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Widely recognized as one of the strongest stage and film actors of his generation, Philip Seymour Hoffman delivered knockout supporting roles in films like "Boogie Nights" (1997), "Magnolia" (1999) and "Almost Famous" (2000), before breaking out with an Oscar-winning lead as the famed author in "Capote" (2005). The co-creative director of New York's LAByrinth theater company brought theater-trained sensibilities and a fearless approach to some of cinema's most uncomfortably realistic portrayals, battling dark human urges, addictions, and moral conflicts with powerful if unflattering vulnerability. That was not to overlook Hoffman's considerable comedic talents, expressed in finely nuanced characterizations of a loyal assistant in "The Big Lebowski" (1997), a blocked screenwriter in "State and Main" (2000), a desperate former child actor in "Along Came Polly" (2004), and a maturity-challenged college professor in "The Savages" (2007). He even made the occasional blockbuster action thriller, playing the villain to Tom Cruise's hero in "Mission: Impossible III" (2006). Still, Hoffman was most comfortable in more dramatically challenging films, delivering quality turns in "Before the Devil Knows You're...
Widely recognized as one of the strongest stage and film actors of his generation, Philip Seymour Hoffman delivered knockout supporting roles in films like "Boogie Nights" (1997), "Magnolia" (1999) and "Almost Famous" (2000), before breaking out with an Oscar-winning lead as the famed author in "Capote" (2005). The co-creative director of New York's LAByrinth theater company brought theater-trained sensibilities and a fearless approach to some of cinema's most uncomfortably realistic portrayals, battling dark human urges, addictions, and moral conflicts with powerful if unflattering vulnerability. That was not to overlook Hoffman's considerable comedic talents, expressed in finely nuanced characterizations of a loyal assistant in "The Big Lebowski" (1997), a blocked screenwriter in "State and Main" (2000), a desperate former child actor in "Along Came Polly" (2004), and a maturity-challenged college professor in "The Savages" (2007). He even made the occasional blockbuster action thriller, playing the villain to Tom Cruise's hero in "Mission: Impossible III" (2006). Still, Hoffman was most comfortable in more dramatically challenging films, delivering quality turns in "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" (2007) and Charlie Kaufman's "Synecdoche, New York" (2008) before receiving well-deserved acclaim for his performance as the embattled Father Flynn in "Doubt" (2008). With standout supporting turns in "Moneyball" (2011) and "The Hunger Games" franchise, Hoffman solidified his standing as one of the best and most versatile actors working in Hollywood. His death via heroin overdose at the age of 46 stunned the acting community as well as his legion of fans.
Philip Seymour Hoffman was born on July 23, 1967, and raised in the upstate New York town of Fairport, along with two sisters and a brother. Their father was a Xerox salesman and their mother, a politically active liberal and feminist organizer attended law school and eventually became a family court judge. She was also the cultural ambassador of the family, taking her children on arts and theater trips to New York City, where the future Academy Award winner first absorbed stage dramas by the likes of Arthur Miller. But whereas older brother Gordon enjoyed making Super 8 films and younger sister Emily appeared in school plays, Hoffman was initially the jock of the family, particularly talented at baseball and wrestling, a complex battle of wit and will that he would one day say prepared him for the stage. Wrestling was bumped from the agenda after Hoffman suffered a neck injury that prevented him from returning to the mat, leading the teen to become active in the theater department at Fairport High School. The drama coach's surprisingly sophisticated choice of productions included "M*A*S*H," "The Crucible," and "Death of a Salesman," in which Hoffman essayed Willy Loman. Hoffman enrolled at a youth acting summer program and landed his first professional stage role in a regional theater before graduating high school and pursuing acting at New York University. Hoffman was extremely dedicated to his craft while studying at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, augmenting his curriculum with training at the Circle in the Square Theater, in spite of a lifestyle that was beginning to threaten his aspirations. He received his BFA in drama in 1989 and promptly checked into a rehab facility, wisely establishing a strong foundation for the challenging road of a struggling actor.
Hoffman's talents were well advanced beyond his 22 years, according to director Austin Pendleton, who hired him to appear in several productions at the Williamstown Theater in Massachusetts that summer. At the close of the season, Pendleton cast Hoffman again in "King Lear" at the Hole Theater in New Jersey. Settled back in New York City, Hoffman held down a string of random service jobs and began the arduous task of "getting himself out there," landing a small role on "Law & Order" (NBC, 1990-2010) and a few micro-budget independent films before scoring a big break in a small but pivotal role as Chris O'Donnell's snooty prepster buddy in "Scent of a Woman" (1992). Al Pacino won an Oscar for his starring role as a cantankerous blind general, and Hoffman's association with the high profile film helped open doors for the newcomer. Hoffman next appeared as one of charismatic healer Steve Martin's employees in "Leap of Faith" (1992), and began building his character résumé with "Sliver" (1993), "Money for Nothing" (1993), "When a Man Loves a Woman" (1994), and "Nobody's Fool" (1994), in which he was punched out by his personal hero, Paul Newman. He had the opportunity to work with another film legend when he was cast in Peter Sellers' infamous staging of "The Merchant of Venice," which opened at Chicago's Goodman Theater before touring internationally. While on the production, Hoffman met New York actor David Ortiz, and upon the pair's return to New York they partnered as creative directors of the LAByrinth theater company, a collective where budding actors, directors, and playwrights could develop and stage their works.
