Philip Seymour Hoffman

Appended Legend of the Month – Philip Seymour Hoffman

I can’t remember when I first saw Philip Seymour Hoffman in a film. It might have been Boogie Nights, which, when I first watched  it, I loved because you saw boobs in it. Later, I appreciated that it was Heather Graham’s boobs, and later still, I appreciated the movie for itself.  There was so much to love about the movie; it was stylish, hard, had great music, great performances, great dialogue, and it was edgy. Maybe I thought Philip Seymour Hoffman, who plays the strange, gay, shy crew member, Scotty J., was just a bit of a weirdo who played a character closely related to himself. I enjoyed his performance, but it didn’t quite make me the PSH fan I would eventually become.

I think, possibly, the next time I saw him on screen was in Along Came Polly, the Ben Stiller rom-com. I would have thought I recognized Ben Stiller’s best friend. I remember him ‘sharting’ at a party and having to leave and finding it the funniest thing in that movie.

Then I saw him in Mission Impossible III, which is a film vastly improved upon its predecessor, thanks largely to PSH’s hard-nosed performance. Perhaps at this point it would have been a frustrating moment to remember what else I’d seen this villain in, I would have IMDBed him, and realised it was Scotty J. But, very not Scotty J. I was sold. This guy could act.

This is when I went out of my way to see more PSH. The previous film he’d done was Capote, which I never found myself in the mood for. I was now in the mood. Not surprisingly he won an Oscar for his performance.

I loved PSH in Punch Drunk Love. I loved him in Magnolia, Patch Adams, The Talented Mr. Ripley, The Big Lebowski. He could play the gentle nurse, the trusty P.A., the big-talking, sleaze-ball carpet salesman-cum-sex phone business man. He could do it all and I loved the films he was in, because he was in them, being brilliant (often among other reasons).

He seemed able to change his voice, sometimes booming, sometimes mousey. He could portray his character instantly by the way he held his shoulders, or where his eyes looked, how his mouth moved; he could control it all. To really understand the range he had in his locker, compare his Allen in Happiness to his Gust Avakrotos in Charlie Wilson’s War. Compare his Father Brendan Flynn in Doubt to his Andy in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead.

Philip Seymour Hoffman was a legend of an actor. He was critically acclaimed, a best actor Academy Award winner; everything you could want as an actor. Loved in theatre as much as on screen, he was  nominated for three Tony awards. But nothing was below him, and often I loved him as much in his less serious roles than his serious ones. Take for example his turn as The Count in The Boat That Rocked (U.S. Pirate Radio). The Count is the man all men want to be. He was funny, lively, energetic, and just, to be honest, cool.

He was in many more films I loved: Scent of a Woman, The Ides of March, Synecdoche, New York and Moneyball. But possibly topping all of his roles, was when he truly became a master in The Master, his fifth, and tragically final, Paul Thomas Anderson movie. He was at his brilliant, in control, scene dominating best and again, not surprisingly, he was nominated for an Oscar for the fourth time (I very much enjoyed Christoph Waltz in Django Unchained but personally I would have given the award to my man, PSH).

I was driving my car on the way to play football when I heard snippets of the radio, “Seymour Hoffman… in his New York apartment…”. It was lucky I was stopped at a red light because I was shocked and completely devastated. I turned the radio up, “…needle in his arm…” A friend in the passenger seat took out his phone, looked up the news and confirmed that yes; PSH was gone. Aaron Paul agreed that we’d “lost one of the greats today”.

I couldn’t believe it was drugs. I didn’t, to my disappointment, know PSH personally. Even as a huge fan of his work, I had never looked into his personal life, all I knew about him was his movie roles.

It turns out he had been outspoken about his predilection for substances. When he graduated from college he went to rehab for drug and alcohol abuse. He spoke openly saying he took, “anything I could get my hands on. I liked it all.” He was in rehab again in 2013 for alcohol and heroin abuse. I never heard any of this, I suppose this great champion of his craft wasn’t as interesting as Lindsay Lohan.

But still, I was shocked and hurt that something as arbitrary as drugs could have taken him away. I wouldn’t have pegged him as the drugs type (knowing nothing about him). But what a stupid thing. He was only forty-six. I don’t know what PSH was going through mentally. Obviously he wasn’t as happy as I’d have liked him to be (or maybe he was a little too happy). People turn to drugs for all sorts of reasons, it’s a shame, but it’s the truth. I hate that drugs have now taken another Great from us, but it’s also tragic that he had this problem. If nothing else, I hope it helps to highlight to naïve people that drugs really are dangerous.

I chose to do this article on Philip Seymour Hoffman as an “Appended Legend of the Month” because I think PSH was a true legend of the screen and his death did – more than most celebrity deaths –  kind of, affect my day.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, July 1967 – February 2014.