Philip Seymour Hoffman
- Philip S. Hoffman
July 23, 1967 (age 54)
- Actor, Theatre Director
- Mimi O'Donnell
- Marilyn O'Connor, Gordon S. Hoffman
Philip Seymour Hoffman (July 23, 1967 – February 2, 2014) was an American actor, director, and producer. He was prolific in both film and theater from the early 1990s until his death in 2014 at the age of 46, after which The New York Times declared him "perhaps the most ambitious and widely admired American actor of his generation".
Hoffman studied acting at the New York State Summer School of the Arts and the Tisch School of the Arts. He began his career in a 1991 episode of Law & Order, and began to appear in films in 1992. He gained recognition for his supporting work throughout the 1990s and early 2000s in minor but seminal roles, in which he typically played losers or degenerates, including a conceited student in Scent of a Woman (1992), a hyperactive storm-chaser in Twister (1996), a 1970s pornographic film boom operator in Boogie Nights (1997), a smug assistant in The Big Lebowski (1998), a hospice nurse in Magnolia (1999), a music critic in Almost Famous(2000), a phone-sex conman in Punch-Drunk Love (2002), and an immoral preacher in Cold Mountain (2003).
In 2005, Hoffman portrayed the author Truman Capote in Capote, for which he won multiple acting awards including the Academy Award for Best Actor. His three other Oscar nominations came for his supporting work playing a brutally frank CIA officer in Charlie Wilson's War (2007), a priest accused of pedophilia in Doubt (2008), and the charismatic leader of a nascent Scientology-type movement in The Master (2012). He also received critical acclaim for roles in Owning Mahowny (2003), Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007), The Savages (2007), Synecdoche, New York (2008), Moneyball (2011), and The Ides of March (2011). In 2010, Hoffman directed the feature film Jack Goes Boating.
Hoffman was also an accomplished theater actor and director. He joined the LAByrinth Theater Company in 1995, and directed and performed in numerous stage productions. His performances in three Broadway plays led to Tony Award nominations: two for Best Leading Actor, in True West (2000) and Death of a Salesman (2012), and one for Best Featured Actor in Long Day's Journey into Night (2003). Hoffman struggled with drug addiction as a young adult, and relapsed in 2012 after many years of sobriety. In February 2014, he died of combined drug intoxication – an unexpected event that was widely lamented by the film and theater industries.
Hoffman was born in Rochester, New York and raised in Fairport, New York. His mother, Marilyn O'Connor (née Loucks), hailed from nearby Waterloo and worked as an elementary school teacher before becoming a lawyer and eventually a judge. His father, Gordon Stowell Hoffman, was a native of Geneva, New York and worked for the Xerox Corporation. Along with one brother, Gordon Jr., Hoffman had two sisters, Jill and Emily.
Hoffman had German, English, Irish, and Dutch ancestry. He was baptized as a Catholic and attended mass as a child, but did not have a heavily religious upbringing. His parents divorced when he was nine, leaving the children to be raised primarily by their mother. Hoffman's childhood passion was sports, particularly wrestling and baseball, but at age 12 he saw a stage production of Arthur Miller's All My Sons by which he was transfixed. He recalled in 2008, "I was changed—permanently changed—by that experience. It was like a miracle to me". Hoffman developed a love for the theater through his mother, who was a big fan, and they attended regularly together. He remembered that productions of Quilters and Alms for the Middle Class, starring a teenage Robert Downey, Jr., were also particularly inspirational. Yet it was not until a neck injury brought an end to his sporting activity at the age of 14 that he began to consider acting. Encouraged by his mother, he joined a drama club, and initially committed to it because he was attracted to a female member.
However, acting gradually became a passion for Hoffman: "I loved the camaraderie of it, the people, and that's when I decided it was what I wanted to do." At the age of 17, he was selected to attend the 1984 New York State Summer School of the Arts in Saratoga Springs, where he met future collaborators Bennett Miller and Dan Futterman. Miller later commented on Hoffman's popularity at the time: "We were attracted to the fact that he was genuinely serious about what he was doing. Even then, he was passionate." Hoffman applied for several drama degrees and was accepted to New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. Between starting on the program and graduating from Fairport High School, he continued his training at the Circle in the Square Theatre's summer program. Hoffman had positive memories of his time at NYU, where he supported himself by working as an usher. With friends, he co-founded the Bullstoi Ensemble acting troupe. He received a drama degree in 1989.
After graduating, Hoffman worked in off-Broadway theater and made additional money with customer service jobs. He made his screen debut in 1991, in a Law & Order episode called "The Violence of Summer", playing a man accused of rape. His first cinema role came the following year, when he was credited as "Phil Hoffman" in the independent film Triple Bogey on a Par Five Hole. After this, he adopted his grandfather's name Seymour to avoid confusion with another actor of the same name. This was promptly followed by an appearance in the studio production My New Gun, and a small role in the comedy Leap of Faith, starring Steve Martin. Following these efforts, he gained attention playing a spoiled student in the Oscar-winning film Scent of a Woman (1992). Hoffman auditioned five times for his role, which The Guardian journalist Ryan Gilbey says gave him an early opportunity "to indulge his skill for making unctuousness compelling". The film earned $134 million worldwide and was the first to get Hoffman noticed. Reflecting on Scent of a Woman, Hoffman later said "If I hadn't gotten into that film, I wouldn't be where I am today." It was only at this time that he abandoned his delicatessen job to become a professional actor.
