I can count on one hand the number of deaths of famous people that saddened me to the point of tears. Yesterday, 46-year old actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman died in his New York apartment, becoming one of that small number of deaths to make me cry.
I first saw Hoffman in Twister as a member of the storm-chasing team. I liked his character, a young guy who loved his job and laughed a lot, not taking himself or the storms too seriously. I saw him in a few other films throughout the late 90s and early 2000s. Whenever he showed up on the screen, I always thought, “hey, it’s the guy from Twister and (insert other films I’d seen him in up until that point.)” Watching his films, I realized that, like so many actors, he could play a good guy and a bad guy with equal skill. That made him a good actor.
The film that made me sit up and take notice, going so far as to remember his name, was called “Flawless.” Hoffman played a drag queen-cum-Florence Nightingale to Robert De Niro’s homophobic stroke victim. While this film would not necessarily go down in history as one of the greats, it was the first time I noticed how many layers Hoffman brought to the character he played. That, in my book, made him a great actor. Plus, he got to go toe-to-toe with De Niro, every actor’s wet dream.
(Incidentally, De Niro released a statement on Hoffman’s death. “I’m very, very saddened by the passing of Phil. He was a wonderful actor. This is one of those times where you say: ‘This just shouldn’t be. He was so young and gifted and had so much going, so much to live for’. My family and I send our deepest condolences to his family.” You took the words right out of my mouth, Bob.)
As the years went on and Hoffman appeared in more films, my favorites were the ones where he played a character who was neither good nor bad. He had a knack for locating that darkness that lies in every soul, channeling it, and then projecting it as part of his characters identity. Not all actors can do that. In fact, many actors could not find that deep darkness if you handed them a map, a snack, and one of those miner’s helmets with an attached lamp.
It’s astounding that he played so many memorable film roles in less than twenty years. I was ecstatic when I read that Hoffman was cast as Plutarch Heavensbee in the Hunger Games series. A great actor would join an incredible cast to tell a unique dystopian story. Now when I see Plutarch on the screen in the next two Hunger Games installments, it will be a bittersweet viewing
If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to spend the rest of the day in front of my computer, enjoying a Phillip Seymour Hoffman marathon, and crying.