Philip Seymour Hoffman – A Retrospective

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On February 2nd Philip Seymour Hoffman, the American Hollywood actor, was found dead in his house in Manhattan. He was only 46 years old, and what shocked most people including myself was not just the fact that he died so young, but that he died of an overdose. Hoffman was a heroin addict; he revealed this on TMZ back in 2013 that he went into rehab after struggling with drug addiction.
It is difficult to accept that this proficient actor of such an erudite nature died in this indecorous way. But it goes to show how perhaps even the most widely appreciated artists could leave this earth all of a sudden and leave behind secrets that were previously left unsaid.

The first time I saw him in a movie was when I watched Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1999 drama film Magnolia. In this film Hoffman plays a nurse who assists a man dying of cancer and, at the same time, tries to help him find his son so he can make peace with him. Hoffman’s role is not the main focus of the film, as many other plots and characters are intertwined with each other – but this film in particular portrays Hoffman as an actor capable of playing fragile characters in a sympathetic light like no other. It would be wrong though to state that he only portrayed this specific type of characters, as he would go on to star in various different films in later years.

From his funny and at times hilariously gross performance as Ben Stiller’s best friend in Along Came Polly to the breathtaking, dominating performance of The Master, Hoffman was surely known to be a very polymorphic actor. The variety of films he has been in and the directors he worked under is varied and staggering, demonstrating how he was a familiar face within Hollywood movies. He had a part in the Coen brother’s cult comedy film The Big Lebowski as the ‘wealthy’ Lebowski’s butler and he also managed to dwell into the mainstream movie panorama by performing firstly in The Talented Mr. Ripley alongside Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jude Law and, perhaps more notably, as the villain in Mission: Impossible III. Despite managing to explore with different directors and actors, he had a craving for working in independent films. Happiness, The Savages and more recently A Late Quartet are some of the indie films he starred in.
British audiences might also remember him for his role as the Count in 2008’s The Boat that Rocked starring Bill Nighy, Nick Frost and Kenneth Branagh, an entertaining film of a ‘pirate’ radio station that played American rock music in the 1960s going against the highly conservative British government of the time. He was not always the main protagonist within these movies, but he still made an impact upon the films he starred in with his presence. The variety of people, films and fellow actors he worked with showcased his talent as someone open to work with anyone and with any type of film.
On top of working in films, Hoffman was also proficient in theatre and Broadway plays. His portrayal of Willy Loman in the soul-stirring Death of a Salesman in 2012 earned him a Tony Award nomination for Best Actor. His polymorphic nature was therefore extended in other forms of entertainment. He also managed to direct an independent feature film in 2010, Jack Goes Boating, which is based on a play, hence suggesting his love for theater.

Hoffman won an Academy Award for Best Actor back in 2005 for the film Capote where he played the title character Truman Capote, the American novelist. The film narrates the struggles of the novelist as he works on writing a book about the murder of a family in Kansas. This would go on to be In Cold Blood, a book very different from the most famous Breakfast At Tiffany’s. In the movie we see how Capote goes from being a well-respected figure within the American literary elite, while at the end he is visibly overwhelmed by the impact these murders he is reporting on is having on his life. This highlights the two-sided nature of Hoffman and how he was capable of portraying actors with a brilliant panache on one side, while also representing tormented people in the meantime.
Hoffman would also get some further Academy Award nods, albeit without winning another trophy. He received two nominations for Best Supporting Actor playing CIA agent Gust Avrakotos in the 2007 biographical Charlie Wilson’s War and a final one for playing American football coach Art Howe in the 2011 sports drama Moneyball. Looking back, an Academy Award would not have hurt Hoffman – especially considering how talented he was in portraying secondary actors who held a big presence in the stories they were in.

Philip Seymour Hoffman was a great actor – his presence within films was always a reason of appreciation, and he will be deeply missed by fans and moviegoers around the world.

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