Monday, February 03, 2014

Philip Seymour Hoffman

The actor who died yesterday gave me an experience I have had only twice on screen—-coming face to face with the reincarnation of a close friend. In the 2005 “Capote,” for which he won an Oscar, he was the title character not only in looks and manner but essence. Four years later, in “Julie and Julia,” Meryl Streep created the same effect as Julia Child.

The death of Philip Seymour Hoffman at 46 is a wrench, and pairing him with Streep only makes it more painful. Unlike the diva who has played the hell out of almost every famous woman in the civilized world, Hoffman was a blue-collar actor who erased himself in performances that drew audiences in rather than holding them at arm’s length to admire.

In life as in art, there is often a steep price for authenticity that comes with talent unprotected by powerful ego, and Hoffman apparently has been paying it in a career of fifty films over a quarter of a century with prescription pills, drugs and alcohol.

Whether as a dim baseball manager in “Moneyball,” a compulsive gambling banker in “Owning Mahowney” or a manic rock writer in “Almost Famous,” he was always doing so much more than earning a paycheck.

As he passes from the scene, I recall one of his last in a 2011 movie, “The Ides of March,” written, directed and starred in by George Clooney, playing a gross political manager who is eventually done in by his passion for personal loyalty.

Playing mano a mano with Paul Giametti, another actor who submerses himself in every role, he brings life to what might have been just another cliché.

That’s what Philip Seymour Hoffman was doing in every role he played in a brilliant and regrettably shortened life. 

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