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Fugit, who played aspiring rock journalist William Miller, said he was initially intimidated by Hoffman’s method approach to his character, which made him seem standoffish to others on the set.
When it came time to film a scene, Hoffman led by doing and expected his young co-star to rise to his level.
“Philip was very forward with me, in a school-of-hard-knocks way,” Fugit explains in a first-person essay in Tuesday’s New York Post. “It was almost like when you go on a hike with your dad, and your dad just hikes the mountain and expects you to keep up. That’s the way Philip did the scenes. It was like he was saying, ‘All right, kid, you’re here, you’re playing the lead in [director] Cameron [Crowe]‘s movie.’ There was a certain weight that came with him. There was sort of a darkness. That’s part of what made his acting so compelling and complete.”
Even though Hoffman had the flu the first day they were shooting, he was giving the part his all, Fugit writes, and he realized that he needed to upgrade his acting chops.
“I remember watching him in the scene in which Lester is doing the Iggy Pop dance,” he says. “I was watching Philip work, and it occurred to me: This was the sort of caliber of acting that I was going to need to do from that point forward. There was something about watching Philip that opened my eyes to the potential for creating.”
During the diner scene, in which Hoffman’s Lester Bangs gives William some early lessons in rock journalism, Fugit recalls getting a subtle sign of approval from his masterful co-star.
“I didn’t know what to do, I was scared of him,” Fugit writes. “And this small smile crept up — it was a twinkle in his eyes. It was like he was seeing the beginning of something, like the beginning of my career. He smiled and nodded to reassure me that I was doing a good job. And then he looked down into his lap. I calmed down, but was a little confused, ‘Does he like what I’m doing?’ A lot of what I remember about him was that little quick moment there, like he was looking back to that time when he was in the beginning of his career, the overwhelming nature of it all.”
Although Hoffman was his role model on the set, Fugit said he didn’t try to stay in touch with his idol, but he hoped he’d get the chance to work with the legendary actor once more.
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