Character Work: Remembering Philip Seymour Hoffman

Philip Seymour Hoffman Photo: Brigitte Lacombe

Philip Seymour Hoffman
Photo: Brigitte Lacombe

Recently, I’ve been writing about actors who create memorable characters and the process those individuals take in discovering the human beings they’re portraying. Today I want to focus on the brilliant character work of Philip Seymour Hoffman.


Lynn Hirschberg wrote a wonderful piece about Huffman in the Sunday New York Times Magazine a few years ago. It’s an inspiring article and I thought it would be interesting to share some excerpts with you regarding the man, the artist, and his   work.


“I don’t know how he does it,” said Mike Nichols, who has directed Hoffman on the stage and in movies. “Again and again, he can truly become someone I’ve never seen before but can still instantly recognize… He’s never the same person from part to part. It’s that humanity that is so striking—when you watch Phil work, his entire constitution seems to change. He may look like Phil, but there’s something different in his eyes. And that means he’s reconstituted himself from within, willfully rearranging his molecules to become another human being.”


Hirschberg later states, “Hoffman has interviewed all his characters with the combination of the familiar and the unique. It’s not easy; it’s the sort of acting that requires enormous range, as well as a kind of stubborn determination and a profound lack of vanity.”


In his own words Hoffman says, “you start stabbing out, and then you try again and again. The key is you have to commit. And that’s hard because you have to find what it is you are committing to… I know there are actors out there that present themselves as cool cats, but you better take your cool-­‐cat suit off if you want to act. You can’t otherwise.”

Later in the article Nichols said, “there is something deeply ethical about Phil as an actor that was apparent even from the beginning—he has the integrity and commitment to represent his characters without any judgment.”


Meryl Streep remembered seeing Philip for the first time in “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” “He played a rich, spoiled snob, and I sat up straight in my seat and said, ‘Who is that?’ I thought to myself: my God, this actor is fearless. He’s done what we all strive for—he’s given this awful character the respect he deserves, and he’s made him fascinating.

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)

There’s so much more to say about this deeply talented actor, but for now I’ll leave you with this parting thought by Paul Thomas Anderson. “Phil is committed to art and not in a phony, grandstanding way. He really wants to live a life in the arts that means something.”


Remembering Philip Seymour Hoffman should inspire us all to bring everything we have to the work and nothing less.


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