Terribly shocking and sad news this weekend: Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead in a Manhattan apartment Sunday morning, of what appeared to be a heroin overdose. He was 46. It’s a sudden and tragic end to a remarkable career, which encompassed numerous roles on screen and stage. I never had the pleasure of seeing him perform live — he was a graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, and was a regular on- and off-Broadway — but here are five of my favorite PSH performances on screen. Let’s remember him like this, not as he was found yesterday.
— “The Talented Mr. Ripley” (1999): Cast against type — who would have though of Hoffman as a sleek, rich playboy? — PSH lit up the screen in Anthony Minghella’s delicious thriller. It’s a small role, but PSH’s star quality shines through; alongside a remarkable cast (Matt Damon, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Cate Blanchett), he’s all languid wit and sheer charisma.
— “Capote” (2005). This is the role that won him his Oscar — and again, one that you wouldn’t have guessed him for; PSH had little resemblance to Truman Capote, but it didn’t matter once you saw him on screen. Speaking in a voice we’d never heard — slurry, childlike, tiny — he movingly conveyed the author’s horror as he lived through, and wrote of, a horrific crime.
— “Charlie Wilson’s War” (2007): We think of PSH as a dramatic actor, and indeed he often was, but this film and many others demonstrated his knack for comedy. Here, spinning off Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts, he’s the third corner of a screwball-comedy triangle; fast and wickedly funny.
— “Doubt” (2008): Did Father Flynn, a priest at a 1960s Catholic school in John Patrick Shanley’s play-turned movie, sexually abuse a young boy? We don’t know — and Hoffman’s slyly calibrated performance, creating a man smug and domineering yet charming, makes a point of not telling us.
— “The Master” (2012): Hoffman, who made himself so tiny in “Capote,” here seems enormous as the leader of a mysterious cult religion; it’s all in the acting. In a huge, showy role that’s never overplayed, the actor seems to have command of all the air in the room. You couldn’t look away from him if you tried.
It’s hard not to think of all the roles Hoffman, still very young for a character actor, would have had ahead of him, and what other pleasure he could have brought us. May he rest in peace, and may his loved ones find comfort in their memories.
(Photo courtesy of A.M.P.A.S.) Hoffman, winning his Oscar for “Capote.”