Philip Seymour Hoffman: A rare breed of genius

2014-02-02 22:39

I was attending the renowned Durban Theatre Academy with the hopes of becoming an actor when I saw Philip Seymour Hoffman portray Freddie Miles in The Talented Mr Ripley. His performance was everything but subtle and nothing short of brilliant. It was then that I swallowed my popcorn, gulped my drink and started taking notes.

I distinctly remember coincidentally watching Scent of a Woman a few days later and going; “Hey, it’s that Philip Something guy…”

Obviously it was hard to outshine the Pacino in that movie but Hoffman’s performance as a spineless spoiled teenager cemented my new found admiration for him.

I was a fan from that moment on.

An artist

It appeared as if he had a loyalty, a commitment to the art form. It wasn’t superficial or in lieu of popularity. In an age where millions of budding actors and singers are willing to sell their creativity in exchange for fame and fortune, artists like Hofmann are but a splinter on the trampled wooden stage.

Hoffman wasn’t just any actor, he was a character actor. The best kind of actor, in my opinion.

Character acting is a niche not many performers have stored in their repertoire. Hoffman shared this ability with legends like Gary Oldman, John Turturro and Forest Whitaker, to name a few. Character actors rarely get to bask in the spotlight of a leading role and are usually cast in either obscure cameos or supportive roles. Hoffman’s redefined this norm with the poetry that was Capote.

Hoffman’s transformation into the real life character Truman Capote was beautifully heroic. If anybody ever needed a visual lesson in acting Capote would be it. The textbook - rewritten.

I was taught by the immortal genius of Dennis Ruben that it is the little things that make a good performance great. Hoffman’s attention to detail had writers, actors, directors, critics and everyone with an interest in performance art taking lengthy notes. Capote’s idiosyncrasies were unavoidably tied to his character and Hoffman understood that, and he portrayed it, truthfully, transparently. For us.

My favourite Philip Seymour Hoffman movie has to be The Ides of March. As a former communications staffer for a political party I couldn’t help but be drawn to this impeccably accurate mirror to the world of politics. Philip Seymour Hoffman obviously being the cherry on the top of a brilliantly layered cake.

I am writing this as I still try and come to terms with the sad news of his death. I’ll have time to reflect on his performances and most probably have a clearer more lucid idea of his contribution to the arts as the days go by. For now, I just needed to remember him. Melodramatic? Maybe, but I’m a movie lover and I form bonds with these storytellers. I always have, and I always will.

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