Philip Seymour Hoffman dead: A magnificent and versatile screen actor whether in the lead or as a memorable cameo

Geoffrey Macnab pays tribute to a magnificent and versatile screen actor

Philip Seymour Hoffman, who has died from an apparent drug overdose, was a magnificent screen actor who invariably brought a sensitivity and sense of irony to his roles that belied his bulky physique. He was also extremely versatile, able to switch from blockbusters to low budget US independent films without ever looking out of place. He was both a leading man and an utterly dependable character actor.

At first glance, Hoffman, who had the build of a prop forward, seemed perverse casting as the elfin American writer Truman Capote in Bennett Miller’s biopic Capote but he still rightly won the Oscar for his performance. He captured perfectly Capote’s mischief, his lilting southern delivery, his particularity and his doggedness - and the performance never lapsed into camp or caricature.

Update: Tributes From Gwyneth Paltrow, De Niro, Clooney & Hanks

Some of Hoffman’s best work was done with Paul Thomas Anderson. He was mesmerising as the L. Ron Hubbard-like cult leader Lancaster Dodd in Anderson’s 2012 film The Master. Typically, he portrayed the character as eccentric and strange but still made Dodd at least partially sympathetic.

On stage, he followed Lee J. Cobb, Dustin Hoffman and a handful of others as Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death Of A Salesman - a role that in his early 40s, he may have been too young to play. However, he was one of the few actors of his generation who had the mix of gravitas and delicacy to make a convincing Loman.

Hoffman also knew how to make an entrance on screen. One of his best (and most overlooked) roles was in Sidney Lumet’s final feature, Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead. He played a scheming white collar executive plotting with his brother to rob their parents’ jewellery store. The first we see of him is a shot of his enormous backside in a graphic and morbidly funny sex scene. Hoffman didn’t suffer from dignity or prissiness. He was ready to put himself in the most compromising and embarrassing positions if that was what a role called for.

His cameos were often the most memorable moments in films. Take, for example, his brief appearance as legendary rock journalist Lester Bangs, offering advice to a young, would-be writer in Cameron Crowe’s autobiographical Almost Famous. His Bangs had the charisma and cussedness you’d expect. He played the role with complete conviction, making it very clear to his young acolyte that journalists don’t befriend the musicians they write about and always keep a critical distance from them.

Hoffman had an extraordinary versatility. He could play socially awkward characters and ones who were utterly at ease. He was excellent as the brattish and rich young American in Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr Ripley, one of the few characters who detected instantly that Ripley was a fraud. By complete contrast, he was equally memorable as the creepy, dysfunctional loner, making harassing phone calls in Todd Solondz’s late 1990s US indie classic Happiness.

One of the great chameleon’s last roles was as Plutarch Hevensbee in the The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. In truth, it isn’t likely to be ranked with his finest performances - and yet it shows exactly what made him such a distinctive screen presence. We’re not at all sure which side he is on: whether he is one of President Snow’s cruelest and most cynical henchmen or whether his loyalties are with the rebels.

Even in a big budget franchise movie in which most of the other characters were resolutely one dimensional, Hoffman - as ever - brought ambivalence and depth to his role.

Read more:

Watch Philip Seymour Hoffman's career highlights
Twitter users pay respect to much-loved actor
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

opera
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn