Masks of a star who prefers to stay in char­ac­ter

Os­car-win­ner Philip Sey­mour Hoff­man has cho­sen a quirky do­mes­tic drama for his de­but as a film di­rec­tor. He ex­plains more to Tony Earn­shaw.

Yorkshire Post - Culture & The Guide - - FILM -

PHILIP Sey­mour Hoff­man re­calls that he hasn’t had a non-act­ing job since he served food in a del­i­catessen be­fore be­ing cast in Scent of a Wo­man, with Al Pa­cino, in 1992.

Twenty years is a long time in an ac­tor’s ca­reer, and Hoff­man hasn’t let the grass grow un­der his feet. Land­ing the Pa­cino film was the break­through he needed; af­ter that he never looked back. For 20 years it’s been act­ing. Only act­ing.

Hoff­man is the an­tithe­sis of con­tem­po­raries on the star cir­cuit. In truth he’s an an­ti­s­tar, pre­fer­ring the rel­a­tive anonymity of the char­ac­ter ac­tor.

Thus when he am­bles in for his in­ter­view, he is sport­ing a heavy beard, pullover and jeans. No diva an­tics here, just a reg­u­lar guy who takes the job se­ri­ously.

The 44-year-old New Yorker has been the ac­tor of choice for a string of A-list di­rec­tors from Paul Thomas An­der­son via the Coen Broth­ers to the late Sid­ney Lumet. Most re­cently Ge­orge Clooney signed him as one of the stal­wart politi­cos at the heart of The Ides of March.

He can play com­edy, high drama, and in­ti­mate the­atre pieces like his di­rec­to­rial de­but on film, Jack Goes Boat­ing. He can also act most of his con­tem­po­raries off the screen with qui­etly pow­er­ful per­for­mances like that in Capote, as Tru­man Capote, which won him the Os­car as best ac­tor in 2006.

A glimpse at Hoff­man’s CV is ev­i­dence of his ver­sa­til­ity. Look, there’s the ef­fects­driven dis­as­ter flick Twister. And The Tal­ented Mr Ri­p­ley. And the Han­ni­bal Lecter pre­quel Red Dragon. And The Big Le­bowski. And let’s not for­get Mag­no­lia, Al­most Fa­mous, and Doubt. It’s a mouth-wa­ter­ing line-up.

I ask this most un­likely star whether win­ning the Academy Award led di­rectly to more clout – to the free­dom to se­lect bet­ter roles, to work with whom, and when, he wanted, and to di­rect per­sonal projects such as Jack Goes Boat­ing. Hoff­man’s face crin­kles into a semi-frown.

“It was never in my mind to do it as a movie,” he says in that trade­mark slow drawl. “Some­one saw the play we did and came to us and said, ‘We’d like to make it into a movie’.

“Then it was our de­ci­sion whether we’d take their of­fer on. So I wasn’t in search of a movie to di­rect.

“I was a di­rec­tor in the the­atre, that’s what hap­pened. I’ve no idea [whether the Os­car had an ef­fect]. I am a celebrity but I don’t have the celebrity that some peo­ple have. But, sure, it helped in some ways. The ca­chet goes up.”

Hoff­man con­sid­ers him­self pri­mar­ily a the­atre ac­tor. Since the age of 22 he has been ac­tive on the boards; movies have al­ways ap­peared to be a lu­cra­tive side­line.

He has picked up Tony Award nom­i­na­tions for Sam Shep­ard’s True West and Eu­gene O’neill’s Long Day’s Jour­ney into Night. He was a mem­ber of New York’s Labyrinth The­ater Com­pany for which he acted and di­rected. Jack Goes Boat­ing was one such project.

Hoff­man is keen to fo­cus at­ten­tion on his fel­low stars in the film, two of whom reprise their parts from the stage. John Or­tiz plays Clyde and Daphne Ru­bin-vega plays Lucy.

The fourth role of Con­nie is taken by Amy Ryan. And the film? It’s the story of two cou­ples; one headed for dis­as­ter, the other headed for... who knows?

“John and I have worked to­gether as pro­duc­ers, I’ve di­rected him, we’ve acted to­gether, we’re artis­tic part­ners and have been for 20 years.

“Some­one asked me, ‘What’s it like be­ing the boss?’ and ac­tu­ally hav­ing some­one let me be the boss is re­ally the ques­tion be­cause that’s what it is. With John and I it’s this hand­ing off of re­spon­si­bil­ity and we do it very well.

“The give and take was full of trust and there­fore dif­fi­cult. The way we chal­lenge each other is pretty straight up, you know?

“That’s a great environment to be in – you don’t have to be scared that some­one’s go­ing to be mad at you be­cause you want more. We had a great his­tory, so we were able to go through that.”

I sug­gest that the Os­car and all it rep­re­sents have given Hoff­man free­dom to do modest, in­ti­mate dra­mas like Jack Goes Boat­ing. He frowns again.

“I don’t re­ally see the vast dif­fer­ence be­tween my life be­fore that and af­ter. I was given more than most be­fore I won, and I still am. I con­sider

FLOAT­ING ALONG: Philip Sey­mour Hoffman as Jack and Amy Ryan as Con­nie in Jack Goes Boat­ing, Hoffman’s de­but as a film di­rec­tor.

DES­TI­NA­TIONS: Amy Ryan in a story of two cou­ples; one headed for disas­ter, the other for... who knows?

ON SCREEN: Hoffman con­sid­ers him­self pri­mar­ily a the­atre ac­tor, films have al­ways been a lu­cra­tive side­line in his ca­reer.

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