Philip Seymour Hoffman, the world’s greatest actor. No votes were cast, no ballots collected, no polls were taken. Although officially announced by Jon Stewart on the Daily Show in early October, anyone who has been actively watching film or theatre performances in the last decade would likely concur with that bold proclamation. Regardless of the medium and the size and shape of the role, Hoffman’s performances are plays onto themselves. One doesn’t need to have studied Stanislavski’s An Actors Handbook to perceive when an actor has become a master of his art. Put aside the Tony nominations for stage performances in Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night and Sam Shepard’s True West and just consider one third of his thirty-six screen performances. In order of appearance: Scotty in Boogie Nights, Brandt in The Big Lebowski, Rusty in Flawless, Phil in Magnolia, Freddie in The Talented Mr. Ripley, Joseph in State And Main, Lester in Almost Famous, Wilson in Love Liza, Dean in Punch Drunk Love, Jacob in 25th Hour, Dan in Owning Mahowney and Truman in Capote.
Philip Seymour Hoffman ingests each of these complex and varied characters with an authenticity and subtlety that sets him apart from his contemporaries. No one has maximized their screen time more than he has. No one has captured the essence of the American everyman of the early 21st century with more sincerity and conviction than he has. These men can be both lonely and funny, aggressive and vulnerable, hopeful and defeated, lost and found, often at the same time. He has captured the distinction between seeming and being and his characters stay with the audience long after the films have ended. It appears he doesn’t choose a role unless he feels the role has chosen him; that he can become the character rather than play it. He is operating with an intelligence and a level of commitment that both inspires the film’s world and the spectator’s world. We recognize ourselves in his honesty. We absorb Pushkin’s “sincerity of emotions”, the “feelings that seem true in given circumstances.” We are exposed to the art of the actor and the heart of the character every second he is on screen.
Philip Seymour Hoffman is not going to buy into the ‘world’s greatest actor’ and that’s what adds to his cachet. He has humility. He has talent. He has artistry. He has Capote. He has momentum. We talked to Philip by phone from New York.
“The proof of a poet is that his country absorbs him as affectionately as he has absorbed it.” Walt Whitman, Leaves Of Grass
[Interview by Brian Hendricks / Photo by Jenny Gage & Tom Betterton]