“I didn't have any idea that I would be able to have a career in film,” Philip Seymour Hoffman once said. And yet that's exactly what this most brilliant and versatile of actors enjoyed, which makes it even harder to report that he has died at the age of 46.
Born in Rochester, New York, Hoffman was exposed to acting early in his life by his mother, a lawyer who enjoyed taking her son to local theatrical productions. Though he was more into athletics originally than acting, the bug bit after he was sidelined by a wrestling injury in his teens and he attended the New York State Summer School Of The Arts before continuing his education at New York University.
During his university studies, he founded the Bullstoi Ensemble alongside actor Steven Schub and director Bennett Miller, the latter of whom would go on to have a profound effect on his career.
Theatrical work became his passion, but in 1991 he got his first TV role in, like so many New York performers, a Law & Order episode. He won a few film roles, but his big breakthrough was 1992’s Scent Of A Woman. From there, he built a career from a wide variety of movies, including When A Man Loves A Woman, Nobody’s Fool, The Talented Mr. Ripley, 25th Hour and State And Main.
More than one writer/director saw what he could do, and he worked with some of the best, including multiple stints with Paul Thomas Anderson, the Coen brothers and Anthony Minghella. He was nominated for several Oscars, and his old friend Bennett Miller directed him to a win for Best Actor for the title role in 2005’s Capote (above). Adept at comedy and drama, Hoffman played real people with conviction, portraying the likes of Lester Bangs in Almost Famous. He has some work still to be seen, including Anton Corbijn’s A Most Wanted Man, Sundance indie God’s Pocket and his return to the role of Plutarch Heavensbee in The Hunger Games: Part 1 and Part 2.
Through his career, he battled doubts and depression, even as he won plaudits for his performances and directing. “Acting is so difficult for me that, unless the work is of a certain stature in my mind, unless I reach the expectations I have of myself, I'm unhappy,” he once said. "Then it's a miserable existence. I'm putting a piece of myself out there. If it doesn't do anything, I feel so ashamed. I'm afraid I'll be the kind of actor who thought he would make a difference and didn't. Right now, though, I feel like I made a little bit of difference.” You did, sir. You did.
He is survived by his long-term partner, costume designer Mimi O'Donnell, and their three children.