Philip Seymour Hoffman, actor

Philip Seymour Hoffman, actor

(This profile originally appeared in the Actors issue, published Dec. 12, 2005)

Philip Seymour Hoffman says his portrayal of Truman Capote wouldn't have been the same without invaluable input from an old friend of the writer's: photographer Richard Avedon. Last year, while Hoffman was preparing to shoot Sony Pictures Classics' "Capote," which recounts the writer's experiences while working on his nonfiction novel "In Cold Blood," the actor had dinner with Avedon. The photographer had been side by side with Capote while he researched the famous tome about the slaying of a rural family in 1950s Kansas.

"Avedon was there during the whole experience," Hoffman says. "He was there when the killers were caught. He was there with Truman, and Truman had him take all those pictures."

Over mussels and clams in his Manhattan apartment, Avedon described what Capote was like in the early years -- before the pressures of celebrity sent him spiraling into alcoholism. Hoffman was fascinated and began to see Capote in a new light, separating the real person from the over-the-top persona the writer adopted for appearances on talk shows like Dick Cavett's and Johnny Carson's.

"He talked about how at the top of his game Capote was, how sharp he was, how ingratiating and kind he was -- all these things he remembered from that time," says Hoffman. "But then he was also very open about how Capote became later: He would come in and become drunk, and he started being very biting. Then they had a falling out about some photo Dick had taken of him."

Avedon showed Hoffman that photo and some 200-300 others he had taken of the farmhouse where Perry Smith and Richard Hickock shot and killed the four members of the Clutter family in an attempted robbery gone wrong.

"It helped me a lot -- the idea of what happens to a person where, at one point, they have so many allies, then these ties are severed," Hoffman says. "In a way, he was powerless over his demons. That's not an excuse; there are actions he took that are there to be criticized. But there was something about him that made him powerless to overcome his own compulsions."

Sadly, Avedon, whose character in the movie is played by Adam Kimmel, died before he could see the completed film. But Hoffman's exemplary performance in director Bennett Miller's moving biopic -- which has made him a front-runner in this year's best-actor competitions -- serves as a fitting tribute to his memory.