Philip Seymour Hoffman, actor
EmptyAWARDS: 2006 Academy Award, Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role for "Capote"; 2006 Golden Globe, Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture -- Drama for "Capote." CURRENT CREDITS: It was hard to turn around in 2007 and not run into a Philip Seymour Hoffman movie; the actor appeared in ThinkFilm's "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead," Fox Searchlight's "The Savages" and, most recently, Universal's "Charlie
Wilson's War." He recently wrapped the Charlie Kaufman-penned and directed "Synecdoche, New York" and is currently filming "Doubt" for Miramax, an adaptation of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize-winning stage drama. MEMBERSHIPS: Screen Actors Guild. Academy member since 2001.
The Hollywood Reporter: You played three very different characters in three separate movies in 2007. What kind of character really speaks to you and gets you interested in a project?
Philip Seymour Hoffman: Well, the story is just as important as the character. You try not to pick projects based on the character itself. First off: Is it a good story? Is it well written? And then: Do you have an affinity for the character? That's really all you're looking for.
THR:And two of those projects' directors are vets in the industry -- Sidney Lumet and Mike Nichols. What do you get from working with men of such experience?
Hoffman: They've always been special directors. What I'm getting now from them is probably very similar to what people got from them 30, 40 years ago. They both understand how actors work, and they have a good sense of people and humanity and how that works. So they're able to be very specific in what they say or suggest to you to inspire creative ideas and actions. They bring it down to its simplest form, and that's always helpful.
THR:Why did you make the choice to have an acting career out of Hollywood?
Hoffman: I went out to L.A. when I was 25, 26 for a couple of years -- that was really because of a relationship more than anything. And when that relationship ended, I came back to New York. The theater company I work with -- the LAByrinth Theater Company -- is here. This is my home, and this is where my family is ... where my work relationships are. New York is definitely a theater town, and theater has a certain stature here that doesn't exist in other cities. More attention is paid to it.
THR:So is your first love still with the theater?
Hoffman: I feel more at home there because it's where I've always been. And where I spend most of my time, in a way. But I have a love for film. With the right material and the right people, it can be a very special thing -- and an exciting thing also. But I think I'm just more at home and more connected to the theater because I spend more time there. I spend a lot of my time thinking about working in a theater. They're kind of equal in a way in my life at this point; they probably take up the same amount of space in my head.
THR:What are you able to take from the stage when you're doing films? Or are they just two totally different art forms?
Hoffman: The similarity is that you're trying to accomplish the same thing on film as in the theater. But ultimately, one thing has to be repeated and one doesn't -- and those are different muscles. To find something and explore it to its fullest extent on the day -- sometimes shooting out of sequence -- and then let it go and move on, is one way. But the theater is something that happens in order. You know you go through the plot from the top to the end. You're going to explore from the beginning to the middle to the end every time you attack it. And you have to attack it eight times a week, over many months sometimes. That takes you on an exploration that's different from one where something happens just on the day and then is let go of. If you're doing both, they feed two different sides of your brain. Hopefully, it makes you a better actor.
THR:That's a very practical approach to your job; do you not go in for the "magic of acting" that many people speak of?
Hoffman: Well, I do think acting is kind of like magic. Everyone knows that. When you see really good acting, you wonder how they did it -- just like you wonder in magic. It's an illusion like anything else. You're creating an illusion. But how you go about doing that is something that starts with practical questions.
THR:The illusion works: Frankly, in many of your roles you can be quite scary. Why do you think you're able to project a subtle -- or sometimes not so subtle -- malevolence so well?
Hoffman: When you're seeing someone who's caught in a life-changing dilemma, you'll see not only the best but the worst in them, and when you see the worst in somebody, it's sometimes scary. They don't need to be somebody who ultimately ends up killing somebody or who sells their soul for a piece of material or so on. But the worst of people is always a hard thing to see. And hopefully when people are scared of something, it's because they're scared of something inside themselves.
THR:Did you have any sense early on that "Capote" would win you an Oscar?
Hoffman: No. Contrary to popular belief, movie people don't take on roles to get awards. We take on parts because we're interested in doing them; they scare us, we see the challenge and all these things. That's what you do, and you're usually so involved and self-absorbed with the work at hand that the thought of where it will go isn't on your mind.
THR:You've directed for the stage and executive produced "Capote" -- have you thought about doing more work behind the scenes?
Hoffman: I've definitely thought about doing more producing. The idea of being somebody that could help with the creative process and see it all the way through without being an actor is something that appeals to me. Directing a film? Possibly, sometime. But I'm not really the accountant type of guy. I'm a guy that would want to see a director's and writer's vision from its first incubation to its end. To facilitate that -- and help that -- is something I do enjoy doing.