A rising actor
Based on his work in Scent of a Woman, Hoffman was cast by writer–director Paul Thomas Anderson to appear in his debut feature Hard Eight (1996). He had only a brief role in the crime thriller, playing a cocksure young craps player, but it began the most important collaboration of Hoffman's career. Before cementing his creative partnership with Anderson, Hoffman starred in one of the year's biggest blockbusters, Twister, playing a grubby, hyperactive storm chaser alongside Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton. According to a People magazine survey of Twitte and Facebook users, Twister is the film that Hoffman is most popularly associated with. He then reunited with Anderson for the director's second feature, Boogie Nights, about the Golden Age of Pornography. The ensemble-piece starred Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore and Burt Reynolds; Hoffman played a pathetic boom operator who attempts to seduce Wahlberg's character. The film earned critical acclaim and grew into a cult classic, while it has been cited as the role in which Hoffman first showed his full ability. Rolling Stone journalist David Fear commented on the "naked emotional neediness" he projected, adding "you can't take your eyes off him". In 2012, Hoffman expressed his appreciation for Anderson when he called the director "incomparable".
A turning point in Hoffman's career came with the biographical film Capote (2005), which dramatized Truman Capote's experience of writing his true crime novel In Cold Blood (1966). Hoffman took the title role, in a project that he co-produced and helped get off the ground. Portraying the idiosyncratic writer proved highly demanding: he lost weight and undertook four months of research, particularly watching video clips of Capote to help him affect his effeminate voice and mannerisms – Hoffman stated that he was not concerned with perfectly imitating Capote's speech, but did feel a great duty to "express the vitality and the nuances" of the writer. During filming, he stayed in character constantly so as not to lose the voice and posture: "Otherwise", he explained, "I would give my body a chance to bail on me." Capote was released to great acclaim, with particular praise going to Hoffman's performance. Many critics noted that the role was designed to win awards, and indeed Hoffman received an Oscar, Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild Award, BAFTA, and various other critics awards. After Capote, several commentators began to describe Hoffman as one of the finest, most ambitious actors of his generation.
Legacy and influence
Hoffman was held in high regard within the film and theater industry, cited in the media as one of the finest actors of his generation. He often played supporting roles – in both dramas and comedies – but was acclaimed for his ability to make small parts memorable. Peter Bradshaw, film critic for The Guardian, felt that "Almost every single one of his credits had something special about it."
Hoffman was praised for his versatility and ability to fully inhabit any role, but he specialized in playing creeps and cads: "his CV was populated almost exclusively by snivelling wretches, insufferable prigs, braggarts and outright bullies", writes the journalist Ryan Gilbey. Hoffman was appreciated for making these roles real, complex and even sympathetic; Xan Brooks of The Guardian remarked that the actor's particular talent was to "take thwarted, twisted humanity and ennoble it". "The more pathetic or deluded the character," writes Gilbey, "the greater Hoffman's relish seemed in rescuing them from the realms of the merely monstrous." When asked in 2006 why he undertook such roles, Hoffman responded, "I didn't go out looking for negative characters; I went out looking for people who have a struggle and a fight to tackle. That's what interests me."
Many of Hoffman's notable roles came in arthouse films – Gilbey wrote that the actor "became integral to some of the most original US cinema of the past 20 years" – but he also featured in several Hollywood blockbusters. He was not a typical movie actor, with a pudgy build and lack of matinée idol looks, but Hoffman claimed that he was grateful for his appearance as it made him believable in a wide range of roles. Joel Schumacher once said of him in 2000, "The bad news is that Philip won't be a $25-million star. The good news is that he'll work for the rest of his life".
Hoffman was described as "probably the most in-demand character actor of his generation", but claimed never to take it for granted that he would be offered roles. Although he worked hard and regularly, Hoffman was humble about his acting success, and when asked by a friend if he was having any luck he meekly replied, "I'm in a film, Cold Mountain, that has just come out." Patrick Fugit, who worked with Hoffman on Almost Famous, recalled that he was intimidating but an exceptional mentor and influence in "a school-of-hard-knocks way", remarking that "there was a certain weight that came with him". Hoffman admitted that he sometimes appeared in low-brow studio films for the money, but said, "ultimately my main goal is to do good work. If it doesn't pay well, so be it." He kept himself grounded and invigorated as an actor by attempting to appear on stage once a year as a break from the screen.
Hoffman rarely mentioned his personal life in interviews, stating in 2012 that he would "rather not because my family doesn't have any choice. If I talk about them in the press, I'm giving them no choice. So I choose not to." For the last 14 years of his life, he was in a relationship with costume designer Mimi O'Donnell, whom he had met when they were both working on the play In Arabia We'd All Be Kings in 1999. They lived in New York City and had a son born in 2003, and two daughters born in 2006 and 2008. Hoffman and O'Donnell separated in the fall of 2013, some months before his death.
Although friends observed that Hoffman's problematic drug use was under control at the time, on February 2, 2014, playwright and screenwriter David Bar Katz found Hoffman dead in the bathroom of Hoffman's fourth-floor apartment in Manhattan's West Village. Hoffman was 46 years old. During a search of the apartment, detectives found heroin and prescription medications at the scene of the death, and revealed that Hoffman was discovered with a syringe in his arm.
On February 28, 2014, the New York City medical examiner's office ruled Hoffman's death an accident caused by "acute mixed drug intoxication, including heroin, cocaine, benzodiazepines and amphetamine". The examination did not determine whether he had taken all of the substances on the same day, or whether any of the substances had remained in his system from earlier use.