Philip Seymour Hoffman: Key Roles of a Character Actor

By Colin Bertram
|  Sunday, Feb 2, 2014  |  Updated 8:07 PM EDT
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    News of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman's death by apparent heroin overdose at age 46 sent shock-waves through theatrical communities from Hollywood to Broadway.

    An Oscar and multi-award winning actor, Hoffman's ability to segue from outright creepiness ("The Talented Mr. Ripley") to the endearingly awkward ("Boogie Nights") and stunning verisimilitude ("Capote") earned him a loyal fan following drawn from both movie-goers and his peers.

    Hoffman began his acting career in 1991 and slowly gained recognition through supporting roles in acclaimed movies such as "Scent of a Woman" (1992), "Twister" (1996), "The Big Lebowski" (1998), "Patch Adams" (1998), "Magnolia" (1999), "Almost Famous" (2000), "Punch-Drunk Love" (2002), "Cold Mountain" (2003) and "Charlie Wilson's War."

    On Broadway, Hoffman was a noted director as well as a Tony-nominated actor, appearing on-stage in "True West" (2000), "Death of a Salesman" (2012) and "Long Day's Journey into Night" (2003).

    Here, the key roles of a major character actor:

    Scotty J. in "Boogie Nights" (1997)

    Hoffman's minor role in director Paul Thomas Anderson's ode to 70's excess "Boogie Nights" as the eager to please, yet deeply awkward and closeted homosexual Scotty J., showcased his ability to portray both physical and emotional discomfort onscreen. His unrequited crush on Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg) was informed by an underlying loneliness that drew audiences to Hoffman's portrayal. It was one of the first instances viewers and critics took notice of Hoffman's ability to mark a moment onscreen, regardless of the size of his role.

    Brandt in "The Big Lebowski" (1998)

    Uptight, precise and beloved by fans of the cult film, Hoffman's role as the real Lebowski's butler allowed the actor to show his emotional range yet again, this time via the quirks of a man who can't shake his attachment to a cruel employer. "Lebowski" also allowed Hoffman's charm and comedic abilities to shine, though his appearances in the movie are rare.

    Freddie Miles in "The Talented Mr. Ripley" (1999)

    One of the first films to gain him widespread appeal, "Ripley" centers around Hoffman's co-stars Matt Damon and Jude Law. Hoffman's malign presence, however, as vindictive preppy Freddie Miles almost steals the film from his two leads. Miles' lack of regard for those he meets and eventually tosses aside highlighted Hoffman's ability to play remote, yet complex characters that stay with audiences long after the credits role.

    Allen in "Happiness" (1998)

    Going into the dark places of humanity most audiences find abhorrent, Hoffman had an ability to humanize even the most repellent of characters. In Todd Solondz' "Happiness," Hoffman plays Allen, a pervert who passes his time making prank calls to strangers, all the while masturbating as he engages over the telephone. Another lonely-outsider role, Hoffman was nominated for a best supporting Independent Spirit Award thanks to his unflinching and unsettling portrayal. 

    Truman Capote in "Capote" (2005)

    Spotlighting Hoffman's ability to disappear into a role - even one based on a real person as famous as the writer Truman Capote - "Capote" garnered the actor a best actor Academy Award and is one of the most critically-lauded performances of his, now too short, career. Charting Capote's investigation into the grisly murder of a Kansas family and the relationship he forms with one of the suspects of the crime, Hoffman's brilliant rendering of the writer's affected mannerisms, voice and deep emotional detachments never veers into caricature, and allows audiences a glimpse into the human side of one of the twentieth century's most well-known yet often misunderstood writers.

    Father Brendan Flynn in "Doubt" (2008)

    Hoffman and his co-star Meryl Streep lock horns in this gripping tale of a priest (Hoffman) whose relationship with a young male student is questioned by a nun, the school's headmistress (Streep). Set in 1964, the pair trade veiled barbs before culminating in verbal shouting jousts that showcase the iron wills of the involved characters and the acting prowess of two of Hollywood's greatest. Hoffman received a best supporting Academy Award nomination for his role.

    Lancaster Dodd in "The Master" (2012)

    Another Paul Thomas Anderson movie in which Hoffman delivers an equally beguiling, yet terrifying portrayal of a leader of a developing cult. Underneath Hoffman's calm exterior in the film lies an aggressive egotist who can't stand anybody questioning his authority or views. His minimalist yet intense acting opposite co-star Joaquin Phoenix earned Hoffman a Golden Globe, SAG, BAFTA and Academy Award nominations for best actor.

    Plutarch Heavensbee in "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" (2013)

    Hoffman's performance in the second installment of the "Hunger Games" franchise may not have received the critical acclaim of his other films, yet the blockbuster starring Jennifer Lawrence introduced the actor to a new generation of fans who were too young to experience his earlier, ground-breaking work. As head gameskeeper Heavensbee, he is the judge who falls into the punch bowl when Lawrence's character fires an arrow into the judges' viewing box. Heavensbee is later revealed to be a leader of the rebellion in numerous districts. Filming on the highly-anticipated sequels, "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Parts 1 and 2" had already commenced filming.

    "Philip's work as Plutarch Heavensbee was substantially complete," said a statement from "Hunger Games" studio Lionsgate released shortly after news of Hoffman's death broke."He had seven days remaining to shoot on "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2." This tragedy will not affect the film's scheduled release dates."

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