Today marks the first anniversary of the tragic and premature death from a drug overdose of master of the Method, Philip Seymour Hoffman.
If it is true, as Richard Brody writes in The New Yorker, that:
“Work that’s only good is limited to its technique; when it’s great, a work is virtually inseparable from the artist’s life because it gives the sense of being the product of a whole life and being the absolute and total focus of that life at the time of its creation.”
Then Hoffman was a true great. He clearly summoned memory and experience into his roles with spine-tingling authenticity. He was a character actor who eschewed the vanities of the leading man in favour of authentic and challenging parts. The humanity with which he portrayed literary icons, oddballs or ‘belligerent assholes‘, ‘snivelling wretches, insufferable prigs, braggarts and outright bullies’ was transformative.
“he could nail a part in one punch, summoning the richness of an entire life in the smallest gesture.”
Of his 63 screen credits, we have chosen his five most powerful performances:
Freddie Miles, The Talented Mr Ripley (1999)
As pompous Freddie Miles in Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr Ripley, Hoffman employed the full bluntness of his physical instrument to become the unwelcome intruder to Matt Damon’s schemes. His entrance to the film is one of the great arrivals in cinematic history – the way he leapt from his Alpha Romeo, kissed Jude Law’s character and threw back a glass of wine set the bar for the rest of the film. In a role that Meryl Streep described as ‘fearless’, Hoffman’s technical ease and nuance made even the most cruel and awful character fascinating and compelling.
Truman Capote, Capote (2005)
“Hoffman relinquished himself to his characters”
In the role that won him his Best Actor Academy Award, Hoffman was exemplary as author Truman Capote during his In Cold Blood era. His physical fit was not a natural choice for the part, but true to his method style, he transformed himself to inhabit the wry and high-pitched wit of the author in body and voice.
Caden Cotard, Synedoche, New York (2008)
Philip Seymour Hoffman dominated Synedoche, New York with what Ryan Gilbey described as his “towering accomplishment.” Hoffman plays a theatre director who attempts to stage a detailed version of his own life in a warehouse in New York. In the way that a model of reality eventually becomes reality in the film, many have found a metaphor for the blurred lines between the tragedies of Hoffman’s life and his obsessively method approach to acting.
Lancaster Todd, The Master (2012)
Described by Richard Brody as ‘one of the greatest onscreen performances that anyone ever gave’, Hoffman’s work in The Master marked the climactic end of a long-term collaboration with director Paul Thomas Anderson. They worked together a total of six times since their first collaboration on Punch Drunk Love in 1996, on all but one of Anderson’s films, and enjoyed an extremely creative and fruitful partnership. Anderson recognised Hoffman’s talent from the off, commenting that when they first worked together:
“Phil maybe had a long list of not-so-great movies [at that point] but he was always the best thing in them.”
In The Master, Hoffman plays Lancaster Todd, the charismatic leader of scientology-like cult The Cause. The character himself is a self-conscious and self-transforming performer, which allowed Hoffman to use his unique theatrical style to the full. The role was made for a method performer like him.
“who he is and the way he is, the internal life of the guy, is something I had to think a lot about by myself. It’s not that I wanted to avoid reference points; it’s just the way I tend to do things.”
Philip Seymour Hoffman, talking to Little White Lies about Lancaster Todd
Günther Bachmann, A Most Wanted Man (2014)
His Director on his last film A Most Wanted Man, Anton Corbijn, told the Guardian that Hoffman has Brando-like quality to his work, and that:
“He is better than you think you are going to be able to see. He becomes the character so totally that he inhabits the person, with every waking movement, with everything.”
These are but five of many unforgettable performances in a career dedicated to creating believable characters with authenticity and flair. Philip Seymour Hoffman was a master of the method, both on stage and on Broadway, inhabiting every character he played with a haunting truth. Many have tried to find answers to the questions surrounding his premature death in his roles. We would just like to pay tribute to a great method actor who is a great loss to the craft.
Which was your favourite performance?