My favorite Philip Seymour Hoffman performance

Sometime last night, I saw a listing of Phillip Seymour Hoffman‘s best performances, and didn’t see my favorite.

So I’m rectifying that by including this clip of him as Lester Bangs in “Almost Famous.”

The irony is that he may have been the coolest actor of his generation.

51 thoughts on “My favorite Philip Seymour Hoffman performance

  1. Kathryn Fenner

    He always made me uncomfortable, but then that was consistent with the characters he played.

    The Savages and The Talented Mr. Ripley are my most remembered ones.

    1. Juan Caruso

      Had just watched 1999’s “The Talented Mr. Ripley” (for the 3rd time) the week prior to his death. Hoffman’s portrayal of “Freddie” was so well convincing it appeared to be PSH’s natural disposition. Yet, he has been equally accomplished in too many other roles for that to have been the case. What a talent! What a waste!

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Yes. I had never seen that before a week or two ago (and in fact, I haven’t finished watching it yet), but that character was so obnoxiously lifelike that it’s hard to imagine that he was acting. Yet he was…

        I want it noted that Juan and Kathryn just agreed on something…

  2. Doug Ross

    Overrated. He played unlikable, sweaty, self-absorbed, weird characters. Everything was built up from the Scotty character in Boogie Nights.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      No, he was a substantial actor. He caused me to be very interested in the characters he played. You’re saying Lester Bangs in “Almost Famous” and Art Howe in “Moneyball” were the same characters? I don’t think so.

      Then there was Father Brendan Flynn in “Doubt.” Not at all the same.

      PSH lent substance to a film just by being in it. All the previews for “The Ides of March” used clips of him, because his character drew you in, made you think there was something deep to this movie (which was, to me, a big disappointment, although I know some people who loved it).

      But hey, if it all came out of his character in “Boogie Nights,” I’m going to have to give in and watch that movie, which I’ve avoided up to now…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        OK, I just watched this clip from “Boogie Nights.” That character was different from almost every other character he ever played, in this respect — he’s utterly lacking in confidence, in self-possession…

    1. Bryan Caskey

      Eh….not *all* of them. He certainly played a type of character, but almost all actors have a “type” of character that they play.

      Looking back through his list of roles on IMDB (such a great website, by the way) I forgot that he played the personal assistant to Lebowski. It was a small role, but it was great comedy to have Hoffman play such a straight-laced guy in juxtaposition to Jeff Bridges’ role of The Dude.

      Hoffman played a great prep-school kid in “Scent of a Woman”. I haven’t seen that movie in a long time. Pacino really steals it, but Hoffman played a big role in that move, again as a contrast. He’s the opposite of O’Donnell’s character.

      Now that I think about it, Hoffman plays the contrasting guy in many of his roles. He plays different characters, but each of his characters’ main job is to be a type of foil to the main character, not necessarily the antagonist, but a lesser version of the protagonist.

      Two additional examples:

      1. Art Howe in Moneyball: He’s the traditional, stubborn (but ultimately respectful of boundaries) manager who doesn’t want to change, as opposed Pitt’s character of Beane, who wants to radically change how players are valued.

      2. Mitch in Patch Adams: Kind of the same as above, he’s the “traditional” med school student, who rooms with Williams’ character of Adams, who wants to change how medicine is practiced. He’s kind of a jerk, but he eventually comes around, if I remember correctly.

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      Doug, there are a number of tribute clips on the web, including a good one on Slate. Watch them and tell me you don’t see a wide variety of true characters.

      And he was reportedly clean for 23 years.

      1. Doug Ross

        I’ve seen plenty of his performances. I even stuck with “The Master” (for which he got a Best Supporting Actor nomination) far longer than it deserved. It was terrible. He and Joaquin Phoenix are a good match.

        Let’s not forget his stellar acting in “Along Came Polly” and “Mission Impossible”… those were the “I’m an ACTOR but if the check’s big enough, I’ll do whatever you want” roles.

        Daniel Day Lewis is who I think of when I think of a great actor.

        1. Doug Ross

          How many people have ever forked over $10 to go see a PSH movie? His three leading roles: Capote did $28 million. The Master did $16 million. Doubt did $33 million (and most of that was due to Meryl Streep).

          Johnny Freaking Knoxville did more than that combined with Bad Grandpa.

          1. Kathryn Fenner

            Just because he can’t “open” a film, doesn’t negate his acting chops. That you found characters meant to be repellent, repellent, validates my position.

            He was not a movie star. That is not an insult.

          2. Doug Ross

            Right, he was a “great” actor but just not anybody very many people would actually pay to see act. He was a drunken, addicted mess who decided drugs meant more to him than his three kids. Lots of enablers in the movie business.

            He’s similar to John Belushi… a guy who met the same demise and was given far more credit than he deserved.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              Doug, for his entire movie career, except the last year or so, he was clean and sober — and because of his addiction, had to work at it a lot harder than you or I would.

              If you’re going to blame him for his failure at the end, give him credit for all those years of success. Every day was a victory — especially for someone surrounded by enablers — until his defeat at the end.

          3. Brad Warthen Post author

            Doug asks, “You know he was “clean and sober” based on what?” Based on the same thing upon which I base my belief that he died of an apparent drug overdose — published reports.

            What I’ve seen points to a 22 or 23-year period in which he abstained, ending last year, when he apparently had started back, and sought help — but apparently this time he couldn’t pull himself out of the grip.

