrote a part specifically with Hoffman in mind for it. Boogie Nights was one of the most talked-about movies of 1997, and among the sprawling cast several of its smaller roles—Hoffman's as well as those of Heather Graham and Alfred Molina—proved to be terrific, exceptional parts. Hoffman was Scotty, a chubby, tank-top-wearing sound technician for porn films who harbors an unrequited crush on the movie's lead, played by Mark Wahlberg.
A year later, Hoffman earned further kudos for his role as the reclusive obscene-phone-caller Allen in Todd Solondz's Happiness. He continued to work with outside-the-Hollywood-mainstream filmmakers like Anderson and Solondz, but also began to win roles in more conventional projects, too. He was the malevolent friend of Jude Law in The Talented Mr. Ripley, and was one of the two leads in Flawless, a 1999 film directed by Joel Schumacher, known for his big-budget Hollywood films like A Time To Kill. In it, Hoffman played Rusty, an oversized drag queen, who befriends and helps his conservative, somewhat rigidly macho neighbor (Robert DeNiro) recover from a stroke through singing lessons. Flawless was trounced by critics, but most gave Hoffman high marks for excelling in a somewhat daring job for any actor to tackle.
Hoffman appeared in Magnolia, another film from Anderson, and in Almost Famous, the 2000 Cameron Crowe period piece about a teenaged rock journalist in the 1970s. Hoffman was cast in a cameo of sorts, as the real-life Lester Bangs, the legendary music writer sometimes credited with coining the term punk rock. In the film, Bangs mentors the younger writer over the phone with his characteristic wry humor. Hoffman displayed his talent for effortlessly segueing between unusual roles that same year when he made his Broadway debut in a revival of Sam Shepard's True West. His co-star was John C. Reilly, a fellow actor out of Paul Thomas Anderson's informal ensemble. For the two lead roles of a pair of brothers, the actors actually switched parts every few days to keep things fresh. The production won enthusiastic reviews from critics and even set box-office records at its home, Circle in the Square Theatre.
Hoffman went on to appear in his first big-screen romantic lead role, as the screenwriter in State and Main, a David Mamet film, and in his first genuinely starring role in Love Liza. The 2002 film was written by Hoffman's brother Gordy, and featured Hoffman as a grief-stricken, gasoline-huffing widower still trying to come to terms with his wife's suicide. Todd McCarthy, reviewing the movie for Daily Variety, noted that Hoffman was rather nondescript-looking, but "as he almost always has in his numerous impressive character turns, the actor here displays a live-wire personality that makes him a magnetic figure even when portraying a state of thoroughgoing misery."
Hoffman seemed to gravitate toward characters who were either unlikable or a bit pathetic. He was the underworld mastermind who torments Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love, another Anderson film, and then the nebbish English teacher in Spike Lee's 25th Hour, another 2002 release. He played a compulsive gambler in Owning Mahowny, showed up briefly as a disgraced preacher in Cold Mountain, and proved his comic chops next to Ben Stiller in Along Came Polly. Other pre- Capote credits include the HBO mini-series Empire Falls, which garnered him an Emmy nomination.
Capote took several years to bring to the screen. Futterman, Hoffman's longtime friend, had written the screenplay in between acting jobs on Will & Grace and Judging Amy, and Hoffman agreed to star in it and serve as executive producer; the other member of their summer-camp trio, Miller, would direct. It was an impressive task for all—Miller's sole directing job before this had been for a 1998 documentary, and Futterman had no other screenwriting credits. Hoffman's reputation helped them get meetings with studio executives, but even he had his doubts about the project—especially when he began studying footage of Capote, who died in 1984. The Alabama-raised writer was a notoriously flamboyant character, and known for delivering scathing verbal bon mots with a pronounced lisp. Even Hoffman's natural voice was several octaves lower than Capote's, and once he began watching the talk-show clips from the 1960s and '70s, "I thought, 'Oh. My. God. There's no way I'm going to do that, '" he told Richard Corliss in Time. "I thought, 'If we never get the money, we'll all be off the hook.'"
Financial backing for the project was forthcoming, however, and the cast spent the summer of 2004 shooting in Winnipeg, Manitoba, a stand-in for the rural Kansas community where Capote researched In Cold Blood. By the time Capote showed up in Holcomb, Kansas, in 1959 on assignment for the New Yorker, he had enjoyed a decade's worth of New York literary fame. He was drawn to the story of a brutal family slaying that had rocked the quiet farm community, and morbidly fascinated by the two misfits who had been arrested for it. Capote chronicles the arduous six-year process it took to write what became In Cold Blood, which broke new literary ground as a much-copied merging of nonfiction reporting with a novelist's approach to prose.
Hoffman stayed in character during the entire five-week shoot, which resulted in what critics immediately described as an Oscar-worthy performance. "Hoffman starts with the physical and works inward to the soul, " noted David Denby, the New Yorker's film critic. "He's only a few years older than Capote was when he went to Kansas, but his thicker features seem to forecast the coarsening of face and body and the spreading spiritual rot that afflicted the writer in the years after the book came out." The Advocate, a newsmagazine devoted to gay and lesbian issues, also commended Hoffman for a nuanced portrait of an imperfect human who nevertheless possessed an immense talent. "Capote could easily be portrayed as a vain, silly figure—played for laughs, as gay men, especially 'sissies, ' so often are, " its reviewer asserted. "But Hoffman exhibits the keen intelligence and seductive empathy that helped this exotic creature win the trust of informants."
Nearly every review had unstinting praise for some aspect of Capote, which garnered an Academy Award for Hoffman as well as nominations for Miller and Futterman. Critiquing it in the New York Times, A.O. Scott ventured that the process of writing In Cold Blood is a large part of the plot, and that in the end the biopic serves as "the story of a writer's vexed, all-consuming relationship with his work, and therefore with himself. This makes for better drama than you might expect. Capote's human connections are, for the most part, secondary and instrumental, which makes Philip Seymour Hoffman's performance all the more remarkable, since he must connect with the audience without piercing the membrane of his character's narcissism."
Even Hoffman's co-star, Catherine Keener as the writer Harper Lee, was nominated for an Oscar for her part. Hoffman tried to distance himself from the media-fueled frenzy of what had become the annual Oscar race. His next film role was a somewhat drastic departure from Capote, but Mission: Impossible III did return him to the screen with Tom Cruise, his co-star in one of Magnolia's vignettes. When not on location, Hoffman lives in Greenwich Village, and has a toddler son with his partner Mimi O'Donnell, a costume designer. Guarding his privacy, Hoffman rarely talks about his family or his past, but he did reveal a prior drinking and drug problem to Kroft in the 60 Minutes interview. He still revisits his theater roots occasionally, taking on acting or directing jobs for the LAByrinth Theater Company. "If you can go to the theatre, and you're in a room with a bunch of other people, and what's happening in front of you is not happening. But you actually believe it is. If I can do that, I've done my job, " he explained to Kroft. "And that's the thing—that is a drug.… That's something you get addicted to."
Advocate, October 11, 2005, p. 100.
Daily Variety, January 23, 2002, p. 10.
Entertainment Weekly, October 16, 1998, p. 57; November 19, 1999, p. 62; October 7, 2005, p. 30, p. 49.
Independent (London, England), November 17, 2000, p. 11; May 15, 2002, p. 16.
New Yorker, October 10, 2005, p. 94.
New York Times, March 28, 2000, p. B1; September 27, 2005, p. E1.
Time, October 3, 2005, p. 74.
"Philip Seymour Hoffman Gets Candid, " CBSNews. com, http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/ 02/16/60minutes/main1323924.shtml (February 20, 2006).