Remembering Philip Seymour Hoffman in Some of His Best Roles

4 years ago

I'm tremendously sad to hear that actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died today at age 46, of what the New York Times called "an apparent drug overdose." I have for so long admired his ability to capture a tortured soul -- to make me empathize with even the very creepiest people -- that I think the best tribute is to let his work speak for itself. Read on for my favorites of his roles (in no particular order).

Philip Seymour Hoffman at the Film premiere from The Hunger Games: Catching Fire in New York, November 20, 2013. Image: © Imago/

Next: Scotty J

Scotty J in Boogie Nights

Hoffman was a director's actor, and worked with many of the best, including several roles in movies by Paul Thomas Anderson. I think Boogie Nights was the first introduction to PSH for a lot of us, and an unforgettable one.

Next: Lancaster Dodd

Lancaster Dodd in The Master

Hoffman's final Paul Thomas Anderson film was a fictionalized life of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. I find it one of Anderson's least interesting movies -- but the acting saves the film. The brilliant interaction between Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix kept me tied to the screen.

Next: Allen

Allen in Happiness

The first time I saw Hoffman in a central role, in this Todd Solondz movie, he was so disturbing I could barely watch it -- but so brave and compelling that I had to.

Next: Brandt the Butler

Brandt in The Big Lebowski

What a fun character role -- he captured Lebowski's toady so perfectly.

Next: Freddie Miles

Freddie Miles in The Talented Mr. Ripley

As the rich friend who suspects Matt Damon of defrauding Jude Law, Hoffman steals every scene he's in -- you know he's right, but he plays it nasty and sinister -- as befits the tone of this Anthony Minghella film noir.

Next: Truman Capote

Truman Capote in Capote

The physical and vocal changes he went through impressed the Academy enough to win him a Best Actor Oscar, but my favorite part of this role is how he captured his subject's particular vindictive charm.

Next: Father Flynn

Father Flynn in Doubt

As a priest suspected of molesting an altar boy, Hoffman gave more outrage and less of his usual darkess… just enough to keep us right on the point of the sword -- convinced he's guilty in one scene, innocent in the next.

Next: Lester Bangs

Lester Bangs in Almost Famous

I loved Hoffman's take on the real-life rock critic. He looked like he was having a blast, for one thing, but his character was still nuanced. I don't know if the real Bangs engaged in this sort of depressed grandstanding -- or if he was so grudgingly sweet -- but it's just perfect.

Next: Phil Parma

Phil Parma in Magnolia

If you thought Hoffman could only play dark, watch this Paul Thomas Anderson ensemble film. As a nurse to the dying man played Jason Robards, he's kind, empathetic, and decent.

Next: Andy

Andy in Before The Devil Knows You're Dead

You'll think it's a stretch to see PSH and Ethan Hawke playing brothers -- at first. But their deep and complex relationship as their plans for a jewelry heist unravel in this Sidney Lumet movie rings very real.

Next: Plutarch Heavensbee

Plutarch Heavensbee in Catching Fire

Even in a high-profile action role, Hoffman's duality is perfect for a character who has more layers than it may seem.

Image: Lionsgate

I haven't seen a few of Hoffman' s movies (including Synechdoche, New York and A Late Quartet, both of which have been on my list for a while). He also had two new films -- God's Pocket (costarring John Tuturro and Christina Hendricks) and A Most Wanted Man (costarring Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright and Willem Dafoe) premiere at Sundance this past month. So if you have a favorite I didn't mention, please share it in the comments. May he rest in peace

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