There are some actors you will watch in anything. Even if I was not an entertainment journalist, and watching movies was not something required of my job (an enjoyable part of that job, nonetheless), Philip Seymour Hoffman would be one of those actors I would watch in anything.
Last month at the Sundance Film Festival, I watched Anton Corbijn’s slow-burner of a spy film, A Most Wanted Man, just for Philip Seymour Hoffman, or PSH – for every cigarette he smoked, and every word he uttered in his on-point German accent. He also starred in another film called God’s Pocket, which Mad Men actor John Slattery directed. It was a strange kind of film, with an uneven tone, a lot of violence, and a lot of absurd jokes too, but I stuck with it for PSH, who played a man desperate to please his wife after her good-for-nothing son is killed at the construction site where he worked.
PSH’s own construction site was a film set, or oftentimes a stage. He had toiled in front of the camera or in front of an audience, ever since he graduated from studying theatre at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Although his first breakthrough role was in Boogie Nights in 1997, it was only when Almost Famous came out, and he played one of my favourite rock critics, Lester Bangs, that I took proper notice of him. Boogie Nights hadn’t been on my adolescent radar, but Almost Famous – well, for this at-the-time budding music writer, now, we were talking.
But it was his turn as another kind of writer – the author of one of my favourite stories – that created a PSH devotee out of me. After seeing his stellar performance as Truman Capote (who wrote what became the Breakfast at Tiffany’s movie) in Capote, I found myself going back to re-visit his other films, including Boogie Nights.
Now, as film critics, cinephiles, ordinary fans, neighbours and fellow actors pay tribute to PSH, the Oscar-winning actor and father of 3, who was found dead in his New York City apartment on Sunday morning, authorities are conducting an autopsy to find out exactly what happened. It’s being reported that a source (don’t you just hate that word?) says as many as 70 bags of heroin were found in his apartment. It was public knowledge Hoffman had battled with addiction, and that he relapsed and checked into rehab last year – a tragedy after being clean for 23 years.
As the flowers and pictures being laid outside his West Village apartment stack up, so too do the tributes online. Many have noted that Philip Seymour Hoffman was truly one of the greats – the best of his generation. As a character actor, he didn’t concern himself with being a ‘movie-star’. As Xan Brooks from the Guardian points out, he wasn’t Brad Pitt nor was he George Clooney, but we liked him so much because we related to him. I’ve taken great comfort in Brooks’ video appreciation about why the loss of an actor – someone I’d never had the chance to interview, let alone knew personally – has cut so deep.
Yes, as the New York Times wrote in his obituary, PSH so perfectly embodied ‘burdensome characters,’ and as the site Indiewire noted, every performance he put on was worth of applause. But Brooks put it best, for me at least, when he said that we had become invested in Philip Seymour Hoffman. We came to look forward to what would come next from him, and then after that. Now, there will be no more. “There’s a curious sense that a contract has been broken – or a film has been stopped mid-way, in the second act,” says Brooks.
PSH’s film had not yet finished playing out – untimely interrupted by a glitch in the movie projector in the form of an addiction that, it seems, got the better of him. Although there are those two films to be released from Sundance, and reports have told us he was practically finished with the Hunger Games movies, there will be no more after that. There is no telling what other roles he may have taken on, what other cinematic delights he may have given us, what kind of accolades he was yet to claim.
This is partly a selfish thought, yes, for it doesn’t take into account that a family has lost a loved one, and a community, one of its most engaging members. They are the ones who are hurting the most. But because PSH had been living out his talent for us all to see, I feel somewhat a tiny part of that too.
Like Brooks says, it is indeed curious.