“I’m afraid I’ll be the kind of actor who thought he would make a difference and didn’t. Right now, though, I feel like I made a little bit of difference.”
Philip Seymour Hoffman said this sometime before he was found dead on Feb. 2. Although his acting career was cut short by his untimely death, Hoffman most certainly did make a big difference.
In the span of his 23-year career, Hoffman appeared in more than 50 films. His portrayal of Truman Capote in Bennett Miller’s “Capote” (2005) won him the Academy Award for Best Actor. Additionally, he was nominated for Academy Awards three times for supporting roles.
As a child, Hoffman had no aspirations to become an actor. He was primarily passionate about sports, competitively wrestling and playing baseball until he was 15. This changed when he saw a stage production of Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons.” After a neck injury brought an end to his sporting career at the age of 14, Hoffman joined a drama club and developed a passion for acting.
In 1991, he made his onscreen debut in an episode of “Law & Order.” The following year, Hoffman had his first cinema role in the independent film “Triple Bogey on a Par Five Hole.” This was followed by a series of small, supporting roles in films throughout the early ’90s.
In 1996, Hoffman was cast by writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson for a brief role in his debut film, “Hard Eight.” This began the most important collaboration of Hoffman’s career. He would go on to work with the writer-director in four more films: “Boogie Nights” (1997), “Magnolia (1999), “Punch-Drunk Love” (2002) and “The Master” (2012).
After beginning to experience widespread popularity and critical success, Hoffman went on to appear in more than 40 more films. He appeared in Hollywood blockbusters including “Mission: Impossible III” (2006) and three of the four “The Hunger Games” films. He also starred in critically acclaimed independent films, including “The Savages” (2007), “Doubt” (2008) and “Synecdoche, New York” (2008).
In addition to his film career, Hoffman experienced an abundance of success in live theater. His performances in “True West” (2000) and “Death of a Salesman” (2012) earned him two Tony Award nominations for Best Leading Actor. He also received a Best Featured Actor Tony Award nomination for his performance in “Long Day’s Journey into Night” (2003).
Merely listing the critical and commercial highlights of Hoffman’s prolific career, however, diminishes the value of his unique versatility. Hoffman often performed in small or obscure roles that no other celebrity actor would dare attempt. He could play degenerates. He could play unattractive losers. He could play assholes. Hoffman brought humanity, depth and passion to the most despicable, small and unlikely roles.
He brought quirky intrigue to the Coen brothers’ “The Big Lebowski” (1998) with his meticulously brilliant portrayal of an unrelenting, sycophantic personal assistant. Despite having the flu for the entirety of filming, his portrayal of an aging rock journalist in “Almost Famous” (2000) gave the film a uniquely conflicted generational depth. He expertly executed the delicate role of a desperately virtuous nurse in Anderson’s “Magnolia” (1999), making the film a work of emotional perfection. He played a pathetic former child star alongside Ben Stiller and Jennifer Aniston in “Along Came Polly” (2004), allowing the film to avoid becoming an insignificant member of the romantic comedy genre.
By bringing a glaring depth to the aspects of films that often go unnoticed, Hoffman allowed audiences to be intensely impacted by the raw emotions of each film he appeared in. He made good films great and great films greater.
On Feb. 2, Hoffman was found dead in the bathroom of his fourth-floor apartment in Manhattan’s West Village. He was 46 years old. The death was ruled an accidental overdose caused by a mix of drugs including heroin, cocaine, benzodiazepines and amphetamine.
Hoffman’s death left a large hole in the acting community. He brought a presence to the stage and screen unlike that of any other actor. He could bring depth to the shallowest character. He could shine light on roles that were grounded in darkness. He transformed each character he portrayed into a real human being.