On Monday, I found myself roaming the DVD section of the public library. Included in the ever-growing stack of plastic cases under my arm were: “Scent of a Woman” (1992); “State and Main” (2000); “Empire Falls” (2005); “Charlie Wilson’s War” (2007); “Synecdoche, New York” (2008) and “The Master” (2012).
The one element they all had in common was they were all movies starring Philip Seymour Hoffman that I had not yet seen.
The previous day I had learned Hoffman — one of the finest character actors ever — was found dead in his New York City apartment. He was only 46 years old.
“Investigators found a syringe in his arm and, nearby, an envelope containing what appeared to be heroin,” reported Bruce Weber in The New York Times on Sunday.
Hoffman had been open about his struggles with addiction in the past, including a stint in rehab at age 22.
“It’s not a great pleasure for me to have a couple of glasses of wine,” he told Terry Gross on WHYY’s “Fresh Air” in 2008, after she asked if seeing others partake made him jealous. “That’s kind of annoying. Do you know what I mean? Like, why aren’t you having the whole bottle?”
There was clearly something very, very broken inside him. He exposed this vulnerability on screen. He held nothing back, making him an awe-inspiring performer. Sadly, the same thing that made him great ultimately did him in.
“What it takes to be a great athlete is the same thing that it takes to be a great actor, I think, that kind of concentration, that kind of privacy in public and that kind of un-self-conscious kind of experience are very similar and that kind of pressure of the people watching,” he told Gross in the same interview.
What a loss. Hoffman stars in no less than 10 movies I absolutely love. They are, in chronological order: “Hard Eight” (1996) — Hoffman came alive as an obnoxious gambler in director Paul Thomas Anderson’s debut film. He went on to star in every Anderson film to date, except “There Will Be Blood.”; “Boogie Nights” (1997) — I could watch this once a month for the rest of my life. Hoffman paints a hilarious and heartbreaking portrait of unrequited love; “The Big Lebowski” (1998) — My favorite movie ever; “The Talented Mr. Ripley” (1999) — Hoffman steals every scene he’s in, even from Matt Damon and Jude Law;
“Flawless” (1999) — Flawless; “Punch-Drunk Love” (2002) — He made a superb villain as sleaze-ball Dean Trumbell; “25th Hour” (2002) — A totally underrated Spike Lee joint featuring an amazing Hoffman supporting role; “Strangers with Candy” (2005) — Fine, he was only a minor character. I just can’t get enough of this movie or TV series. So funny; “Capote” (2005) — This was Hoffman’s masterpiece, for which he received his well-deserved Oscar; “Doubt” (2008) — I just re-watched this and it holds up so well. Meryl Streep, Amy Adams and Hoffman are thrilling together.
Beyond that, he also turned in stand-out performances in: “Twister” (1996); “Happiness” (1998); “Magnolia” (1999); “Love Liza” (2002); “Red Dragon” (2002); “Mission: Impossible III” (2006); “The Invention of Lying” (2009); “Moneyball” (2011); and “The Ides of March” (2011).
You know how I know Hoffman was a once-in-a-generation actor? He was always a highlight, even in movies I didn’t otherwise care for, including: “Patch Adams” (1998); “Almost Famous” (2000); “Cold Mountain” (2003); “Along Came Polly” (2004); “The Savages” (2007); and “Jack Goes Boating” (2010).
I took Philip Seymour Hoffman for granted. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate his work while he was alive; I most certainly did. I do remember thinking he’d always be around, though — making every movie he was cast in better, like always. Somehow I hadn’t fully grasped that wouldn’t always be the case.
Rob Burgess, Tribune night editor, may be reached by calling 765-454-8577, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at twitter.com/robaburg.