One of the most original, versatile, and steadily employed actors in Hollywood, Philip Seymour Hoffman made a name for himself playing some of the most dysfunctional characters in movie history. Although he had been acting for years, most audiences were first introduced to the actor in the award-winning Boogie Nights, where he played a nebbishy soundman with a jones for Mark Wahlberg's Dirk Diggler. Imbuing his character with both humor and poignant complexity, Hoffman was one of the more memorable aspects of an unforgettable film.
Born in Fairport, NY, in 1968, Hoffman trained at New York's Tisch School of Drama. Before breaking into film, he did a host of theater work, performing in New York, Chicago, and on a European tour. He made his film debut in the 1992 film Scent of a Woman, a critically acclaimed picture starring Al Pacino and Chris O'Donnell. Roles in a number of films of varying quality followed, including My New Gun (1992) and When a Man Loves a Woman (1994). The actor then nabbed a sizable role in Jan de Bont's 1996 tornado thriller Twister and the same year began an ongoing working relationship with Paul Thomas Anderson by appearing in his directorial debut Hard Eight. The crime drama, which also starred Gwyneth Paltrow and Samuel L. Jackson, received positive critical attention, although it didn't create more than a minor blip at the box office. However, Hoffman's next feature and second collaboration with Anderson, Boogie Nights (1997), was both a critical and financial success, scoring a host of Academy Award nominations and simultaneously reviving the careers of some of its stars, such as Burt Reynolds and Mark Wahlberg, while providing a breakthrough for others, such as Heather Graham and Hoffman himself. He next appeared in the Robin Williams comedy Patch Adams (1998), and the same year starred in two critically acclaimed independent films, Todd Solondz's Happiness and Brad Anderson's Next Stop Wonderland. The prolific actor added an appearance in The Big Lebowski (also 1998) to his already impressive resumé. In addition to his burgeoning acting career, Hoffman won favorable notices for his directing debut with the off-Broadway In Arabia, We'd All Be Kings. Hoffman came into his own with three notable performances in 1999. He reunited with Paul Thomas Anderson to play empathic hospice nurse Phil Parma, one of the emotional anchors in Magnolia. His portrayal of upper-crust snob Freddie Miles in The Talented Mr. Ripley earned him strong notices from many critics. Hoffman's peers awarded him with a Screen Actors Guild nomination for his role as a cross dresser in Flawless opposite Robert De Niro. He returned to the Broadway stage with fellow Anderson regular John C. Reilly to play very different brothers in Sam Shepard's True West. They took a risk by switching the lead roles every three days. Their hard work earned critical raves, and each was nominated for a Tony award. In 2000, Cameron Crowe cast Hoffman as Crowe's childhood hero Lester Bangs in Almost Famous, and David Mamet tapped him to be part of the impressive ensemble in State and Main.
Hoffman maintained his status as one of the most respected and hardest-working actors in the new decade by delivering an excellent supporting turn in Red Dragon as an unctuous tabloid reporter. That same year he co-starred in Spike Lee's 25th Hour, and played the bad guy for old collaborator Paul Thomas Anderson in the offbeat romantic comedy Punch-Drunk Love. 2002 also saw the release of Love Liza, a very low-budget film scripted by Hoffman's brother and directed by actor Todd Louiso that starred Phil as a grieving husband addicted to huffing gas fumes. The next year found Hoffman starring as a gambling addict in the small scale Canadian drama Owning Mahowny, and turning in a memorable supporting performance as an amoral preacher in the big screen adaptation of Cold Mountain. Hoffman was in theaters again at the beginning of 2004 as the best friend in the Ben Stiller comedy Along Came Polly. He was also part of yet another outstanding ensemble in the small screen adaptation of Richard Russo's Pulitzer prize-winning novel Empire Falls.
In 2005, Hoffman took the role of a lifetime when he assumed the title role in Bennett Miller's Capote. The film had critics in agreement that Hoffman's portrayal of complex and idiosyncratic real-life author Truman Capote was the stuff of Hollywood legend. Hoffman not only mastered the character's distinct body-language and speech but also hauntingly interpreted the subtle psychological and emotional self that made the character whole-leading many to declare that he very nearly made the film everything it was. The performance earned him the Oscar for Best Actor, as well as a Golden Globe and countless other accolades. The attention also provided a boost in profile for the actor who had for so long proved his worth in the background.
After playing the bad guy in the third Mission Impossible movie opposite Tom Cruise, Hoffman had a remarkable 2007, a year that saw him play a central part in three well-regarded films. His conniving brother in Sidney Lumet's Before the Devil Knows You're Dead was a model of self-loathing fermenting into fatal action. In addition to a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor, his highly-educated, emotionally fractured brother to Laura Linney's neurotic sister in The Savages offered him the chance to play numerous subtle and sharply observed scenes with her, the first meeting of these two revered performers. But it was his turn as the intense CIA operative in Charlie Wilson's War that won Hoffman the most widespread praise including Golden Globe and Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actor.
Hoffman continued to solidify his status as one of his generation's finest actors in 2008 with two very different roles. By choosing to play the lead in Charlie Kaufmann's directorial debut Synecdoche, New York, Hoffman again displayed his fearlessness, as well as his desire to work with the very best writers and directors he can find. That willfully difficult film never connected with mainstream audiences, but that was not true at all for Hoffman's other picture of 2008, Doubt. John Patrick Shanley's cinematic adaptation of his own award-winning play earned acting nominations for Hoffman and his three costars (Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, and Viola Davis) from both the Screen Actors Guild, and the Academy.
Over the following years, Hoffman would continue to appear in a variety of interesting films, like Pirate Radio, The Ides of March, and Moneyball. In 2012 he again collaborated with Paul Thomas Anderson, playing a cult leader in the drama The Master opposite Joaquin Phoenix. For his work in that movie, Hoffman got a Best Supporting Actor nomination from both the Screen Actors Guild and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The following year, he appeared in the smash The Hunger Games: Catching Fire as rebel Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee. Sadly, personal problems cut his illustrious career short, as Hoffman was found dead in his apartment of an apparent drug overdose at age 46. ~ Rebecca Flint Marx, Rovi