The death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman in an apparent drug overdose Sunday leaves behind a diverse and impressive body of work cut tragically short. From his pornographer turn in “Boogie Nights” to his Oscar-decorated turn as Truman Capote to his Lester Bangs moment, here are eight of Hoffman’s most memorable performances; there are many more, of course, that you could just as powerfully make the case for.
“Boogie Nights” (1997) One of Hoffman’s breakthrough roles came in his second film with director Paul Thomas Anderson, cementing a career-long collaboration for the actor. In the film, Hoffman played Scotty J., a gay member of a pornography company film crew, opposite Mark Wahlberg and Julianne Moore, his effervescent personality standing out in a field full of same.
“Magnolia” (1999) Hoffman reteamed with Anderson two years later for the ensemble film “Magnolia,” which tells the interlocking stories of a group of people searching for happiness and connection over 24 hours in the San Fernando Valley. In the film, which also stars Moore, Tom Cruise and John C. Reilly, Hoffman plays a nurse tending to a cancer-stricken TV producer, showing a more tender side than his previous PTA piece.
“Almost Famous” (2000) - He wasn’t on-screen for many scenes, but he made a deep impression when he was. Hoffman played Lester Bangs, the real-life brook-no-nonsense rock critic who thought the music and music-journalism machine was ruining rock ‘n’ roll. He also had some trenchant words of advice for young hero William Miller, and a few big thoughts as well. “Great art,” he told the critic-in-waiting, “is about conflict and pain and guilt and longing and love disguised as sex, and sex disguised as love.”
“Capote” (2005) Hoffman won several awards, including the Oscar for lead actor, for his performance as Capote in this biopic set during the author’s writing of his nonfiction book “In Cold Blood." Critics praised Hoffman’s physical and vocal transformation, as well as the subtlety of his portrayal of Capote, and the movie established the actor as one of the bona fide talents of his generations.
“The Savages” (2007) Hoffman plays Jon, one half of the dysfunctional duo of adult siblings in Tamara Jenkins’ comedy-tinged drama. Though Jenkins’ critical darling is ostensibly a look at aging and dementia, as Jon and Laura Linney’s Wendy are forced to put their infirm father in a facility in Buffalo, it’s ultimately about the two younger leads and questions of ambition and commitment. Hoffman hits all the right notes as a theater professor who can’t seem to get out of his own way (or finish his long-gestating book about Brecht).
“Synecdoche, New York” (2008) It’s not easy to carry an entire surrealist head trip film in any circumstance; it’s even harder if it’s Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut and you’re playing a man consumed by a desire to stage the world’s most grand production. As Caden, said theater director, Hoffman does exactly that, creating a powerfully tragic figure who also merges fiction and reality in a deliciously postmodern way in the bold polarizing, Cannes film.
“The Master” (2012) Hoffman once again earned critical acclaim and an Oscar nomination for lead actor in his commanding performance as Lancaster Dodd, a charismatic 1950s cult leader (inspired by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard) who takes an outcast, played by Joaquin Phoenix, under his wing. Intense face-offs with Phoenix were among the movie’s strongest moments, as were his many displays of wily charisma.
“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” (2013) Most recently, Hoffman joined the blockbuster “Hunger Games” franchise to portray Plutarch Heavensbee, the new head game maker with an agenda of his own. Hoffman was set to reprise his role in the final two films in the series, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay” parts 1 and 2. It was a great example of how his serious chops could be skilfully folded into some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters.