Philip Seymour Hoffman, an Academy Award winning actor who appeared in everything from “The Hunger Games” series, to Tony Award nominated roles on Broadway in “Death of a Salesman” and “True West” died on February 2 after an apparent drug overdose. Though the circumstances of his death are still being investigated, what doesn’t remain in question is that Hoffman was a monumental actor whose talent will cast a shadow long after he’s gone. Here’s a look back on some of his best performances:
Hoffman’s collaboration with director Paul Thomas Anderson started with “Hard Eight,” and lasted for six movies (some of which we’ll get to in a moment), but it was “Boogie Nights” that truly rocketed Hoffman to public consciousness. His role as Scotty J, a boom operator in love with porn star Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg) was simultaneously funny, weird, and heartbreaking… A combination that became a hallmark of Hoffman’s performances going forward.
Hoffman cemented his particularly niche with the subversive, often uncomfortable “Happiness” the year after “Boogie Nights.” In the movie he plays a sad sack just looking for love who ends up making obscene phone calls. His mixture of shyness and eventual seething rage was something that is impossible to look away from.
Working once again with Paul Thomas Anderson, Hoffman changed up his calling card and instead played a simple, caring nurse. No weird ticks, no seething rage, just a nice guy who wants to help people. It stretched his range, and made us care.
“The Talented Mr. Ripley“
Hoffman had a relatively smaller part in this movie as a friend of Jude Law’s character, one who catches on to the murderous Mr. Ripley (Matt Damon) early on. It means a shocking death scenes follows, but it’s Hoffman’s suspicions and fate that truly put the plot in motion.
Once again a small, but unforgettable part, Hoffman portrayed the real-life music journalist Lester Bangs in Cameron Crowe’s semi-fictional reminiscence. Hoffman played the sage, older reporter training the next generation as a mix between Hunter S. Thompson and Obi-wan Kenobi. You know: exactly the guy you’d want to be trained by.
It’s impossible to consider “Capote” anything but Hoffman’s breakout role, the one that truly, definitively made him into a movie star. Beyond winning him every major acting ward (including the Oscar), Hoffman created a lived in character that humanized the outsize caricature that writer Truman Capote is often perceived as being.
“Mission Impossible III“
You could potentially accuse Hoffman of trading in his acting cred for a paycheck to appear in a big budget action blockbuster as the smarmy villain, except his first scene is one of the most terrifying, tense moments ever committed to film. He’s never a true physical challenge for uber-man Tom Cruise, but Hoffman nearly outwits him at every turn… And we utterly believe it, given Hoffman’s performance.
Hoffman once again channeled the deep, rolling emotions under the surface for his reined in performance as Father Flynn, a priest under attack for a supposed molestation scandal… One that probably didn’t actually happen. Though it’s Amy Adams and Meryl Streep who carry the bulk of the emotional weight of the movie, it wouldn’t work without the steady fulcrum of Hoffman’s Flynn.
It should be clear by now that Paul Thomas Anderson always brought out the best in Hoffman… And it’s quite possible “The Master” was Hoffman’s greatest performance. He brought, yet again, a slow, calm intensity to the role of Lancaster Dodd, the leader of a group called The Cause who becomes entangled with a dangerous loner played by Joaquin Phoenix. If Hoffman led a cult like this, we’d follow.
“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire“
The saddest part of Hoffman’s work as Plutarch Heavensbee in the blockbuster “Hunger Games” series is that he was just getting started. Throughout most of “Catching Fire,” he’s the generic bad guy; until things flip, and it turns out (spoiler) he’s actually part of the resistance. He was mid-way through filming the last film in the series when news broke today, so it’s unclear as of press time how his role will be handled. But for now, we can appreciate his seminal turn in 2013’s biggest film.