Remembrances
4:06 pm
Sun February 2, 2014

Philip Seymour Hoffman: An 'Uncanny' Actor Of Stage And Screen

Originally published on Mon February 3, 2014 11:53 am

Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead on Sunday in his Manhattan apartment. He was 46.

Hoffman was steeped in his profession — in film, on stage, in the spotlight and behind the scenes.

In 2005, he won the Oscar for best actor for his portrayal of Truman Capote. The movie focuses on Capote's interviews with two murderers on death row for his nonfiction novel In Cold Blood.

Roger Ebert wrote that Hoffman's "uncanny performance" wasn't so much an imitation as it was a channeling of "a man whose peculiarities mask great intelligence and deep wounds."

Hoffman grew up near Rochester, N.Y. He was involved in theater in high school and attended New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. Hoffman was nominated for three Tony awards, including for his 2012 portrayal of one of the most iconic, and tragic, characters: Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman.

Two years ago, Hoffman spoke to NPR's Steve Inskeep about what it was like to play a character whose emotional disintegration deeply affected audiences.

"They're so vocal, you know what I mean? Not vocal in saying things, but you hear them respond a lot," Hoffman told Inskeep. "You actually hear them react. You hear their disappointment; you hear their shock; you hear their sadness. You hear it."

As a father himself, Hoffman said the role affected him personally.

"This play really seeps into why we're here, you know: What are we doing? Family, work, friends ... hopes, dreams, careers," he said. "What's happiness? What's success? What does it mean? Is it important?"

Hoffman often delivered unforgettable performances, equally adept at comedy as he was drama. He was the charming-but-tortured rock journalist Lester Bangs in Almost Famous, and in the movie version of Doubt, he played Father Brendan Flynn, whose relationship with a Catholic schoolboy raises suspicions with the strict nun who is the school's principal.

Doubt was produced by Cooper's Town Productions, the company Hoffman founded. According to its website, Cooper's Town is dedicated to "projects that deal with the familiar in ways that are new, always with the goal of showing something honest and human."

Showtime recently announced that it was picking up a comedy from the company, starring Hoffman, called Happyish, described as a "dark examination of the pursuit of happiness."

Throughout his adult life, Philip Seymour Hoffman struggled with substance abuse. According to a spokesperson with the New York City police, they are "investigating Hoffman's death as a possible drug overdose."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ARUN RATH, HOST:

The Academy Award-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman has died. The film and stage actor was found dead in his Manhattan apartment this morning. New York City Police say they are investigating Hoffman's death as a possible drug overdose. He was 46. NPR's Elizabeth Blair has this appreciation.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: In 2005, Philip Seymour Hoffman won the Oscar for Best Actor, for his portrayal of Truman Capote. The movie focuses on the period when Capote was interviewing two murderers on death row for his novel "In Cold Blood." [POST-BROADCAST CLARIFICATION: "In Cold Blood" is considered a nonfiction novel.]

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "CAPOTE")

PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN: (As Truman Capote) This is my work, Perry. I'm working. When you want to tell me what I need to hear, you let me know.

BLAIR: Roger Ebert wrote that Philip Seymour Hoffman's uncanny performance wasn't so much an imitation but a channeling of, quote, "a man whose peculiarities mask great intelligence and deep wounds."

Philip Seymour Hoffman was steeped in his profession - in film, on stage, in the spotlight and behind the scenes. He grew up near Rochester, N.Y. He was involved in theater in high school and attended New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. Hoffman was nominated for three Tony Awards, including for his 2012 portrayal of one the most iconic and tragic characters, Willy Loman in "Death of a Salesman." [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: The audio clip from "Death Of A Salesman" is from a performance featuring Dustin Hoffman - not Philip Seymour Hoffman - in the role of Willy Loman.]

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "DEATH OF A SALESMAN")

DUSTIN HOFFMAN: (As Willy Loman) The door of your life is wide open.

JOHN MALKOVICH: (As Biff Loman) Pop, I am a dime a dozen, and so are you.

D. HOFFMAN: (As Willy Loman) I am not a dime a dozen. I am Willy Loman, and you are Biff Loman.

MALKOVICH: (As Biff Loman) I am not a leader of men, Willy, and neither are you.

BLAIR: Two years ago, Philip Seymour Hoffman spoke to NPR's Steve Inskeep about what it was like to play a character whose emotional disintegration deeply affected audiences.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

P.S. HOFFMAN: They're so vocal, you know what I mean? Not vocal in saying things, but you hear them respond a lot.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

People laugh out loud; they draw in breaths...

P.S. HOFFMAN: The laughing, yeah, but the laughing, that's normal in a play. You hear people laugh. But they do a lot of things. You actually hear them react. You hear their disappointment, and you hear their shock, and you hear their sadness. You hear it.

BLAIR: As a father himself, Hoffman also said the role affected him personally.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

P.S. HOFFMAN: I really do think it's one of those plays that just seeps into - as we talk about all these aspects, I mean, it's never that simple. I mean, this play really seeps into why we're here, you know? What are we doing - family, work, friends, you know; hopes, dreams, careers. What's happiness? What's success? What does it mean? Is it important? How do you get it? It really does seep into all those areas.

BLAIR: Philip Seymour Hoffman often delivered unforgettable performances, equally adept at comedy as he was drama. He was the charming-but-tortured rock journalist Lester Bangs in "Almost Famous." And in the movie version of "Doubt," he played Father Brendan Flynn, whose relationship with a Catholic schoolboy raises suspicions with the strict nun who is the school's principal.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "DOUBT")

P.S. HOFFMAN: (As Father Brendan Flynn) Why do you suspect me? What have I done?

MERYL STREEP: (As Sister Aloysius Beauvier) You gave that boy wine.

P.S. HOFFMAN: (As Father Brendan Flynn) But this has nothing to do with the wine. Not really. You've had a fundamental mistrust of me before this incident. It was you that warned Sister James to be on the lookout, wasn't it? Why?

STREEP: (As Sister Aloysius Beauvier) I know people.

P.S. HOFFMAN: (As Father Brendan Flynn) That's not good enough.

BLAIR: "Doubt" was produced by Cooper's Town Productions, the company Philip Seymour Hoffman founded. According to its website, Cooper's Town is dedicated to projects that deal with the familiar in ways that are new, always with the goal of showing something honest and human.

Showtime recently announced that it was picking up a comedy from the company, starring Hoffman, called "Happyish," described as a dark examination of the pursuit of happiness.

Throughout his life, Philip Seymour Hoffman struggled with substance abuse. According to a spokesperson with New York City Police, they're investigating Hoffman's death as a possible drug overdose.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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