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Philip Seymour Hoffman On Acting: An 'Exhausting' And 'Satisfying' Art
Originally published on Mon February 3, 2014 8:21 pm
It's easy to lose yourself in Philip Seymour Hoffman masterful portrayals, but those performances were anything but effortless.
"Like any job," he told Fresh Air's Terry Gross in 2008, it could be exhausting. In our day to day lives, "we're not too introspective," he said. "We don't walk around our lives just constantly trying to delve into the understanding of ourselves unless you're in therapy or something. But that's what actors do, you know? We really explore ourselves and other people."
Hoffman was found dead on Sunday in his Manhattan apartment. He was 46.
His range as an actor is exemplified by his performances in two films directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. In Anderson's 1997 film Boogie Nights, set in the world of the low budget porn film industry, Hoffman played a member of the film crew who was insecure, uncomfortable in his body and closeted. In Anderson's 2012 film The Master, Hoffman played the narcissistic founder and leader of a cult group who had a gift for manipulating his followers into believing his far-fetched claims.
"There is just nothing he can't do," Anderson told Gross in 2012, "... Growing up, all I wanted to do was make films. ... Never in my fantasy did I see anybody that looked like Phil Hoffman being a part of that picture. But here we are, and somewhere along the way I found this actor who I just think can do anything. He's capable of so much that you can throw anything at him."
Fresh Air remembers Hoffman with two interviews from 1999 and 2008.
On where "Seymour" came from
I wish it was more romantic or special or obnoxious, but it's not. ... When I started off, there was another Philip Hoffman, spelled exactly like me, who was successful in musical theater, always on Broadway. And at that time, the union asked you to change your name. And so I thought, well, I'll put my middle initial in, you know? And that wasn't enough. ... What happened is that you end up getting each other's checks and stuff, like, things get messed up. ... They really want everyone's name to be completely different so there is no mess up. ... So, I was like, well, you know, that was my grandfather's name. So, I'll put that in there and go from there.
On playing Scotty J. in Boogie Nights, a man who is emotionally much younger than he appears
I just had a strong feeling that this character, who is my age ... basically he was 13, so I did a lot of literal expressions of that. ... I basically wore a wardrobe of a 13-year-old.
... You know, how does a guy who's really affected, doesn't know he's gay, from the Valley, talk? ... I just came up with it. ... I just had a lot of different voices in my head, and I kind of meshed them all together and came up with this voice. And it seemed right, and it informed how I moved my body.
And then I just do all the internal work which I always do, which is, you know, what's it like ... to obsess about somebody, you know, what's it like to want somebody so bad? What's it like to go through the day and not be able to think about anything else but this one person? ... You just go from there and see what happens.
I'm proud of the choices we made there, and [director] Paul [Thomas Anderson] was really helpful the whole way through. He was cautious at first when I brought in what I did, and then we just nurtured it together, and we both remember after shooting it and seeing it, I remember going to him and saying, "Thank you for letting me do what I did. And I think we did right by this part you wrote."
On whether the priest he played in Doubt was a predator or mentor
I get that question a lot, and it's odd because I have never gotten that question about any other part I've played. ... People somehow think I'm an audience member when actually, no, I played the guy. So, I have to have filled in his history, but that history is mine and I would never share it because it will just so destroy the experience of the movie-goer. But yes, I do have to fill that history in, in the way that I feel is ... most compelling. ... I have to know because I'm playing the man.
On channeling Truman Capote's voice and physicality in Capote
I just got all the tapes I could, the audio tapes, video tapes, and I just started training in a way, to get as close as I could a sense of his behavior. ... All you have to do is really get close enough. ...
[When there's] true acting going on, then [the audience] will give over — you know what I mean? Because they want to give over because what they're watching is true. The impersonation is really not interesting anymore. It's really about your belief in the circumstances of this character and what they're going through and that you buy that story in that character's journey as long as what you're doing is honest. And so ... that was just me doing the best I could to facilitate that transfer of belief, that leap of faith, for everybody in the audience.
On the similarities between sports and theater
I don't understand people who are actors who don't love sports. I think it's the same thing. ... What it takes to be a great athlete is the same thing that it takes to be great actor, I think — that kind of concentration, that kind of privacy in public and that kind of unselfconscious kind of experience are very similar, and that kind of pressure of the people watching, and finding privacy.
On being around alcohol after being in rehab
People who don't have a problem with alcohol don't have a problem with alcohol. You know, they have their couple of glasses of wine and they go on their way. You know what I mean? And that's just the way it is. I am just not one of those people. So, it's — you know, a couple of glasses of wine is not interesting to me at all. You know what I mean? ... It's not a great pleasure for me to have a couple of glasses of wine. That just — that's kind of annoying ... Do you know what I mean? Like, why aren't you having the whole bottle? ... That's much more pleasurable. So, to somebody who doesn't understand that, they just don't understand it.
On how acting can be exhausting
I think that the amount of concentration — sometimes the amount of personal exploration — it takes to do something well, can be not pleasant ... like hard work is. That doesn't mean that you don't want to do it, or that you don't love it, or that it's not ultimately satisfying. You know that old cliché; ... nothing's worth it unless it's [a] hard to do kind of thing. I wear that on my sleeve sometimes when I'm working. ... There's always something about that job that's exhausting, and that's what's exhausting about acting, is the level concentration over very long period of time.
If there's something emotional about what you're doing that day, you're carrying that emotion on one level or another for a long period of time ... it can be burdensome. But it's part of the work, and you're trying to create something artful out of it. And so, it's not therapy. So, you're not there to be in therapy; you're there to take, you know, what you know and the experiences and behavior and emotional life of yourself and others and try to make something artful out of it. But the carrying of that around and the focusing of that can be, it can be tough.
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Philip Seymour Hoffman was an actor everyone agreed was masterful. In his New York Times obituary, Bruce Weber described Hoffman as perhaps the most ambitious and widely admired American actor of his generation. I gasped, as you probably did, when I heard the news yesterday that he was found dead at the age of 46. It was an apparent drug overdose; he had a needle in his arm.
Today with sadness, we listen back to two interviews I recorded with Hoffman. His range as an actor is exemplified by his performances in two films directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. In Anderson's 1997 film "Boogie Nights," set in the world of the low-budget porn film industry, Hoffman played a member of the film crew who was insecure, uncomfortable in his body and closeted.
In Anderson's 2012 film "The Master," Hoffman played the narcissistic founder and leader of a cult group who had a gift for manipulating his followers into believing his far-fetched claims. In 2012 I asked Anderson about recognizing Hoffman's ability to play both weak and strong characters.
PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON: Well, I know he's my friend, but I have to say there is just nothing he can't do. I just, I feel so lucky to have met Phil and hooked up with him. You know, I can remember, you know, growing up, all I wanted to do was make films. You sort of imagine yourself on the set making movies with, you know, a camera and lights.
And you sort of imagine as a kid you're going to be sort of, I don't know, making Westerns outside. Never in my fantasy did I see anybody that looked like Phil Hoffman being a part of that picture. But here we are, and somewhere along the way I found this actor who I just think can do anything. And I - he's capable of so much that you can throw anything at him.
GROSS: One of the things he does in the film is blush, and it's so interesting when he blushes. Like, he plays a character who's obviously a kind of a narcissistic character. He kind of loves himself and believes in himself. And there's times when he's blushing when he's talking to his followers in this cult where it's almost like he's thinking to himself: Gosh, it's just so embarrassing to be this wise and this sensitive.
GROSS: And I don't know, as an actor, like, how do you control when you blush. I don't know how you do that.
ANDERSON: Yeah, you know, I don't know if you can, but I wouldn't put it past Phil for being able to control when he can blush. You know, whether he can blush or not is really just I think what you said more directly is that kind of great thing that his character does. His, kind of, joy in his intelligence, his joy in discovery, his humility, I think Phil's playing that, somebody who's so good with words, who loves words, you know, who absolutely never met a word that he didn't like or couldn't use or kind of flip it around like a pancake.
GROSS: That was screenwriter and director Paul Thomas Anderson in 2012, talking about working with Philip Seymour Hoffman. Here's a scene from Anderson's film "The Master," in which Hoffman, the cult leader, is with a troubled new follower, played by Joaquin Phoenix, and is putting him through an exercise he calls processing, in which he asks a series of rapid-fire questions, insisting that his follower answer while not blinking. Philip Seymour Hoffman
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE MASTER")
PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN: (as Lancaster Dodd) Starting now, you are not to blink. If you blink, we go back to the start. Infringement. You blinked. Starting now, you are not to blink. If you blink, we go back to the start. Do you often think about how inconsequential you are?
JOAQUIN PHOENIX: (as Freddie Quell) No.
HOFFMAN: (as Dodd) Do you believe that God will save you from your own ridiculousness?
PHOENIX: (as Quell) No.
HOFFMAN: (as Dodd) Have you ever had intercourse with someone inside your family?
PHOENIX: (as Quell) Yes.
HOFFMAN: (as Dodd) Have you ever had intercourse with someone inside your family?
PHOENIX: (as Quell) Yes.
HOFFMAN: (as Dodd) Who?
PHOENIX: (as Quell) My auntie.
HOFFMAN: (as Dodd) Have you killed anyone?
PHOENIX: (as Quell) No.
HOFFMAN: (as Dodd) Maybe?
PHOENIX: (as Quell) Not me.
HOFFMAN: (as Dodd) Have you killed anyone?
PHOENIX: (as Quell) No.
HOFFMAN: (as Dodd) How many times did you have intercourse with your aunt?
PHOENIX: (as Quell) Three times.
HOFFMAN: (as Dodd) Where is your aunt now?
PHOENIX: (as Quell) I don't know.
HOFFMAN: (as Dodd) Would you like to have intercourse with her again?
PHOENIX: (as Quell) No.
HOFFMAN: (as Dodd) Do you regret this?
PHOENIX: (as Quell) No.
HOFFMAN: (as Dodd) Where is your mother?
PHOENIX: (as Quell) I don't know, living...
HOFFMAN: (as Dodd) Infringement (beep).
(as Dodd) Back to the start.
PHOENIX: (as Quell) OK.
GROSS: A scene from "The Master," directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. The first time I spoke with Philip Seymour Hoffman, in 1999, I asked him about his performance in Anderson's film "Boogie Nights," in the role of Scotty.
Just to recap our listeners' memories, Burt Reynolds stars as a porn director in the 1970s and wants to make the kind of movies where people come for the plot, not just for the sex. And Mark Wahlberg plays his young discovery, who becomes a star in the porn world. And you're part of the film crew. You have a crush on the Mark Wahlberg character, and at a party you kind of overcome your inhibitions, invite him to come outside to take a look at your new red sports car.
Then you give him a big kiss on the lips, and I want to play the clip of what happens after that. Here's Mark Wahlberg's reaction.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "BOOGIE NIGHTS")
HOFFMAN: (as Scotty) I'm sorry, Dirk, please, I'm sorry. I...
MARK WAHLBERG: (as Dirk Diggler) What the hell is the matter with you? Why did you do that, Scotty?
HOFFMAN: (as Scotty) You look at me sometimes.
WAHLBERG: (as Dirk) What?
HOFFMAN: (as Scotty) I wanted to know if you like me.
WAHLBERG: (as Dirk) Well of - yeah, I like you, Scotty. I...
HOFFMAN: (as Scotty) Can I kiss you?
WAHLBERG: (as Dirk) Scotty, I don't...
HOFFMAN: (as Scotty) Please, can I kiss you on the mouth?
WAHLBERG: (as Dirk) No.
HOFFMAN: (as Scotty) Please let me.
WAHLBERG: (as Dirk) Scotty.
HOFFMAN: (as Scotty) I'm really sorry. I didn't mean to grab you like that or scare you or...
WAHLBERG: (as Dirk) It's all right.
HOFFMAN: (as Scotty) Do you want to kiss me, or...?
WAHLBERG: (as Dirk) Scotty.
HOFFMAN: (as Scotty) No? All right, forget it.
WAHLBERG: (as Dirk) What is the matter with you?
HOFFMAN: (as Scotty) I'm really drunk, really I am. I'm out of my head, I'm so - I'm really wasted. Look Dirk, I'm really just wasted. I'm crazy right now. I mean, I'm really crazy, you know?
WAHLBERG: (as Dirk) Do you want to go back inside?
HOFFMAN: (as Scotty) Do you like my car, Dirk?
WAHLBERG: (as Dirk) What?
HOFFMAN: (as Scotty) I mean...
WAHLBERG: (as Dirk) Yeah, yeah.
HOFFMAN: (as Scotty) Cuz I wanted - you know, I wanted to make sure that you thought it was cool or else I was going to take it back.
WAHLBERG: (as Dirk) Oh, it's great, Scotty.
HOFFMAN: (as Scotty) Happy new year.
WAHLBERG: (as Dirk) Happy new year, Scotty.
HOFFMAN: (as Scotty) I love you. I really love you.
WAHLBERG: (as Dirk) I love you, too, Scotty. Let's go back inside, OK?
HOFFMAN: (as Scotty) All right.
GROSS: After that happens, you go into your new red sports car, and you're crying, I'm such an idiot, I'm such an idiot. Tell us about creating this character, someone who's surrounded by beautiful people who have sex on screen. And he's very repressed, doesn't really accept his homosexuality, thinks he's incredibly unattractive and overweight.
HOFFMAN: I can't tell you how much fun we had doing that film, all of us. But yeah, I did have to play the guy whose shirt didn't go over his belly in tight shorts and long hair and stuff, but that was all my choice. You know, I did that. You know, no one put me in those clothes. That was my choice; I did that.
So, you know, I have to live with it, all the good things and all the bad things that go with it. But I do think that that's who he was, and that's kind of how, honestly, I wanted to play him. And I do think it was honest. And it was the only way I felt the character could be played with any depth to it. You know, I just, I had a strong feeling that this character, who is - he's my age, but basically he was 13.
And so I did a lot of literal expression to that. The literal stuff was the costume. I mean, I basically wore a wardrobe of a 13-year-old. You know, I wanted to - I remember when we were doing the - trying on the clothes, I kept saying smaller, smaller, smaller, and they're like well, we're going into Macy's Rack now, they said.
HOFFMAN: That made me feel good. But then there, I was just, you know, how does a guy from, you know, the Valley talk? You know, how does a guy who's really affected, doesn't know he's gay, from the Valley, talk, you know? And I just came up with it. I don't know how. I just had a lot of different voices in my head, and I kind of meshed them all together and came up with this voice, and it seemed right.
And then it informed how I move my body, and then I just do all the internal work, which I always do, which is, you know, what's it like to just, you know, what's it like to obsess about somebody? You know, what's it like to want somebody so bad? What's it like to go through the day and not be able to think about anything else but this one person?
You know, and you just go from there and see what happens. I (unintelligible) the choices we made there, and Paul was really - was really helpful the whole way through. He was cautious at first when I brought in what I did, and then we just nurtured it together. And we both remember after shooting it and seeing it, I remember going to him and saying thank you for letting me do what I did, and I think we did right by this part you wrote.
GROSS: Let's move on to another of your films, and this is "Happiness." Now in "Happiness," everyone has some strange, usually unsavory quirk. And your character, you play someone who's very repressed sexually, stays home, and basically his only sexual companion is himself. He makes these anonymous sexual calls.
GROSS: At the beginning of the film, we see you with your psychiatrist, and you're telling him about the obsession you have with your neighbor, and you describe what you want to do with her, what you would do if you could get your hands on her. You'd undress her; you'd tie her up. And then you'd do a lot of things I couldn't mention on the radio. And here's what happened next.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "HAPPINESS")
HOFFMAN: (as Allen) She doesn't even know I exist. I mean, she knows I exist, and we are neighbors, you know. We smile politely at each other, but I don't know I could ever really begin to talk to her. I mean, what can I talk about? I have nothing to talk about. I'm boring. I know. I have been told before so don't tell me it's not true because it's a fact: I bore people.
(as Allen) People look at me, and they get bored. People listen to me, and they zone out bored.
GROSS: As you're saying this to your therapist, he's picking lint off of his pants very distractedly.
HOFFMAN: Yes, yes.
GROSS: And then he starts to mentally run through his to-do list and his shopping list. Now this is not the kind of role to make you think hey, he's perfect leading man material.
HOFFMAN: No, no it's not.
GROSS: Did you have any concerns about that?
HOFFMAN: No, no, no because I think he's repressed in a lot of ways, this guy. This character kind of is in his own orbit compared to most characters I've played. So I had a plan. It was one of those had to, had to, had to things. I read it, and it was just so fantastically written. And when I was auditioning for it, I auditioned about a billion times, and Todd was so specific with me.
And I just knew. When I got the part, I remember my agent called me, he goes, well, you got it. And I had auditioned like five times. I remember going oh boy. And that was the first thing I said because I was like well do I really want that.
HOFFMAN: But I was kidding, meaning I was excited. I was excited to play this part. It's just, it's a great part. It's one of the best parts I've ever been given, and I was lucky to get it.
GROSS: Now you put a lot of tension into your voice for this part.
HOFFMAN: Yeah, yeah, and that again was another thing that just, like I said, the non-literal thing coming back up again. You know, how am I going to interpret how this guy behaves? I don't know. Sometimes he talks just like me, sometimes he walks and acts just like me, but sometimes I was playing this part - I remember, I was, I don't know, I was just doing something one day, and I was kind of working on it, and I just knew that he was kind of caving in on himself all the time.
And so with the shoulders over and caving into the chest, and just the voice, kind of the face kind of caved in, too, and that's the voice that came out. I know that none of this makes any sense. It's just actor mumbo-jumbo. But that's kind of what happens. So I have this weird voice.
GROSS: Tension, no energy.
HOFFMAN: Tension, tension yeah. He's just kind of caving in on himself, you know, which made him sound different, that's all.
GROSS: Let me get to another great film you were in, and that's "Wonderland," real different kind of film, romantic comedy. And a really different kind of role. In this one, let's see, I'm going to play a clip from the opening scene in which Hope Davis, who plays the girlfriend who you live with, comes home to find that you've taken all your things, you've packed the car with them, and you're ready to drive off and leave her.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "NEXT STOP WONDERLAND")
HOFFMAN: (as Sean) I didn't mean it to be this way. This, every - the reasons why I'm leaving are on this tape. It points out the six points of why I think our relationship is doomed and why I'm leaving. You can watch it later. I was going to mail it, but now I'll just give it to you now.
HOPE DAVIS: (as Erin Castleton) Are you taking your VCR? Or did you leave that...
HOFFMAN: (as Sean) (Shouting) I bought the VCR. I'm taking my VCR. I bought - it's the only thing I'm taking.
DAVIS: (as Erin) What is that on top of the car? Is that our futon on top of the car?
HOFFMAN: (as Sean) That's our futon. That's my futon. I'm taking the - can I please take the futon? Please?
(SOUNDBITE OF CAT)
HOFFMAN: (as Sean) (Shouting) Violence is not the answer.
DAVIS: (as Erin) Don't be driving back here in a couple days OK? I'm not going through this over and over and over.
HOFFMAN: I'm not - that's on the tape. I think that's point number four on the tape because I have my vision, you have your vision, and I'm leaving because the Tantunis(ph) need me.
DAVIS: (as Erin) The who?
HOFFMAN: (as Sean) The Tantunis.
DAVIS: (as Erin) What is the...?
HOFFMAN: (as Sean) It's an Indian tribe. It was in the newspaper. It was on CNN. You don't even watch TV. You don't read the paper. You don't know what's going on in the world. That's one of my reasons. That's point one.
DAVIS: (as Erin) You can't just walk out. You can't just walk out, Sean.
HOFFMAN: (as Sean) Listen, I'm gonna go. And I'm not coming back. I'm not - please take Fidel(ph).
DAVIS: (as Erin) I'm not taking Fidel, Sean. I'm not taking your (beep) cat.
HOFFMAN: (as Sean) I don't have the time and energy to take care of the cat. I have to go and get something accomplished. That cat will be in the way. I am a man of peace. You are a woman of violence. I'm not a man like that, and you're turning me into that man. That's like point number eight.
GROSS: This is a real departure for you because you're playing a kind of slightly magnified version of your standard self-righteous, insensitive boyfriend. You know, there's a whole genre of person who fits that category.
HOFFMAN: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Funny because every part you play, there's a genre. You know, that's what I found out is that every part you play, somebody's played that type of role 10 million times before. That's kind of the job is what new light do you want to shine on that part or that story.
And in "Next Stop Wonderland," that was kind of my take on that whole thing.
GROSS: Were there people you could base this on?
HOFFMAN: Oh yeah.
GROSS: I mean, we all know guys like this, yeah.
HOFFMAN: Please, everybody knows people like this. I just remember college, just college came to me. There was about three people in college that just completely jumped right at me when I read that thing, you know, roommates I had or whatever, that just, that righteous state of mind, you know, that righteous, strong, I'm on the soapbox, I've got to keep talking, or I'm going to die.
You know, I just know those guys. You know, I've been one of those guys. Who hasn't, you know, in one way or another? So I just kind of created him simply, you know, very simply, very much me in a way, but the way he - his actions and how, you know, how loud he is and how aggressive he is is really the key to that role, you know. I had a lot of fun playing that role, you know, a lot of improv that role.
GROSS: We're listening to an interview with Philip Seymour Hoffman that we recorded in 1999. We'll hear more of the interview after a break as we continue our remembrance of Hoffman. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Today, we're remembering Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died yesterday at the age of 46. Let's get back to the interview I recorded with him in 1999, when his movie "Flawless" was released. He played a drag queen who had a cabaret act. Robert de Niro played his upstairs neighbor, a homophobic retired security guard.
In this scene, Hoffman's character is explaining how he started wearing dresses when he was a child after always being miscast as big, male characters in school musicals like "The Snow Queen."
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "FLAWLESS")
HOFFMAN: (as Rusty) We are all onstage, and they had made these dry ice kettles and so, like, smoke could come out of them, you know. And one night, all of a sudden one dry ice kettle exploded, and dry ice flew everywhere. Well, pretty little Miss No Talent who was playing the Snow Queen, you know, dashed off the stage screaming and pulling her hair out.
(as Rusty) Well, the play must go on, I believe, and she had dropped a crown. Well, honey, I just picked up that crown, put it on my head, and I was the greatest damn Snow Queen in the history of PS11 Paramus, New Jersey. And I have been wearing dresses ever since.
GROSS: What did you do to try to make this character a real person and not just a stereotype of a drag queen?
HOFFMAN: Well, hey, I had a good start. I would've have done it if I didn't feel like the story had the possibility of playing a real person. And I think that the story had a possibility because of the transgender issue, where I wasn't just going to be playing some, you know, entertaining, flamboyant drag queen character, which isn't very interesting to me.
What's interesting to me is this person that I really had to look at the fact that there was somebody who woke up every morning with a task at hand, which is how can I be the best woman I can be. You know, and that's his task from the minute he wakes up, you know, and I found in researching this role and practicing this role that it was very hard to be the best woman I could be because physically and vocally, I was - I had everything going against me.
GROSS: Like what?
HOFFMAN: Like that I have a very low voice, and I have a body that I'm like 5'10", I weigh 200 pounds, and, you know, I'm kind of built like a wrestler. And so I didn't have much feminine about me to work from. So in going at this character, I realized the frustration I was coming up against was really the humanity of this character. It was the frustration and the task at hand every day and how hard he was going to work at going after and being the thing he wanted to be and the life he wanted to live, and that that's really where I found this real person.
GROSS: Well, we can hear your voice on radio now, which as you say is really quite deep. Tell us what you did with your voice for the character of Rusty.
HOFFMAN: I just, you know, obviously manipulated it, but it was - it was kind of a mesh. I just, I just, through documentaries and tapes I was watching, I found these three different gentlemen who - and one of them actually was - had gone through the operation, and he was the least flamboyant of the other two because he wasn't in the entertainment world. He was an accountant or something. I can't remember.
But then the other two characters were in kind of the entertainment world, but not really, but they went to the drag shows and the balls and things like that. And they were - those two characters were extraordinarily feminine, the voice and the way that they carried themselves.
But the guy who was the accountant or whatever he was, something like that, wasn't. He was struggling. And he had gone through the complete operation. And so they had some footage of him, where he actually has a - he's holding a mirror up to his face, trying - saying good morning and like really trying to sound feminine and the way he looked.
And that was the most fascinating thing I think I saw in my research because what it told me was the effort and the time that they would put into, you know, not only the operation, but they had to actually practice. And so the combination of these three characters is kind of where I found this voice that I didn't really mimic, but it kind of informed and helped me get at something that I felt was accurate.
GROSS: What was it like to look at yourself as Rusty dressed as a woman, with lipstick and, you know, a woman's clothes? Was it interesting to stare at yourself in a mirror that way or see yourself on film that way?
HOFFMAN: It's very interesting. Staring at myself in the mirror was going back to the thing I was saying earlier, that it just showed how bad a woman I was and how sad that was to me because there is this thing, because there's this pride of wanting to play this part, and you want to just kind of do yourself up and start acting this role and just be like wow, I'm hot, look at me, I'm a woman.
And, you know, it was just the furthest thing from the truth. And it helped inform who this guy was for me and the struggle that he was going to go through.
GROSS: Philip Seymour Hoffman, recorded in 1999. We'll hear my 2008 interview with him in the second half of the show, as our remembrance continues. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR, I'm Terry Gross. We're remembering the masterful actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. He was found dead yesterday of an apparent drug overdose. He was 46. Earlier in the show, we heard the interview I recorded with him in 1999.
In 2008, Hoffman returned to FRESH AIR. The occasion was the release of his film "Doubt." Of course, when we recorded the interview, we didn't know he'd win an Oscar for his performance.
"Doubt" takes place in 1964 in a Catholic school in the Bronx. Meryl Streep played a nun who is a strict and old-fashioned principal. Philip Seymour Hoffman played a priest and gym teacher who wants a more open atmosphere in the school. The principal distrusts him and urges a new young teacher, played by Amy Adams, to keep an eye on him. The young teacher notices some suspicious behavior involving the priest relationship with a 12-year-old boy named Donald Miller, the only African-American student in the school.
In this scene, the principal and the young teacher have called the priest in for a meeting about the Christmas pageant, but the principle and the young teacher have other things on their minds.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE "DOUBT")
MERYL STREEP: (as Sister Aloysius Beauvier) The Christmas pageant. And we must be careful how Donald Miller is used. I...
HOFFMAN: (as Father Brendan Flynn) Easy there, sister.
All right. What about Donald Miller?
STREEP: (as Sister Aloysius Beauvier) We must be careful in the pageant that we neither hide Donald Miller nor put him forward.
HOFFMAN: (as Father Brendan Flynn) Because of the color of his skin?
STREEP: (as Sister Aloysius Beauvier) That's right, yeah.
HOFFMAN: (as Father Brendan Flynn) Why?
STREEP: (as Sister Aloysius Beauvier) Come, father.
HOFFMAN: (as Father Brendan Flynn) I think he should be treated like every other boy.
STREEP: (as Sister Aloysius Beauvier) Well, you yourself singled the boy out for special attention. You held a private meeting with him at the rectory - a week ago?
AMY ADAMS: (as Sister James) Yes.
HOFFMAN: (as Father Brendan Flynn) What are we talking about?
ADAMS: (as Sister James) Donald Miller?
STREEP: (as Sister Aloysius Beauvier) The boy acted strangely when he returned to class.
HOFFMAN: (as Father Brendan Flynn) He did?
ADAMS: (as Sister James) When he returned from the rectory, a little odd, yes.
STREEP: (as Sister Aloysius Beauvier) Can you tell us why?
HOFFMAN: (as Father Brendan Flynn) How did he act strangely?
ADAMS: (as Sister James) He - I'm not sure how to explain it - he laid his head on the desk in some...
HOFFMAN: (as Father Brendan Flynn) Do you mean you had some impression?
ADAMS: (as Sister James) Yes.
HOFFMAN: (as Father Brendan Flynn) And he'd come from the rectory, so you're asking me.
STREEP: (as Sister Aloysius Beauvier) Hmm.
ADAMS: (as Sister James) That's it.
HOFFMAN: (as Father Brendan Flynn) Hmm.
STREEP: (as Sister Aloysius Beauvier) Mm, hmm.
HOFFMAN: (as Father Brendan Flynn) Hmm.
(as Father Brendan Flynn) Did you want to discuss the pageant? Is that why I'm here? Or is this what you wanted to discuss?
STREEP: (as Sister Aloysius Beauvier) This.
GROSS: Philip Seymour Hoffman, welcome back to FRESH AIR.
HOFFMAN: Thanks for having me.
GROSS: The story in "Doubt" is all about doubt versus certainty about whether you are a predator or a protective mentor, and the audience is left with doubts about this, too.
GROSS: Do you have to know when you're performing in this film if you abused the boy or not?
HOFFMAN: Yeah, yeah, because if I didn't, I'd be playing the janitor or something, you know?
GROSS: But that's what I was wondering, right.
HOFFMAN: You know what I mean? It's...
GROSS: Yeah, I do know what you mean.
HOFFMAN: No, everybody - so, I get that question a lot, and it's odd because I have never gotten that question about any other part I've played, because everyone - every other part just assumes, because I'm playing the part, but for here, people somehow think I'm an audience member when actually, no, I played the guy. So, I have to have filled in his history, but that history is mine and I would never share it because it would just so destroy the experience of the moviegoer. But, yes, I do have to fill that history in, in the way that I feel is - that I found more - most compelling.
GROSS: So, you're confident that you know what the character - what your character did and didn't do. Do you know that because you decided or because you spoke to the playwright, John Patrick Shanley, and he told you?
HOFFMAN: Well, he had - I mean, again - again, I have to know because I'm playing the man or else he'd be psychotic.
GROSS: An amnesiac, yes, or psychotic.
HOFFMAN: Yeah, he'd - I'd be playing a guy who has a memory problem...
HOFFMAN: Which is so, you know - he then - and he's not psychotic and he doesn't have a memory problem. So, you know, John - I talked to John in private and he - you know, we had a conversation about it. And I took what was helpful from that and what I was thinking about and kind of filled it in. And it's a wonderful thing because it really could be anything. You know, it's this amazing thing how he set it up, where, you know, the stakes are so high that it could be anything. It could be so many things, and that's what I found so interesting because ultimately it comes about his past - do you know what I mean? - because she says that she's delved into his past, when we find out later that that's not true, but he's led to believe that she did. So, he's really - he could be hiding something from his past that has nothing to do with anything that she's accusing him of. And I just found that fascinating and I could really, you know, use my imagination.
GROSS: Since you were privy to some of the playwright-dash-screenwriter's thoughts on what your character did and didn't do, was Meryl Streep privy to those thoughts, too, or was she kept in the dark as her character is?
HOFFMAN: No, of course not.
HOFFMAN: Of course not, no. No one.
GROSS: No one but you?
HOFFMAN: Yeah, yeah. I mean, again, the fact that she would even be privy to anything like that would be detrimental.
GROSS: So, did...
HOFFMAN: Because then she would know something, and she shouldn't know anything.
GROSS: Did you talk about scenes with her before doing them?
HOFFMAN: Yeah, the scenes we were in.
GROSS: So, what kind of discussion do you have about a scene before doing it when you're working with her?
HOFFMAN: Well, you're with the director, too, so it's not like - it's - you're talking about it through a director and together, you know? And it's a lot of problem solving, you know. How do I get from here to there?
HOFFMAN: How do I get from that beat to that beat, and what's the event, you know? What's our relationship? How long have we have been working here, you know? When did we first meet? When did this start, this antagonism? You know, what was it? Something else that happened, you know? Those are all things that, you know, you talk about and - but that that very issue of whether, you know, what she's accusing him of is true or not, never.
GROSS: The late Anthony Minghella directed you in a couple of films.
GROSS: "Cold Mountain" and "The Talented Mr. Ripley." And he was quoted in an article as saying this about you: Philip is an extraordinary actor, cursed sometimes by his own gnawing intelligence, his own discomfort with acting. Does that sound right to you? That you have, like - your intelligence is, like, sometimes a curse? And that you're uncomfortable sometimes with acting?
HOFFMAN: Ah, I miss him.
GROSS: I bet you do. Yeah.
HOFFMAN: I really do. Um, wow. You took me by surprise with that. Um, you know, I think I am as intelligent as the next guy. I think that the amount of concentration, sometimes the amount of personal exploration it takes to do something well, can be not pleasant, you know, like hard work is. That doesn't mean that you don't want to do it or that you don't love it or that it's not ultimately satisfying. You know that old cliche, you know, nothing's worth it unless it's hard to do kind of thing. I wear that on my sleeve sometimes when I'm working.
And I think that because I trusted Anthony so much and I think - you know, and he got to know me, you know, like all really, really, fine directors do; they allow you to be who you are. The best and the worst of you is allowed to show up at work, and they are OK with that because they know that the actor needs an environment of trust, and he was one of those people. So he gets to know me probably better than some people that might have known me longer. So he's probably referring to that, and he's a very intelligent man and obviously very insightful, and he's right. You know, I think I do wear that discomfort of sometimes the process, that the creative process of something, and how sometimes it's not pleasant on my sleeve. And I think that's what's he's talking about.
GROSS: What is that discomfort with?
HOFFMAN: When you're shooting a film, the day can be 10, 12 hours long, usually. And you have to stay in a certain place through that time because you're, at any moment, you'll be called to do what you do. And you've done a lot of work and prepared a lot of things, and the level of concentration it takes to kind of keep those plates in the air is - it can be - that's what's tiring about the job. Like any job, everything has - there's always something about that job that's exhausting, and that's what's exhausting about acting, is the level of concentration over a very long period of time.
And if there's something emotional about what you're doing that day, you're carrying that emotion on one level or another for a long period of time. If you think about life, first off, we don't want to - we're not too introspective. We don't walk around our lives just constantly trying to delve into the understanding of ourselves unless you're in therapy or something. And - but that's what actors do, you know? We really explore ourselves and other people and all that stuff.
And if you're carrying that around and the emotional life of that around over a period of time, it can be burdensome. But it's part of the work, and you're trying to create something artful out of it. And so, it's not therapy. So, you're not there to be in thera - you're there to take, you know, what you know and the experiences and behavior and emotional life of yourself and others and try to make something artful out of it. But the carrying of that around and the focusing of that can be, it can be tough.
GROSS: Have you been in therapy? And if so, was that useful or not for acting?
HOFFMAN: Ah, no. I've never been to therapy for acting.
GROSS: No, no, I don't mean therapy for acting but therapy...
HOFFMAN: No, but that would be my answer, though. You know what I mean?
GROSS: Oh, OK. OK.
GROSS: Fair enough.
HOFFMAN: Take it. You know, I've never been in therapy for acting. That's for sure.
GROSS: We're listening to my 2008 interview with Philip Seymour Hoffman. Let me correct an error I made introducing this recording. Hoffman was nominated for an Oscar for "Doubt" but he didn't win. We'll hear more of this interview after a break, as we continue our remembrance of Philip Seymour Hoffman.
This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. We're remembering Philip Seymour Hoffman who was found dead yesterday. He was 46. Let's get back to my 2008 interview with him.
Let's talk about your performance that won the Oscar for best actor in 2006, and this is the film "Capote," in which you played Truman Capote. What's it like to play somebody who's real? And we have documentation of how he looked and sounded. When you agreed to take the role, were you at all worried that you would end up doing, like, an impersonation, as opposed to, you know, that kind of interior acting that you're used to doing?
HOFFMAN: Well, it's - well, I wasn't worried about that because I'm not good at impersonations, so I knew that I wouldn't be my forte. I just knew, because his behavior is so extreme, that I had to have some semblance of what it was, some sense of behavior and voice that what it was, so people would follow me, you know? So, I got a sense of it to the best of my ability that still allowed me to connect to an inner life and of my understanding that his would be, and just kind of jumped, you know, and went for it.
But no, I was never scared of that, because I knew I never really would do that as well as I would hopefully do the acting of the part, you know? I had to let go of that after a certain point. But I knew I had to do something. And so, what you see is as specific as I could get and still be able to act the part as well as possible. Because that stuff isn't really acting. That stuff is technical stuff that you kind of have to weave into the personal life and the intention and the drive and the passion of the character.
GROSS: Let's talk about the technical stuff for a moment, like developing the voice that you used for "Capote." How did you find the voice you were going to use?
HOFFMAN: By just watching stuff on him, you know what I mean? And just kind of - I have a very low voice, lower than most, and I - it's not very singsong-y. And I remember the first time I, you know, I'd heard him before when I was a kid, on "The Tonight Show" and stuff, I guess, but it had been a while, you know? And so, when Bennett showed me this documentary about...
GROSS: This is the director?
HOFFMAN: Yeah, Bennett Miller. I remember he put it on and I was just like, ah, Christ. Oh, no. And I literally thought, like, oh, this is a disaster. What did I do? You know, literally, I was like, what did I do? Because I'd already said yes. And I was kind of a - my head went - my head bowed, you know?
GROSS: Because what? You...
HOFFMAN: Because it was so extreme. I - the minute I saw him and saw his behavior and saw him talk and I was just like, I'm never going to be able to get a sense of that, to get people to follow me, you know? And then I just started, I said, all right, you know, and I just got all the tapes I could, audiotapes, videotapes, and I just started training in a way, you know, to get as close as I could a sense of his behavior, you know? And that - and so because all you have to do is really get, get close enough, you know, get a sense of something and the people kind of will - you know, people go, they see it and they'll immediately - if you're getting a sense of something and then there's a true acting going on, they give over. The impersonation is really not interesting anymore. It's really about your belief in the circumstances of this character and what they're going through and that you buy that story and that character's journey, as long as what you're doing is honest. And so my - you know, that was just me doing the best I could to facilitate that transfer of belief, you know, that leap of faith for everybody in the audience.
GROSS: Why don't we hear a scene from the film? I mean, and the film "Capote" dramatizes the period of Truman Capote's life when he's writing "In Cold Blood," his nonfiction book about two killers who massacred a family in cold blood. And so, in this scene, you're in prison visiting with one of the alleged killers, Perry Smith, played by Clifton Collins, Jr.
And you've kind of befriended him. And, you know, your friendship is paying off, because the more of a friendship there is, the more comfortable he feels with you, the more he tells you about himself. And you've also just done him a favor. You've found a lawyer, a different lawyer for him, and he's very grateful for that.
And this scene happens just after you've hit on the title "In Cold Blood" for your book. So, here you are, in the prison cell, with Perry Smith right after you've found him the lawyer, and he's grateful.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "CAPOTE")
CLIFTON COLLINS, JR.: (as Perry Smith) Thank you.
HOFFMAN: (as Truman Capote) Hey, it's as much for me as for anyone. I couldn't bear the thought of losing you so soon.
JR.: (as Perry Smith) We're going to be able to use your book for our case. You'll write we never got to raise an insanity plea. You wrote how terrible the lawyers was.
HOFFMAN: (as Truman Capote) I haven't written a word yet.
JR.: (as Perry Smith) What've you been doing?
HOFFMAN: (as Truman Capote) Research. Talking to you.
JR.: (as Perry Smith) All right.
HOFFMAN: (as Truman Capote) I had hoped...
JR.: (as Perry Smith) What are you calling it?
HOFFMAN: (as Truman Capote) The book? I have no idea. Perry, if I'm going to write about you, if I'm going to determine how to write about you, we need to talk about, you know, why you're here, hmm, you know, the murders that night at the Clutter house. Do you worry what I'll think? Is that it?
JR.: (as Perry Smith) Dick says you know Elizabeth Taylor.
HOFFMAN: (as Truman Capote) I know a lot of people. Perry, I have invitations to be in Morocco and Greece, and I prefer to be here with you.
GROSS: That's Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote in the film, "Capote." That's the role he won an Oscar for. You played Capote with this really interesting mix of, like, empathy and manipulation, and it's hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. Did you read a lot about Capote before figuring out how to portray him and what you thought his motivations were?