            I haven’t seen indications that he was using 5 or 10 years ago. Have you? And yet everyone knew he had fallen off the wagon this past year…

          4. Doug Ross

            “Clean and sober” doesn’t mean only avoiding heroin. Addicts lie all the time. Based on what was found in his apartment, he was also using multiple prescription meds as well. (Doctors to the stars can be enablers as well).

            He was photographed last week in Atlanta drunk in a bar and also drunk on a plane back to NYC. He looked like a mess in Park City, UT at the Sundance Festival a short time ago.

            He’s got at least four films in the queue that he’s been working on during his relapse period. Like I said, there are plenty of enablers in the Hollywood community.

          5. Doug Ross

            This is what was found in his apartment:

            “Prescription drugs, including the blood-pressure medication clonidine hydrochloride; the addiction-treatment drug buprenorphine; Vyvanse, a drug used to treat attention-deficit (hyperactivity) disorder; hydroxyzine, which can be used to treat anxiety; and methocarbamol, a muscle relaxer. Authorities are investigating whether Hoffman had prescriptions for these drugs, the sources said.”

            He went to rehab last May for heroin and prescription drugs. Now, without knowing the details, do we assume his decision to enter rehab came very shortly after he started using again or after a period of time when his use got out of control? He went to rehab and it didn’t work… he was kicked off a movie last August.

            Addicts lie. Movie studios cover up actor’s addictions as long as they can get them on the set.

          6. Kathryn Fenner

            Okay, Doug, no artist is great unless a lot of people will pay to see them.

            Yes, Addicts lie. He was using. He had lots of drugs in his apartment. None of this suggests that he was using long before his girlfriend kicked him out.

          7. Doug Ross

            @bud Because most things are about money. I’m willing to admit it. You’re more interested in spending other people’s money. What’s worse?

  3. Brad Warthen

    Oh, but I tend to like his characters.

    What is harder to find is an actor willing to be uncool.

    I just rewatched a scene from “Charlie Wilson’s War” in which his character totally cusses out another, in front of lots of witnesses, in an office. At the climax of his rant, his voice breaks slightly — the way a real person’s would, experiencing such a surge of emotion. Most actors would play it to be impressive, telling off the other guy with the words you WISH you could think of at such a moment, and being in supreme control. Hoffman tells off the guy beautifully, but his voice cracks. There’s that realism, which is rare.

  4. Bart

    Saw him in a couple of movies. Not one of my favorites. Sad to hear about his addiction and death because of it.

    Kathryn is right, kids, stay away from drugs even pot.

    1. Doug Ross

      “stay away from drugs even pot”

      Or you might become President, make millions in TV, movies, and music. At this point, there are just way too many people who have done it and turned out just fine to make it a crime to smoke it.

      Alcohol does more damage to people and families than pot ever has or will.

  5. Brad Warthen Post author

    Here’s a bit of irony…

    My favorite PSH role was Lester Bangs in “Almost Famous.” Here’s something the real Lester Bangs wrote about Janis Joplin’s death by drug overdose: “It’s not just that this kind of early death has become a fact of life that has become disturbing, but that it’s been accepted as a given so quickly.”

  6. Kathryn Fenner

    On Doug’s metric of acting ability, that a great actor is one who people will pay to see, Jean Claude van Damme is a better actor than Dame Judi Dench

    1. Doug Ross

      No, I said that Hoffman’s “greatness” was apparently not great enough to attract an audience. He was a character actor with a limited range of roles: loudmouth jerk, blustering fool, pedophile.

      Here he is at his best:

      1. Mark Stewart

        I saw him on stage in True West with John C. Reilly in 1998.

        One of the characters was as you describe, the other not so much. What was interesting is that the two actors switched roles during the run (I happened to see the play twice with opposite roles). Hoffman (and Reilly) played both with conviction and it was – is still – hard to believe that they could both succeed with such diametrically opposed character portrayals. BTW, in 2000 they split a single Tony award for their joint roles in True West.

        You may not “like” his portrayals or character choices; but he was a very fine actor nonetheless.

        1. Bart

          Bryan, #6 on your list, George Lazenby, poor guy. His Bond was so bad it killed his career and I think he ended up doing dog food commercials or something. Anyway, after his Bond movie, I don’t remember seeing him in anything else.

          I do agree with Daniel Craig being #1 but Sean Connery is still overall the sentimental favorite.

  7. Brad Warthen Post author

    This is interesting. It’s a website organized by Edward Norton, asking people to give in PSH’s name to support a theater company he helped found.

    Here’s the release about it:

    To celebrate the life and artistry of our friend and colleague, Philip Seymour Hoffman, who we admired and loved, Edward Norton has organized a page to celebrate Hoffman’s indominable spirit. Alongside his celebrated work as an actor, Hoffman helped build New York’s Labyrinth Theater Company from its inception into one of the top theater groups in America. Some of the brightest and most original new talents of the last 20 years found their own success because of Phil’s steadfast effort and deep commitment to this non-profit theater. Please consider making a donation to the Labyrinth Theater Company in his memory. All donations made will go to support the company in celebration of Philip’s great talent, his enormous contributions and his spirit. Phil stands among the finest stage and screen artists of our generation and, for those lucky enough to have known or collaborated with him, his untimely passing is a terrible blow and irreplaceable loss. He will be deeply missed. For more information on how you can donate to this cause please visit crowdrise

    And here’s the link.

    Edward Norton, of course, is the one other actor of that generation that think of as having the kind of talent that PSH had…

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