Following several off-Broadway performances in 1996, Hoffman regained focus on film work, appearing as an infectiously enthusiastic storm chaser in "Twister" (1996), before being cast as a casino gambler in "Hard Eight," which began his long-term association with director Paul Thomas Anderson. The following year, Anderson gave Hoffman his first significant supporting role as a film crew member with a crush on porn star Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg) in "Boogie Nights" (1997). Hoffman's fearlessly realistic portrayal of the hanger-on who does not stand a chance elicited both sympathy and horror in moviegoers, the actor establishing the unsettling emotional verite that would become a hallmark of his exceptional work. The year 1998 was Hoffman's busiest year yet, with several off-Broadway performances and no less than six film roles. The actor offered a gallery of portraits from earnest assistant to "The Big Lebowski" to Hope Davis' politically active boyfriend in "Next Stop Wonderland." In Todd Solondz's darkly comedic "Happiness," Hoffman played an average cubicle dweller who sublimates his boring, lonely existence with graphic obscene phone calls. This no-holds-barred performance nearly stole the film out from under talented actors in incendiary performances, including Dylan Baker as a family man/pedophile. Hoffman was colder and more composed as the by-the-books med school roommate of Robin Williams' "Patch Adams." Throughout his growing range of characterizations, Hoffman continued to stand out for his willingness to be emotionally exposed, and often physically unattractive to great dramatic effect.
As his profile increased, so did his opportunities to work with high-caliber acting and directing veterans. Following his breakout in 1998, Hoffman landed his biggest and most challenging role to date, starring as a pre-op transsexual vocal coach opposite Robert De Niro's homophobic stroke victim in Joel Schumacher's "Flawless" (1999). Disclosing in interviews that he got in touch with Rusty's need to be a woman by calling upon his own feelings of inadequacy and not belonging, Hoffman delivered another almost uncomfortably emotionally true performance. He followed up with Paul Thomas Anderson's ambitious drama "Magnolia" (1999), playing gentle and well-adjusted caretaker Phil Parma, a role written specifically for the actor by Anderson and one that showcased a different angle of the actor's raw fragility. A turn in "The Talented Mr. Ripley" as a wealthy lad of leisure who sees through Ripley's facade rounded out 1999's film appearances.
Hoffman made his LAByrinth directing debut in 1999 with the "In Arabia, We'd All Be Kings," a drama about the changing face of Times Square. From downtown independent theater to the Great White Way, Hoffman next performed opposite John C. Reilly in Sam Shepard's family portrait "True West." The actors alternated their lead roles as dissimilar brothers, a promising young screenwriter and an errant drifter, throughout the four-month run and each earned a Tony nomination for their formidable performances. Hoffman took on a very different screenwriter and leading role in David Mamet's "State and Main" (2000) and tackled still another scribe in Cameron Crowe's semi-autobiographical rock-n-roll coming of age odyssey, "Almost Famous" (2000). As groundbreaking rock critic Lester Bangs, Hoffman give a tour de force supporting performance that rang true to the idealistic passion and acerbic, cynical spirit of Bangs. At this point in his career, if Hoffman was not stealing every scene he was in, it was the exception and not the rule.
The actor who had rarely offered any glimpses into his personal life or political standing was a surprising center of the 2000 political documentary "The Last Party 2000," bringing a sense of wonder and urgency as the film's host and guide to the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. With LAByrinth, Hoffman returned to the director's seat for "Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train," a well-reviewed drama about Riker's Island inmates starring John Ortiz. He then took to the stage in a Mike Nichols-directed production of "The Seagull" at the New York Shakespeare Festival, which placed Hoffman alongside Meryl Streep, Christopher Walken, Kevin Kline, and John Goodman. The casting choice proved that Hoffman, while still mainly a supporting player with little public screen recognition, was among the most well-regarded actors in the industry. He would soon be considered one of the best of his generation.
A busy 2002 included supporting turns in Brett Ratner's "Red Dragon" as a journalist who gets too close to a serial killer story, and a reuniting with Anderson for "Punch Drunk Love," in which Hoffman played a nefarious waterbed salesman/phone sex con blackmailer. Both Hoffman and John C. Reilly teased the writer-director for not creating leading roles for his favorite actors, but Hollywood was still leery that neither of the two names had the seat-filling power to carry a studio film. Indie director Spike Lee had no such reservations, giving Hoffman second billing in "25th Hour" (2002), where he portrayed a disillusioned high school English teacher who envies his friends' drug dealing lifestyles, but has no intention of giving up his job for the easy money. Likewise independent director Todd Louiso directed Hoffman as the star of "Love, Liza" (2002), a screenplay by Hoffman's brother Gordon about the collapse and rebirth of a recent widower.
