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Gone But Not Forgotten: Philip Seymour Hoffman

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By Luke Spiby 

Philip Seymour Hoffman was a legend of both stage and screen until his tragic and unexpected death on February 2nd 2014. After struggling with drugs in his youth, Hoffman managed to stay sober for 23 years; however after one alcoholic drink to celebrate the completion of The Master in 2012, he relapsed. Hoffman admitted himself into rehab in May 2013 for substance abuse, but died from combined drug intoxication just nine months later at the age of 46. Shortly after his death, Hoffman was dubbed “perhaps the most ambitious and widely admired American actor of his generation” by The New York Times.

In the two decades he spent as an actor, Hoffman appeared in over 50 films, garnering four Academy Award nominations, five BAFTA nominations and five Golden Globe nominations; winning one of each for his work in Capote (2005). The reason Hoffman was so successful in the film and theatre industries, is due to his recognition that the best actors aren’t just entertainers, they are artists, and he was one of the greatest artists that Hollywood has ever seen.

Hoffman’s strength was his talent to bring the absolute best and worst out of every character he played. He had an amazing ability to become the character, to find their greatest hopes and their worst fears, their proudest moments and most shameful skeletons, and to make it not just relatable, but appealing. He was so skilled at this because he thought it vital that his characters were genuine, once saying “I think deep down, people understand how flawed they are. I think the more benign you make somebody, the less truthful it is.” This shows that Hoffman truly understood what it is to be human – no one is perfect, but we strive for better – and if anyone represented that best, it was him.

Many students may not have been quick to pick Hoffman out of a line-up five years ago, even after supporting roles in Along Came Polly (2004) and Mission: Impossible III (2006); however appearances in Moneyball and The Ides Of March (2011) made him more recognisable than ever. More recently he appeared as Plutarch Heavensbee in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013); this not only became the tenth highest opening-day grossing film of all time, but also cemented Hoffman’s status as a household name.

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Hoffman at Sundance Film Festival

He may have passed away almost ten months ago, but Hoffman has definitely not been forgotten. On 20th November last week The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 was released, starring Hoffman reprising his role from the previous film. This being the third of four Hoffman films released posthumously, with The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 scheduled for release next November. The first two films, God’s Pocket and A Most Wanted Man were premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival in mid-January; only a few weeks before Hoffman’s death, but released commercially months later.

Hoffman’s Best Bits

3. Almost Famous (2000). Hoffman may only have had a minor role in this film, as eccentric music critic Lester Bangs, but his performance is unforgettable. Lester Bangs is a difficult man, but Hoffman’s scenes are so sublime, he leaves you wanting more.

2. Synecdoche, New York (2008). Hoffman starred in this postmodern drama as Caden Cotard, a theatre director with a bleak but beautiful view of the world. The emotion that Hoffman brought to this role was enough to bring a tear to anyone’s eye, as Cotard struggles with life, love and loss more often than is humanly possible.

1. Capote (2005). Hoffman won several accolades for his portrayal of Truman Capote. He may seem harmless on the surface, but Hoffman delved deep into Capote’s darker side, representing him as a manipulative, pathological liar. The selfish nature of Capote is clear from the start, yet the anguish in Hoffman’s performance makes it much easier to feel sorry for him than to dislike him.

Hoffman’s influence in the film and theatre industries was incredible. He was well-liked and well-respected by even the greatest Hollywood giants; that has been especially emphasised since his passing. Countless stars, including George Clooney and Tom Hanks, paid their respects in the weeks following Hoffman’s death, Broadway dimmed its lights for one minute as a sign of reverence, and Cate Blanchet even dedicated the BAFTA that she received for Blue Jasmine (2013) to him. On top of this, Hoffman’s close friend and playwright, David Bar Katz, founded the American Playwriting Foundation and Edward Norton helped establish a fundraising campaign for the LAByrinth Theatre Company, all in commemoration of the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Luke Spiby is a third year Chemistry student with a passion for film. Follow him on Twitter @LJSpibs

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