He was, said some critics, the consummate character actor. He was, said other critics, a man who to some degree played himself, and was attracted to roles of men with deep insecurities. Indeed, comparisons were made with Orson Welles and Welles’s own doubts about his career. Variety cited Seymour Hoffman’s performance in The Master - “one in which Hoffman, with his stout frame and arch, declamatory speech patterns, suddenly seemed possessed in body and spirit by Orson Welles.”
A character actor will subsume himself in the personality, soul, even looks of the person he is playing, as Seymour Hoffman did in his Oscar-winning performance as Truman Capote in Capote, almost seeming to shrink to the writer’s diminutive frame, just as stage actor Mark Rylance seemed to grow and expand his body in his award-winning role in Jerusalem. An actor who merely plays himself, or even just aspects of himself, is surely the opposite of a character actor.
Can those contrasting approaches ever be reconciled? I’d suggest that such a thing is mighty rare, but that it did seem to happen with Philip Seymour Hoffman. Equally, I’d suggest that some of those critics who identified pain and insecurity in Hoffman’s film roles did so with the knowledge they had gained after his death about his off-screen torments.
Henceforth, it seems to me, the off-screen and on-screen Hoffman persona will be increasingly difficult to separate. For what particularly interests me is not so much how we have viewed Hoffman’s performances in the past (well covered in the tributes and obituaries) but how we will view them from now on.
Film performances, unlike those on the stage, cannot change, and yet with what we now know about Seymour Hoffman - his addiction, his pain, his demons - it will be nigh impossible to watch one of his great performances in precisely the same way. Just as Variety saw him channelling Orson Welles, so we will now see Philip Seymour Hoffman channelling Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Philip Seymour Hoffman 1967 - 2014
Philip Seymour Hoffman 1967 - 2014
A classic shot of Philip Seymour Hoffman as Capote, the role which earned him a Best Actor Academy Award in 2006
2/25 Scent Of A Woman
Hoffman played an affable school boy in 1992 film Scent Of A Woman
3/25 Boogie Nights
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Mark Wahlbergand JohnC Reilly in 'Boogie Nights', 1997
Philip Seymour Hoffman and Lara Flynn Boyle in 'Happiness', 1998
5/25 The Big Lebowski
Philip Seymour Hoffman and Jeff Bridges in 'The Big Lebowski', 1998
Dressed up to the nines in Flawless, 1999
7/25 The Talented Mr Ripley
Another career highlight for Hoffman, in 1999
Philip Seymour Hoffman stars as Phil Parma in 'Magnolia'. This was Paul Thomas Anderson's second film, 1999
9/25 Almost Famous
Philip Seymour Hoffman as Lester Bangs and Patrick Fugit as William Miller in 'Almost Famous', 2000
10/25 Punch Drunk
Hoffman poses in Punch Drunk Love, 2002
11/25 Owning Mahowny
Philip Seymour Hoffman in 'Owning Mahowny', 2003
Philip Seymour Hoffman portrays writer Truman Capote in a scene from the film, 'Capote'. The film looks at the author's journey into writing 'In Cold Blood', 2006
13/25 Mission Impossible III
Philip Seymour Hoffman stars in 'Mission Impossible III', 2006
14/25 Charlie Wilson's War
A scene from 'Charlie Wilson's War' with Tom Hanks as Charlie Wilson, left, and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Gust Avrakotos, right. The film follows Charlie Wilson, a congressman from Texas, who takes an interest in the situation in Afghanistan, 2007
15/25 The Savages
Philip Seymour Hoffman, left, and Laura Linney, right, are shown in this scene from the film 'The Savages'. The film centers on Jon and Wendy Savage and their broken relationship with their father, 2007
Philip Seymour Hoffman portrays Father Flynn, right, and Meryl Streep portrays Sister Aloysius in a scene from 'Doubt'. Streep plays Sister Aloysius who sets off on a personal mission to find out the truth about Father Flynn, 2008
As a man of the cloth, starring opposite Meryl Streep in Doubt, 2008
18/25 Synecdoche, New York
Philip Seymour Hoffman and Hope Davis in Charlie Kaufman's ambitious directorial debut 'Synecdoche, New York', 2008
19/25 'Jack Goes Boating'
Philip Seymour Hoffman makes his directorial debut as he stars alongside Amy Ryan in 'Jack Goes Boating', 2010
20/25 The Ides of March
Philip Seymour Hoffman, left, and Ryan Gosling are shown in a scene from 'The Ides of March', 2011
A truly versatile actor, Hoffman played a baseball coach opposite Brad Pitt in the Oscar-nominated Moneyball, 2011
22/25 The Master
Joaquin Phoenix, left, and Philip Seymour Hoffman in a scene from 'The Master'. The director, Paul Thomas Anderson, acknowledged that Hoffman's character was partially based on Church of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, 2012
23/25 A Late Quartet
Philip Seymour Hoffman in the pleasing 'A Late Quartet', 2012
24/25 Death Of A Salesman
Philip Seymour Hoffman, left, and Andrew Garfield, right, take a curtain call at the Broadway opening night of 'Death Of A Salesman' at the Barrymore Theatre, 2012
25/25 The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Philip Seymour Hoffman starring alongside Woody Harrelson in 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire', 2013
We will see a troubled individual, even the addict. Just as we never really see a happy-go-lucky woman in the many happy-go-lucky parts that Marilyn Monroe played, because we know far too much about her real-life pain, so we will always bring our knowledge of the real person to the screen presence of Philip Seymour Hoffman. It’s a huge irony that one of the greatest screen character actors will never now be able to hide his real persona from the spectator.
Kylie's not the only bright/faded star on The Voice
The Voice on BBC1 on Saturday nights has been vastly improved by the introduction of Kylie as one of the judges. Hers is an infectious personality that lifts the programme. But there’s clearly something I’m not getting about this show. Surely the idea is that an unknown and untried singer tries to impress the judges. Last week one of the contestants in the blind auditions was a West End star, Leanne Jones, who had played the lead, no less, in the musical Hairspray - and won an Olivier Award for her performance. So, yes, she had a good voice. But she wasn’t exactly an ingenue. The embarrassing thing was that not one of the four judges selected her and she went home. Was it a good idea for her to go on the show? I think she and her agent should mull over that one.
UK theatre is enthralling but hungry work these days
The playwright Lolita Chakrabarti, whose brilliant debut Red Velvet is currently being revived, wrote an extremely brave and provocative article in this paper some days ago. She said that she had become disillusioned with theatre, the “extortionate ticket prices”, the sense of entitlement and exclusivity, the hyperbole over some shows, the “actors taking themselves too seriously.” I of course agree with her list, having harped on about extortionate ticket prices for some years now. Two trivial additions to the irritation list that I would make are theatre public address systems that are inaudible, and food areas that, even in the 21st century, take only cash and refuse to take cards. These last two I experienced this week when I was at London’s Tricycle Theatre to watch, utterly enthralled but a little hungry, Red Velvet by Lolita Chakrabarti.
David Lister is Arts Editor of the Independent.