Hoffman took the lead in the indie crime drama "Owning Mahowny" (2003), playing a seemingly quiet and helpful bank manager who pulls off the largest single-handed bank fraud in Canadian history to feed his gambling obsession, before adding a lascivious spark to "Cold Mountain" (2003) as a defrocked preacher constantly tempted by carnal sins. He went on to earn Tony nominations that year for a four-month run in "Long Day's Journey into Night," which garnered Tony Awards for co-stars Brian Dennehy and Vanessa Redgrave. Hoffman next directed the neighborhood chronicle "Our Lady of 121st Street" at the LAByrinth Theater and spent a semester at Columbia University teaching a directing course for master's degree students. In one of his more mainstream film appearances, Hoffman was hilarious as Ben Stiller's charismatic but hopelessly inept former child actor buddy in "Along Came Polly" (2004).
Hoffman's career triumph was just around a New York corner, with his painstaking portrayal of author and Manhattan socialite Truman Capote in "Capote" (2005). As co-producer, Hoffman helped bring to the big screen - along with childhood friends Dan Futterman and Bennett Miller - the story behind Capote's true crime masterpiece, In Cold Blood, and the author's conflicted five-year relationship with the book's central character, convicted murderer Perry Smith. Gone were any doubts that Hoffman could carry the lead in a mainstream film, with both audiences and critics transfixed by his embodiment of the author's notorious character quirks and unexpectedly sensitive core; his outgoing party charm and episodes of deep depression; and his moral struggle as the book's dark conclusion became increasingly apparent. His performance earned Hoffman a Golden Globe Award and an Oscar for Best Actor at the 78th Annual Academy Awards, and his masterpiece topped critic's year-end lists.
Back at LAByrinth, Hoffman directed fellow company members Sam Rockwell and Eric Bogosian in the ambitious "The Last Days of Judas Iscariot" before picking up his first Emmy nomination for the HBO miniseries "Empire Falls" (HBO, 2005). In "Mission Impossible 3" (2006), Hoffman tackled a rare villainous role with delightfully misanthropic relish, upstaging the dramatic limitations of co-star Tom Cruise. On the other hand, his thespian achievements were a perfect match with fellow stage vet Laura Linney in "The Savages" (2006), writer-director Tamara Jenkins' darkly funny story of grown siblings called upon to care for their estranged but ailing father. As Jon Savage, a self-centered professor with no interest in interrupting his project on Bertolt Brecht to forge a bond with his long-dismissed sister and father, Hoffman again wowed critics with a studied and empathetic performance.
Director Sidney Lumet's "Before the Devil Knows Your Dead" (2007) featured Hoffman as a desperate businessman who robs his own family business, but despite accolades for Hoffman and co-stars Ethan Hawke, Albert Finney, and Marisa Tomei, the film only received limited release. At the end of 2007, Hoffman appeared in Mike Nichols' "Charlie Wilson's War," a political drama in which he portrayed Gust Avrakotos, a real CIA agent who armed Afghani tribesmen during the guerilla uprising against the Soviets in the 1980s. In early 2008, Hoffman earned a Golden Globe nomination, which was soon followed by an Oscar nod for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role. Continuing to roll out award-worthy performances, he was nominated later that year for a Golden Globe for Best Performance by a Supporting Actor for his role of a priest in John Patrick Shanley's riveting drama, "Doubt" (2008). His performance as a liberally-minded priest accused by the parish's stern headmistress (Meryl Streep) of an improper relationship with a new student also earned Hoffman an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
After that critically acclaimed performance, he played Iago in a Public Theater and LAByrinth joint production of "Othello" (2009) before portraying a rock-loving disc jockey in "Pirate Radio" (2009). Hoffman made his directing debut with the slice-of-life comedy "Jack Goes Boating" (2010) before going back in front of the cameras with supporting roles as Oakland A's manager Art Howe in "Moneyball" (2011) and a political campaign manager in George Clooney's acclaimed drama "The Ides of March" (2011), starring Ryan Gosling as his junior protégé. From there, Hoffman took to the stage again, this time to deliver a strong turn as Willy Loman in a 2012 Broadway revival of Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman." The role earned him widespread praise as well as nominations for Best Actor at the Drama Desk and Tony awards. Back on the big screen, he reunited with Paul Thomas Anderson for the first time since "Punch-Drunk Love" to star in the director's period drama "The Master" (2012). Hoffman played Lancaster Dodd, an L. Ron Hubbard-like leader of a quasi-religious movement who takes a disturbed World War II veteran (Joaquin Phoenix) under his wing to help spread his teachings. The film was overwhelmingly praised by critics, many of whom singled out Hoffman's performance; at year's end, he received nominations for both a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
Later in 2012, Hoffman was featured with Christopher Walken and Catherine Keener in the classical-music-centric drama "A Late Quartet," which garnered positive reviews but saw little in a way of box office. During mid-2013, he revealed that he was seeking treatment for drug abuse, though he seemed to be confident that he was getting a handle on the situation. In fall of that year, his turn as the brilliant Plutarch Heavensbee in "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" found him in rare blockbuster territory. His next film was the Anton Corbijn-directed espionage drama "A Most Wanted Man" (2014), which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2014. On February 2, 2014, Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead in his apartment in New York's West Village; preliminary police reports stated that the actor had died of a heroin overdose.
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