Philip Seymour Hoffman who passed away recently seemed all set to conquer every acting peak there was. A tribute to the actor who immersed himself into his character

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death due to suspected drug overdose on February 2 once again brought to the fore the destructive influence of substance abuse in showbiz. The 5’10” actor, who The New York Times described as “a stocky, often sleepy-looking man with blond, generally uncombed hair who favored the rumpled clothes more associated with an out-of-work actor than a star”, was a chameleon who immersed himself into his character.

The 46-year-old actor made his debut in the television series Law And Order in 1991. The next year was his big screen breakthrough performance with Scent Of A Woman. Though Al Pacino was all over the film as the cantankerous visually challenged alcoholic, Hoffman was noticed as the deceitful George.

Making an impact

Hoffman was the kind of actor who made his presence felt irrespective of the kind of movie or size of the role. It could be a silly rom-com such as Along Came Polly (“Let it rain”) where he plays an out-of-work actor or a big, fat, disaster film such as 1996’s Twister, he always gave the role his 150 per cent and created memorable characters out of very slight material.

In fact, Hoffman’s Dusty Davis in Twister, chasing storms to the sound of ‘Highway Star’ blaring from the roof of the truck was inspiration for many cross-country trips down various national highways with Purple booming from the car stereo — we have not yet graduated to speakers atop the car! In the manipulative, maudlin Patch Adams (1998) — the inspiration for Munna Bhai — he played Mitch Roman, Adams’ ambitious roommate; not the dean that Boman Irani’s Dr. Asthana was inspired by. His smarmy journalist in the worst of the Hannibal movies Red Dragon (2002) met his fate with the right mix of unbridled terror and humour.

In 2005, Hoffman won the Academy Award for best actor for his turn as the writer Truman Capote in Capote. That was also the year Heath Ledger was nominated for his turn as gay cowboy Ennis Del Mar in Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain. Ledger passed away at 28 due to prescription drug overdose in 2008.

Hoffman followed his Oscar-winning performance playing the baddie in J.J. Abrams’ Mission Impossible III. As arms dealer Owen Davian, he chewed up the scenery saying loathsome lines such as “Do you have a wife? A girlfriend? Because if you do, I’m gonna find her. I’m gonna hurt her. I’m gonna make her bleed, and cry, and call out your name. And then I’m gonna find you, and kill you right in front of her.” Hoffman playing Cruise playing Hoffman was one of those cool MI conceits that the gifted actor toyed with. “I always spill red wine on my white custom-made shirt.”

Fruitful collaborations

Hoffman enjoyed fruitful collaborations with directors, including five with Paul Thomas Anderson (Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love and The Master) and two each with Bennett Miller (Capote and Money Ball where he nailed the character of the manager, Art Howe) and Anthony Minghella (The Talented Mr. Ripley and Cold Mountain).

Hoffman seemed to pace himself like a marathon runner. After a string of memorable performances in the 1990s and early 2000s, his Academy Award win for Capote opened the floodgates. He got Academy Award nominations for his work in Charlie Wilson’s War (2007) where he plays a CIA agent; Doubt (2008) where he plays a Catholic priest; and The Master (2012). He made his directorial debut in 2010 with the romantic comedy Jack Goes Boating. Hoffman seemed all set to conquer every acting peak there was.

Unfortunately, he loved his highs not wisely but too well. Hoffman battled addiction and went into rehab when he was 22. After 20 years, he relapsed and went into rehab last year. Maybe he needed to be “honest and unmerciful” like his character, the music journalist Lester Bangs advices young William in Almost Famous, about getting the monkey off his back. Then we wouldn’t have been thinking of Hoffman’s greatest scenes; rather we would have been celebrating his triumphs on theatre, television and the big screen for years to come.