LOS ANGELES — There's a symbol on the poster for "The Party's Over," a documentary about the 2000 presidential election driven primarily by actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, that features the two mascot animals of the Democratic and Republican parties fused together as one. It's an overt commentary on how similar many felt Al Gore and George W. Bush's positions seemed to be.
But at last week's Los Angeles premiere for "The Party's Over," Hoffman predicted that this year's campaign landscape will look much different.
"During the election and when we shot the film [all of the candidates] were fighting for the center," noted the actor, known for his quirky roles in films like "Boogie Nights" and "Punch Drunk Love." "[In] the debates, [Bush and Gore] were agreeing with each other... The film became a lot about how there were a lot of similarities between the parties during that."
"But once Bush was elected into office, we really began to see that's not a truism about these parties," he continued. "Bush has gone quite far right and because of that, you have someone like [Democratic hopeful] Howard Dean, who's quite to the left. And you have a country that's really battling over their very different views and a lot of the differences between the parties are really coming out. Which I think is a healthy thing, even though it's very difficult."
The movie features everyone from Newt Gingrich and conservative evangelist Pat Robertson to Michael Moore, pro-NRA gun dealers, protestors and footage of Rage Against the Machine's performance outside of the Democratic National Convention, with Hoffman wandering through it all, asking questions and probing for solutions.
At the start of the film he admits ignorance to politics, which is what made him interested in participating in "The Party's Over" when he was approached by co-directors Rebecca Chaiklin and Donovan Leitch.
"I thought I was someone who didn't know about the political process, how my country was running and how it was helping me," he said. "And so they came to me and selfishly, I said, 'This is a golden opportunity to educate myself and help them make their film that people will see and also learn something and therefore become more interested in taking part in the process."
In the film, Hoffman's growing concerns and questions about the 2000 election become more apparent. But perhaps nothing is more visceral than the reaction the celebrated actor — who faced down a serial killer in the Hannibal Lecter prequel "Red Dragon" as tabloid reporter Freddy Lounds and who's preparing to play Truman Capote in a forthcoming biopic — had when he found out he was about to interview Jesse Jackson.
"He really did [intimidate me the most of anyone I interviewed]," he said with a laugh. "I like that moment [in the film] a lot, because [my reaction] is true. The celebrities, a lot of them I had probably met before ... but a lot of the political figures, even the not real well-known ones, really unnerved me. Because I knew they had a wealth of knowledge that I didn't have ... and so meeting someone like Jesse Jackson, even people I disagreed with, I felt like that. [He's] someone who [I] grew up watching."
Hoffman said he felt a similar intimidation sitting down with M.I.T. professor Noam Chomsky, known for his books and lectures about U.S. foreign policy and more. "Noam Chomsky was pretty unnerving too, I have to say, but you can listen to him forever. He's astounding. He was one of my favorite interviews."
"We [are] seeing all these heads and voices on TV and I wish he was one of them," he added. "I wish we had someone like Noam Chomsky who had his own talk show. It would really be something. So I put that out to you, Noam! Even if you disagree with him, he's so worth listening to, because what he's saying is really strong, specific and knowledgeable about a view that I don't think we're hearing that much about right now."
'Though he has no plans for any kind of future work with political documentaries himself, Hoffman's happy to have contributed in some way to the furthering of political discussion in America. "I like my day job," he said. "I took advantage of a very important opportunity in my life and I'm glad I took it, because it has changed my view. It has changed my hunger for information. It has changed the conversations I have in my life with people and my life, period."
"The Party's Over" is currently playing in select cities.