The news last week that American actor Philip Seymour Hoffman had died of a suspected drug overdose devastated Hollywood and left the international community mourning the loss of an extraordinary talent.
Hoffman first truly entered popular consciousness playing insecure microphone-operator and repressed homosexual, Scotty J, in Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic Boogie Nights. Whilst only featuring as a member of the supporting cast, his was a character perfectly realised, with a remarkable and a poignant depth. Unequivocally, it was his astonishing gift of imbuing his portrayals with an inherent sense of tragedy, that not only made him incredibly watchable but evoked unprecedented sympathy – even for some of his least sympathetic roles. Notable amongst these is Allen, the loner who satisfies himself making anonymous and perverted phone calls, in Todd Solondz’s unashamedly bleak black-comedy Happiness.
Notwithstanding the garnering of wide critical acclaim, it wasn’t until 2005 that Hoffman would be celebrated with his first major award, winning Best Actor at The Academy Awards, the Baftas and the Golden Globes, for his beat-perfect portrayal of Truman Copete in the eponymously titled film.Despite being vastly dissimilar physically to Capote, he produced an uncanny likeness to the literary icon.
Arguably, however, his most memorable, and perhaps his greatest role was that of Lancaster Dodd, the insidiously mercurial cult-leader in 2012’s exceptional film The Master. An incredibly distilled character piece, Hoffman and Phoenix’s execution was mesmeric, each actor playing off one another like athletes at the peak of their game.
In the year that followed he endeared himself to audiences of a new and younger generation, charging the relatively one-dimensional Plutarch Heavensbee with Hoffman’s own dynamic charisma in the Hunger Games franchise – the final instalments of which will be released posthumously.
True artisan, termed an ‘actor’s actor’, Hoffman, managed throughout his career to slip seamlessly between American independent cinema, and the big-budget Hollywood blockbusters. In addition to his on-screen performances he enjoyed spells on and off Broadway, where he gained further critical accolades, as well as receiving three Tony nominations. His performance as Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman is amongst his most celebrated.
Fans of his work may find some small comfort in the knowledge that there are still Hoffman films yet to make general release: along with the aforementioned Hunger Game franchise, both God’s Pocket and A Most Wanted Man premiered at Sundance this year.
Few actors can boast the same credibility or unquestioned reliability of Hoffman’s name and his talismanic gift; we are at liberty to surmise that he never produced an off day or a bad film. That the fact he will never get a chance to is what makes this so hopelessly sad.
Philip Seymour Hoffman will forever be the subject of doting adoration and his sheer wealth of work lauded as that of genius; he was and always will be an actor first and a star second.