Philip Seymour Hoffman: Remembering ‘The Master’ through his performances

Rather than parse through the particulars of the death of beloved actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, it is important to remember why his death captured the attention of so many people.

For the people who knew him, Philip Seymour Hoffman was a friend, a father and a New Yorker. For everybody else, he was an actor of unrivaled talent who defied every convention of what it means to carry a film. No matter the size of the role, Hoffman’s control over his own body language infected all he surrounded. It is incredibly fitting that one of Hoffman’s final roles was with frequent collaborator Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master,” because he truly was just that, a master of his craft.

In the wake of tragedy, hyperbole tends to shine through the darkness. It is important to note that it is not grief that is painting Hoffman as one of the greatest actors of his time, but reality. The same cold, hard reality that took him away from the world at the young age of 46. A quick Google search of the best actors of this generation pulls up more articles about Hoffman before his death than after.

 

 

The proof of his mastery is immediately recognizable in his collaborations with the aforementioned Paul Thomas Anderson. Hoffman’s breakout role was in the 1997 film “Boogie Nights.” A lesser actor would have been swallowed up by the film’s notoriously daunting ensemble cast including a slew of fellow Oscar nominees, but Hoffman’s role as Scotty stood out in a film full of bright, shining stars.

One of the most honorable things about Philip Seymour Hoffman as an actor was his extreme versatility. His appearance commanded type-casting; Hoffman was pudgy and very plain, allowing him to use his expression to fully drive his performances. From being a peppy, bumbling sycophant in “The Big Lebowski” to the embodiment of cool as iconic music journalist Lester Bangs in “Almost Famous” to a scary, yet uncomfortably sympathetic priest in “Doubt,” Philip Seymour Hoffman could convince anyone of anything.

Hoffman’s career was built upon the foundation of being an incomparably good supporting actor, but that characterization does him a great disservice. His transformation into the larger-than-life force that was Truman Capote won him an Academy Award and proved he did not just sweeten the films in which he performed but could be their lifeblood.

Compared to the other Truman Capote biopic that came out the same year, “Infamous,” “Capote” was far superior solely because of Hoffman.
Even in otherwise unremarkable films such as “Along Came Polly,” Philip Seymour Hoffman’s commitment to finding truth in written characters elevated that film in every scene he appeared.

This is why his untimely death matters to everyone who is a fan of the cinema; he simply made movies better. There have been very few actors who possessed that power and there will only be few in the future.

Philip Seymour Hoffman is dead, but through his movies we can confidently say, “long live Philip Seymour Hoffman.”

You can reach the reporter at zheltzel@asu.edu