But above all, I am a man: In Memoriam of Philip Seymour Hoffman

Philip Seymour Hoffman: 1967-2014.

This Sunday, we at (Pop) Culturally Informed were deeply saddened over the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman; a father, beloved partner, and Oscar-winning actor. Hoffman had an incredibly powerful presence, and was hailed by many as one of the greatest living actors. His work, both onstage and onscreen, had a lasting impact on every viewer – when Hoffman came into any scene, it was difficult to take your eyes off of him. In light of this terrible loss to film and stage, we wanted to write short pieces on Hoffman, his legacy, and his impact on us as pop culture lovers.

NINA: About two years ago, I was at my parents’ house when my mom, who was watching an old Law & Order in the next room over, called me into the room, shouting, “You have to see who’s in this episode!” I walked in, and as soon as she pressed play on the DVR, I saw a young Philip Seymour Hoffman, playing a bit part and overpowering every other actor in the scene. A quick IMDB search told me that, in fact, this was his first-ever screen credit. Undoubtedly, someone powerful saw that and thought, “Who the hell is that?!” because just a few years later, he was appearing in Hard Eight and beginning his lifelong collaboration with P.T. Anderson.

When you grow up wanting to be an actor, you go to movies hoping to be inspired. When I saw Hoffman in a film, I was never disappointed. Films like CapoteDoubt and The Master, among so many others, just proved that he was a force to be reckoned with. I vividly remember sitting in a movie theater last year, my jaw on the floor during The Master, wishing and hoping that I could ever be not even half as good as he was, but even just maybe 1/12th as good. He was an idol to me, as he was to so many others. I regret that I never had the chance to see him perform onstage – by all accounts, it was life changing.

This is a tragic, tragic loss, both publicly and privately. This is a terrible loss for film and stage, to lose a great talent, in his prime, who certainly had a long and incredible career ahead of him. Hoffman also leaves behind a longtime partner, costume designer Mimi O’Donnell, and three children between the ages of 11 and 6. I hate to bring up his struggles with addiction – it feels somewhat tasteless – but it must be remembered that Hoffman struggled with something bigger than himself, and something that has claimed far too many lives far too soon, which makes all of this, ultimately, that much sadder. You’ll be missed, Mr. Hoffman. There will never be anyone quite like you.

BEN: For a man of such gravitas as Philip Seymour Hoffman, I refuse to focus on how he left this world, albeit far too soon and untimely. His professional career that spanned more than two decades already speaks for the grand scope of an actor and director like Hoffman. He was a man who directed Stephen Adly Guirgis plays and starred in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. He was the man who battled with the animal being of Joaquin Phoenix in The Master and battled with himself as Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman on Broadway. He was devious and conniving in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead and complained to Ben Stiller about “sharting” in Along Came Polly. To say Hoffman had range as an artist is a severe understatement.

What most compelled us about Hoffman was his refusal to portray the ordinary. The closest one can say he came to that would be in the severely underrated The Savages, but even there, Hoffman’s Jon Savage is a man struggling to be the alpha male in alliance with his sister, played by Laura Linney. His characters are troubled, angry, hurt, and powerful. His Lancaster Dodd in The Master is a revelation, commanding the screen every time he is present. In Magnolia, his Phil Parma is the nice guy nurse who will do anything to ensure his patient’s good health. But it is his performance as Caden Cotard in Synecdoche, New York that will stick with me for years.

Hoffman plays a struggling theatre director who takes decades to rehearse the play that he believes he was put on this earth to create. Looking back, perhaps this will be the film that best encapsulates his life and career. A man of genius and a man of struggle. Hoffman put so much dedication into his craft, and even after we’re all gone, and after he’s gone, the record will show that he was indeed a force to be reckoned with.

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