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

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory