As we all know, Philip Seymour Hoffman died Sunday at the far too young age of 46. The details of his death are, for this column at least, irrelevant. His loss is a deficit to his family and to the world. Everyone’s death is a loss to both of those, regardless of fame, fortune as well as demons and misdeeds.
A writer far better than I stated that 30 people could give 30 scenes of the ‘best’ PSH performance – and all 30 would be right. Most stars are known for this one pivotal role, the thing that brought them acclaim and rewards and visibility. What was PSH’s? Capote which he won a (very well deserved) Oscar for? Boogie Nights , because a) it’s a great movie and b) if you think otherwise, you’re wrong? Mission: Impossible III , his first major ‘blockbuster’ role where he steals the entire movie out from under bona-fide superstar Tom Cruise?
Will kids these days remember him only as the Games Commissioner from the Hunger Games movies? Even now, I find myself going back and forth on what constitutes THE PSH performance, the undeniable legacy, the ultimate, the pinnacle that Hoffman will be remembered for years and years to come.
My mind wanders not to a performance, which we can all uniformly agree are stellar, but a scene. A small, quiet scene, the kind that Hoffman made his career on. The kind of scene that, no matter how small, how short, he could bring the film to a standstill. Such was his command and presence that we hung on every word, overwhelmed by this desire to listen. Whether he was yelling profanities or soothing a lost soul, we needed to hear him. In my favorite scene of Hoffman’s from Almost Famous , he does the latter, soothing the main character in over his head and reminding him that there’s more to life than this:
“The only currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.” If we got paid every time we shared in watching a movie starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, I believe we could all retire handsomely tomorrow.
Hoffman is an Academy Award winning actor, a director, a writer, he has been called one of the greatest performers of his generation. By the very definition of the word, he is the coolest guy on the planet. But he’s not. Philip Seymour Hoffman would never be the cool guy in the movie. The bad guy, sure, he has his moments of coolness, but PSH is decidedly, embracingly uncool
And that is where his magic came from. He made a career out of playing boring, schlubby dudes. Roger Ebert called Synecdoche, NY the best film of the 2000 decade. The main character, as played by PSH, is as boring and dull and infuriating a character as ever put on film, but boy does Hoffman absolutely reach right into the everyday mundacity of Caden and pull out something extraordinary. Philip Seymour Hoffman was an uncool guy playing uncool guys but somehow managed to make it all cool. He made the uncool cool with whatever role, no matter the size. The man loved acting and knew his place in the world. Leave the starlight to the stars. That’s for the cool people. The uncool people roll up their sleeves and do their jobs.