HOFFMAN: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, I did. And it was helpful, because what you said, I think, is very accurate. I don't think you could tell when his empathy - where his empathy ended and where his manipulation began. I think that became worse and worse and became more and more detrimental and affected a lot of people, you know. There's a lot of people that I've run into since I made the movie who knew him, who either adored him or hated him.
HOFFMAN: There wasn't a lot of middle ground. And that scene is a perfect example. In that scene, he's lying. He is lying. He's just lying. It's the beginning of the really harsh betrayal, you know. And not that, you know, Perry Smith needs, you know, empathy, but the fact that Truman Capote was getting close to this person, and was ultimately using this person for his own gain, that lying started to become something that was soul-eating, you know. It was - that's the movie, you know. So it's a very, very troubling story, a very troubling character.
GROSS: We're listening to my 2008 interview with Philip Seymour Hoffman. We'll hear more of the interview after a break, as we continue our remembrance of Hoffman. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. We're remembering Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was found dead yesterday of an apparent drug overdose. Let's get back to my 2008 interview with him.
Now, I read - and I don't want to dwell on this - but I read that when you were 22 - I think this was right after you got out of the - NYU's Tisch School for the Arts - that you had been drinking and using pills, and went into rehab.
So, I assume that you don't drink anymore. Is that - because a lot of people who do that, like, feel like they can't drink. So my question is: If it's true that you can't drink, what do you do when, like, you see people, like, really enjoying their wine and beer or their, you know, cognac or whatever? Like, do you resent it? Do you know what I am saying? Like, do you have to...
HOFFMAN: Well, I think if - I think if...
GROSS: Does it make you feel resentful that there is this, like, great pleasure out there and, like, you can't have any?
HOFFMAN: Well, I don't think it's a great pleasure. Do you know what I mean? Meaning, like, I understand - I mean, I do think it's a great pleasure, but I think that anyone who's enjoying that pleasure too much, you know, I'm always, like, OK, well, that's good. You know, I'm glad you're enjoying that, you know. People who don't have a problem with alcohol don't have a problem with alcohol. You know, they have their couple of glasses of wine, and they go on their way. You know what I mean? And that's just the way it is. I'm just not one of those people. So, it's - you know, a couple of glasses of wine is, you know, not interesting to me at all. Do you know what I mean? That's what I meant by it's not a...
GROSS: Right, right.
HOFFMAN: It's not a great pleasure for me to have a couple of glasses of wine. That just - that's kind of annoying.
HOFFMAN: Do you know what I mean? Like, why aren't you having the whole bottle?
GROSS: Right. I got it.
HOFFMAN: That's much more pleasurable. Do you know what I mean?
HOFFMAN: So, it's - to somebody who doesn't understand that, they just don't understand it. You know, they're just - so, if I see somebody really enjoying their one glass of wine and walking away, then that's what they enjoy. So - but I can't be resentful of that, because that's not enjoyable to me.
GROSS: Now, before you started acting, you were a wrestler in high school. I mean, that was, I think, your main sport?
HOFFMAN: I was a wrestler. Baseball was my thing. I was a baseball player until I was probably, like, a sophomore. And I was a wrestler seventh, eighth and ninth grade. And it was in ninth grade when I was on the junior varsity wrestling team, is when I injured myself. And that's when I started going out for plays. But I was, yeah, I was a big athlete up till, like, freshman, sophomore year of high school. I loved sports. I still love sports. Sports is still a huge passion of mine. It was baseball, football, I wrestled - football only two years, though. I didn't like getting hit.
GROSS: What was your injury when you were a wrestler?
HOFFMAN: It was a neck injury. I was in a neck brace for awhile. I almost had to have surgery on it. It was a serious thing that, you know, basically, the doctors just said, you know, you really - you can't get hurt like that again, you know? And it was kind of - he was saying there's enough of a weakness that's in your neck now because of that that, you know - so, I didn't wrestle anymore.
I probably would have kept doing it if I hadn't got injured. Anyway, I went out for a play, and the rest kind of just unfolded, you know? (unintelligible).
GROSS: So, do you still have to be careful about your neck because of the previous injury?
HOFFMAN: Yeah. I'm aware of it sometimes. I feel it sometimes, you know? But, you know, I don't wrestle anymore, so.
GROSS: So, did the neck injury that made you give up wrestling lead to acting?
HOFFMAN: Well, it led - I just - you know, because I went to the theater when I was young, with my mother. It always comes back to the mother, doesn't it? My mother took me to the theater when I was - probably seriously started taking me when I was probably 12. And she took me to the, you know, the Geva Theatre in Rochester, New York, which is the Equity house there. It was in a small house at that time.
The first play I saw was "All My Sons." And so, she took me to serious stuff, new plays, you know, the American classics and stuff like that. So - and I just adored it. I thought it was a miracle. I thought it was magic, you know. I just couldn't get enough of it. But I was still - you know, it wasn't anything I wanted to do. I just thought, I'm just going to go to the theater all my life and, you know, and maybe watch baseball, you know.
And so, when I injured my neck, my mom was like, go out for a play, you know. And like I said, she was open to that thing, that kind of exploration of all those things that she - she has huge passions. She has a huge passion for the - athletics. Huge sports fan. And she's a huge theater fan. So, she was all for it, you know, both. And so...
GROSS: So, you didn't see a big dichotomy between sports and theater?
HOFFMAN: No. No, I think they're the same. The same - what it takes to be a great athlete is the same thing that it takes to be a great actor, I think. That kind of concentration and that kind of privacy in public and that kind of unselfconscious kind of experience are very similar, and that kind of pressure of the people watching and finding privacy in front of - and all that stuff. So, you know, I find it very similar.
GROSS: Philip Seymour Hoffman recorded in 2008. I'm grateful I got the chance to talk with him, and even more grateful for the performances he gave us. I'm so sorry he's gone. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.