Like most people I was shocked and extremely saddened to hear about the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman yesterday. I can’t quite believe that my favourite actor of recent times will never again bring his unique talents to the silver screen.
Of course, the man was also a father and a husband and my personal sense of sorrow seems somewhat trivial in comparison to that which his poor family are now undoubtedly feeling. Yet I’m sure it is a sorrow shared by film fans everywhere.
As an audience we have an interesting relationship with actors. We feel as if we know them, having spent so many intimate moments in their presence. And yet really, when we watch a film, what do we really know of the people on screen? They are, after all, “only acting.”
Yet with great actors, real talents like Hoffmans, it feels that we are witnessing much more than just a performance. It feels much deeper than that, and indeed it probably is.
Great acting is not about pretence, it is about truth. To get to this truth a great actor may have to delve deep within to find something of themselves hitherto unexposed.
It is a noble, selfless quest to go to such lengths for the benefit of an audience. When we see a truly great performance we are therefore filled with a tremendous sense of connection with the actor. We may know nothing of their private lives, their tastes, their opinions yet we may feel closer to them than we do to some of our friends.
We have seen something that most people keep hidden. In their dedication to their craft we have glimpsed, perhaps, a part of their soul. It is this that for me creates such a feeling of connection and such a sense of personal sorrow when we lose one of our great screen actors.
And Philip Seymour Hoffman was about as great as they get. I would see any film on the basis that he was in it. In fact, when I start to think about his performances my mind is filled instantly with at least a dozen great characters and moments. What other actor could evoke such a flood of cinematic memories? What other actor could link the work of The Coen Brothers, Charlie Kaufman and Paul Thomas Anderson?
Over a career cut tragically short, Hoffman brought to the screen, perhaps more than any other actor, a dazzling array of interesting, engaging and loveable characters. And yet, despite the diversity and his enormous range as an actor, there is a common thread that I see as connecting his best work. The characters he depicted are almost always individuals, outsiders marginalised through actions or ideas, and often driven by a very strong sense of commitment to a cause or ideal. These characters’ lives are also almost always tinged with melancholy, so often finding themselves tragically at the mercy of earthly temptations.
It would seem, in the light of yesterday’s news, that sadly some of these tragic traits that connect Hoffman’s characters were also shared by the man who brought them to the screen. But perhaps we all already knew that, deep down. How else could he convey such vulnerable, flawed and often tragic characters with such sensitivity?
Indeed when I read the speculation surrounding his death it sounds all too much like a scene from one of his films. I can’t help hoping, pathetically, that the events of the last 24 hours are all just an extended piece of method acting. But they aren’t. The curtain has fallen on what was a truly remarkable career.
Rather than perhaps selfishly lament that Mr. Philip Seymour Hoffman will never again grace our screens in another role, I’d instead like to express my gratitude that he has given us so much already. So much great work that when it came time to pick my favourite of his roles, I just couldn’t narrow it down.
So thank you Phil. You’ve left us an incredible legacy. Thank you on behalf of the audience for sharing part of your soul with us. Rest In Peace.
Scotty J – Boogie Nights
Truman Capote – Capote
Allen – Happiness
Owen Davian – Mission Impossible 3
Lancaster Dodd – The Master
Brandt – The Big Lebowski
Phil Parma – Magnolia
Father Flynn – Doubt
Caden Cotard – Synedoche, New York
Lester Bangs – Almost Famous
* I tried to pick my 5 favourite characters but found it just too hard to narrow down.