I can’t remember exactly when, and which film it was that first introduced me to the acting talents of Philip Seymour Hoffman, but for a long time now I have considered him to be one of the most underrated actors of his day.
When I first heard the news that he had died of a drug overdose I was shocked. Not simply because this was the loss of a truly great acting talent, but also because he had effectively prophesied his own demise several years ago during an interview when he commented on his decision to give up drinking at age 22:
“I think I would have drank myself to death, literally, if I didn’t just stop, once and for all when I did. I am not ever going to preach to anyone about drugs or drinking. But, for me, when they were around, I had no self control.”
Sadly, it seems that this is exactly what happened, with reports now suggesting that more than 70 bags of heroine were found in the apartment where Hoffman was living.
To call Hoffman unconventional by Hollywood standards would be an understatement. He didn’t have the looks, physique or physical stature typically expected of a Hollywood celebrity, and he never really lived his private live in the media spotlight. He was a rare breed of actor who commanded audience attention because of his raw acting talent, rather than any of the superficialities that dominate so much modern cinema and celebrity.
For me Hoffman was one of the best character actors of the last 20 years, and I think it’s an absolute tragedy that he was never considered for more leading roles during his all too brief career. His brilliance finally achieved the attention it deserved when he was awarded the Oscar for his amazing performance as Truman Capote in the 2005 film Capote.
Hoffman was to acting what Beck is to musicianship – he was an “actor’s actor”. Not only was he a legend of art house cinema films, but he could also slot seamlessly into big budget Hollywood films like Red Dragon, Mission Impossible III and The Hunger Games franchise.
When an artist dies young people often opine about what would have been if only they’d lived longer and been able to share more of their talent with the world. Most of the time this feels like cliched sentiment, but not with Philip Seymour Hoffman.
I truly believe we had yet to see the best that he had to offer the world as an actor, and this makes his passing all the more tragic.
However, what makes Hoffman’s death most tragic of all is the fact that he leaves behind a wife and three young children. The world may have lost a great artist, but Hoffman’s family have lost something far greater and far more important – a husband and father – and that’s the real tragedy at the heart of this death.
Brendan Malone lives in Christchurch, New Zealand, and blogs at The Leading Edge