I have never had a favourite actor. But if I did, Philip Seymour Hoffman would be up there. I won’t shed crocodile tears at the sudden death of a 46-year-old Oscar winner, however terrible; I didn’t know the guy, just met him once on a red carpet. Hoffman is a loss to cinema, but also to his family and friends – he’s survived by his partner, their 10-year-old son and daughters aged seven and five. The New York Times was reporting last night that police had found a syringe in his arm and a packet beside him containing what they believed to be heroin.
As our film critic Geoffrey Macnab writes today, Hoffman “brought a sensitivity that belied his bulky physique”, an elegance and subtlety that rarely left his characters (even the villains) one-dimensional.
As Capote, he was calculating; the babyish, lisping voice doing little to mask the ego and brutally quick mind that quickly strikes a Faustian bargain with one of the Kansas murderers.
Hoffman’s L Ron Hubbard was magisterial, sinister, charismatic.
His monologue in Charlie Wilson’s War, when, as CIA officer Gust Avrakotos, he smashes the office window of his boss, was a hoot. (Go to tinyurl.com/k68waos for a short clip, and cut to 2min20 for the good bit. Several of my former colleagues even calculated how they might go about recreating the scene if pushed to tipping-point by one particularly officious manager.)
Hoffman was not a famously sunny interviewee, his self-loathing a trait in life as on screen. As a young actor he was addicted to heroin and alcohol, before going clean for 23 years.
He told a newspaper interviewer in 2011, not long before he checked into rehab: “Just because all that time’s passed doesn’t mean ‘Maybe it was a phase’.”