Combustible Celluloid

Interview: Philip Seymour Hoffman

Other Voices

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

October 8, 2005—Over the past decade, many actors have sparked their careers by appearing in biopics, playing real, recognizable people, and often winning awards as a result. But what happens when arguably our greatest actor today, Philip Seymour Hoffman, 38, takes on a real person, as he does in the recently released Capote? How is his portrayal different?

Hoffman, speaking by phone on his way to the Mission: Impossible III set, says that the primary ingredient is need. "If you haven't created needs, all you have is someone who's technically proficient at mimicking someone. You get inside the intellectual through-line of the character. You see them in the moment. You see them needing."

Rather than a by-the-numbers chronology of Truman Capote's life, Capote focuses on one important event: the writing of In Cold Blood, and the way it changed Capote's life forever. This approach forced director Bennett Miller and Hoffman to distill their characterization to its most prime elements.

"I wasn't well read on Capote," Hoffman says. "I didn't know about the story in all its detail. A lot of it was a big surprise to me. And I'm glad for that, because I didn't have any kind of opinion on him."

Nevertheless, Hoffman easily clued in on the character's artistic impulse. "Creative people are looking for that thing that's going to get them jazzed. It's not compelling to show someone actually writing. What's compelling is that journey."

Sometimes associated with ragged, unkempt loudmouth types, Hoffman makes a stunning transformation into Capote, starting with the writer's trademark squeaky voice, which he practiced for five months, and all during shooting. Then there was Capote's distinctive look. "There's a quality I had to get across," Hoffman says. "I was thin and wearing great clothes, sitting there in those great suits and holding a drink in your hand, hair cut short, clean-shaven. The style that he had was not a style that I had, and it was very pleasing."

Hoffman, who has often claimed that acting is not easy, says that Capote was the most difficult role he's yet played. "He was a high profile person; the chance of failure was greater," he says. "I struggled a long time about not doing it well."

Director Miller, who recently visited San Francisco, hopes Hoffman nabs a much-deserved Oscar nomination. "I'm hoping for him. For a million reasons, but the simplest is that he deserves it. He really broke himself to play this role."

Partial Philip Seymour Hoffman Filmography:
My New Gun (1992)
Leap of Faith (1992)
Scent of a Woman (1992)
Money for Nothing (1993)
The Getaway (1994)
When a Man Loves a Woman (1994)
Nobody's Fool (1994)
Hard Eight (1996)
Twister (1996)
Boogie Nights (1997)
Next Stop Wonderland (1998)
The Big Lebowski (1998)
Happiness (1998)
Patch Adams (1998)
Flawless (1999)
Magnolia (1999)
The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
State and Main (2000)
Almost Famous (2000)
Love Liza (2002)
Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
Red Dragon (2002)
25th Hour (2002)
Owning Mahowny (2003)
Cold Mountain (2003)
Along Came Polly (2004)
Strangers with Candy (2005)
Capote (2005) [Academy Award]
Mission: Impossible III (2006)
The Savages (2007)
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007)
Charlie Wilson's War (2007) [Academy Award Nomination]
Synecdoche, New York (2008)
Doubt (2008) [Academy Award Nomination]
Mary and Max (2009) (voice)
Pirate Radio (2009)
I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale (2009)
The Invention of Lying (2009)
Jack Goes Boating (2010) [Also Director]
The Ides of March (2011)
Moneyball (2011)
The Master (2012) [Academy Award Nomination]
A Late Quartet (2012)
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)
God's Pocket (2014)
A Most Wanted Man (2014)

Movies Unlimtied