Sunday, February 02, 2014

That's that, mattress man

I was truly saddened by the news today that Philip Seymour Hoffman passed away at age 46, likely due to a heroin overdose, in his apartment in Greenwich Village, New York. My stomach sank as I read the news, especially because he had been sober for 23 years before relapsing last year and checking himself into rehab. He was known for his method acting, and widely regarded as one of the best actors (if not the best) of the past decade, and he would easily have a guaranteed spot in the Actor's Hall of Fame (if such a thing were to exist). He had incredible charisma and presence in every role in film and on stage, and he will be sorely missed. There will be many, many, many tributes and pieces about his legacy written today, but I still felt that I needed to write my own, even just to process what it means for him to be gone.

Hoffman has been one of my favourite actors for years, more or less since his performance in Capote, for which he won the Best Actor Oscar. (Here's the video of his acceptance speech.) My first memory of Hoffman was Dusty in 1996's blockbuster Twister, but he was such a chameleon that it took me a long time to realize that he had also played Brandt in The Big Lebowski, among many other iconic roles; as I went back over some of his earlier films later on, some of those performances became my favourites: Scotty in Boogie Nights; Lester Bangs in Almost Famous; and, of course, Dean Trumbell in Punch-Drunk Love (the clips below are NSFW for language).

After Capote, he was a fully acknowledged leading man, though he often chose roles that allowed others to take the lead. He faced off against Tom Cruise in M:I III before taking some fantastic roles in both independent and mainstream films, including some of my favourites of the past seven or so years: The Savages; Synecdoche, New York; Doubt; Charlie Wilson's War; The Ides of March; Moneyball; The Master; and as the enigmatic The Count in Pirate Radio, which led to this fantastic (although deleted) scene at Abbey Road.

I was not surprised that the news of his death hit me so hard today; after all, I felt a certain connection with Hoffman not only in his incredible performances, but also in his identity as a person struggling to make it through life both on and off screen. (So much, in fact, that my wife thought he would be the perfect candidate to play me in a movie version of my life, age notwithstanding.) As Derek Thompson writes, "he could puff himself up and play larger than life, but his specialty - losers, outcasts, and human marginalia - was to find the quiet dignity in life-sized characters." He never felt like a movie star; he always seemed to be a regular guy who was an actor. He was the kind of actor that I could see myself being one day, were I ever to return to drama, and he made me think about who I am and what I value through his performances.

So the world is a little worse off today because of our loss, which came well before its proper time. I guess we'll always have the twenty or so (!) incredible performances to revisit, but like other actors who die too early, we will always wonder what might have been. And now, I think it's appropriate to finish off with what is widely regarded as one of his best scenes as the memorable Gust from the otherwise unmemorable Charlie Wilson's War. Hoffman matched with Aaron Sorkin's words makes for magic.

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