When gifted actor Philip Seymour Hoffman passed away in February this year after an accidental heroine overdose he left behind a wonderful and diverse body of work. Following his untimely death there’s a gaping hole on the silver screen. Hoffman didn’t need method acting chops or matinee idol good looks to captivate – his talent was a stark counterpoint to the face value fame of the latest flavour of the month and he can never be politely dismissed as a mere character actor.
Whether bringing gravitas to a blockbuster villain in Mission Impossible 3 or offering a complex look at a real life figure like Truman Capote, he could elevate an average film and soar artistically in the great ones. Hoffman was an actor without vanity who stripped himself bare to find the truth of a character. It’s not surprising that he honed his craft on stage where, in the glare of footlights, a performance has to be sustained and not just brought to life in fleeting takes.
He once said of acting:
To have that concentration to act well is like lugging things up staircases in your brain. I think that’s a thing people don’t understand. It is that exhausting. If you’re doing it well, if you’re concentrating the way you need to, if your will and your concentration and emotional and imagination and emotional life are all in tune, concentrated and working together in that role, that is just like lugging weights upstairs with your head. And I don’t think that should get any easier
But flicking the channels on TV and coming across him in a film like Boogie Nights or The Talented Mr. Ripley, it’s easy to get sucked in and soon, you can’t take your eyes off the screen. Sadly, one of the last films he made before he died, God’s Pocket (released in cinemas August 6) may not be the best way to remember him (arguably the role is underwritten for someone of his talents). But in homage to Hoffman, here are six of his best scenes.
Almost Famous (2000)
In Cameron Crowe’s coming-of-age tale, based on his own experiences as a teenager writer for Rolling Stone, Hoffman plays legendary rock journalist Lester Bangs. In this clip he imparts words of wisdom on staying true to yourself in the cut-throat world of rock ‘n’ roll.
Hoffman’s Oscar-winning portrayal of socialite and celebrated author Truman Capote isn’t a physically transformative impersonation – for a start, Hoffman was much taller than the writer – but in Bennett Miller’s film he gets under the skin of the writer researching a murder case for his book In Cold Blood. In this scene he meets the death row convicts he’s grown close to for the final time before their execution. His tears feel painfully real.
The Master (2012)
Loosely based on the rise of Scientology, Hoffman plays a fictional facsimile of its founder L. Ron Hubbard. In Paul Thomas Anderson’s post-war drama, his Svengali-like charlatan Lancaster Dodd is the charismatic leader of a cult called The Cause that welcomes wayward Navy drifter Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix). In this playful scene Hoffman and Phoenix spar as Dodd lures Quell in and brings him under his spell.
Synecdoche, New York (2008)
“There are millions of people in the world and none of those people is an extra. They’re all leads in their own stories…” On first viewing Charlie Kaufman’s surreal drama can be impenetrable. The story of an artist who creates an immersive life-size replica of New York in a massive warehouse installation is weird but wonderful. This scene shows him rallying a troop of actors who have been in rehearsal for his mad folly for 17 years.
Love Liza (2002)
Following his wife’s unexplained suicide Wilson is consumed by grief and seeks solace in his darkest moments by ‘huffing’ gasoline fumes. Speaking at the Sundance Film Festival the actor explained: “Grieving is not just sitting in the corner and crying. It’s the exact opposite. These people are actively trying to do something and what they are doing is active, human and alive, and ultimately leads to catharsis. To get there, a person has to do a lot of work.” In this scene with Kathy Bates, he’s heartbroken by his wife’s suicide note.
Boogie Nights (1997)
Paul Thomas Anderon’s porn industry epic charts the rise and fall of Mark Wahlberg’s Dirk Diggler. In this scene Hoffman’s movie soundman is enthralled by his hero and risks a crushing rejection by making his true feelings known.