2010 Flashback - InDepth InterView: Philip Seymour Hoffman
Sunday morning was marked with the tragic news of the passing of one of American acting's most vivid, varied and committed stage and screen performers, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and we commemorate his passing with a rerun of my 2010 InDepth InterView conducted around the the time of the release of his first and only feature film as both director and star, JACK GOES BOATING. On a personal note, MAGNOLIA remains my favorite film and his tremendous turn within it as a put-upon home hospice nurse dealing with death, dogs, and a Biblical plague of frogs falling from the sky (no, really) is visceral, masterful and unforgettable - and Hoffman's own description to me of the meta-musical film as "an opera" in not only its incorporation of music into the plot and the outsized emotions of its characters but also the scope of the Paul Thomas Anderson project itself is an exquisitely erudite example of the perceptive nature Hoffman always exhibited, whether onscreen or onstage in performance or in real life. Nevertheless, Hoffman's five films with Anderson alone are among the finest legacy a modern film actor could ask for, if not more: HARD EIGHT, BOOGIE NIGHTS, MAGNOLIA, PUNCH DRUNK LOVE and THE MASTER; not to mention his Academy Award-winning turn in CAPOTE, as well as his many notable stage performances ranging from TRUE WEST to LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT to DEATH OF A SALESMAN and many more. A titanic talent that will be missed for many decades to come, Hoffman really was the master, indeed.
InDepth InterView: Philip Seymour Hoffman
Last night I had the unbelievable treat of talking to one of the finest actors alive - whether playing to a select audience off-Broadway or to millions of moviegoers - Oscar-winning actor (and now film director), and a part of many of the finest films of the twenty-first century, the charming and compelling Philip Seymour Hoffman! In this exclusive interview, Hoffman candidly covers the many highlights of his stage and screen career in addition to providing a thorough discussion of his new filmwhich opens in selected cities this month! It's like an acting class with a class act - and one hell of - of an actor. Whether you are a fan of Hollywood, Broadway or both this is an entertainment junkie's purple dragon dream interview made real!
Winner of virtually every film award imaginable - including a 2005 Best Actor Academy Award for CAPOTE - as well as enacting one of the greatest stage performances of the twenty-first century in Eugene O'Neill's LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, the sheer talent and versatility is enough to leave any fan of film or theatre astonished, effected and agog. Not many performers can be called the actor of their generation, but over the course of his forty-plus film appearances, and nearly as many stage ventures, Philip Seymour Hoffman has done just that. He has been teamed with the very best, and rightfully so: In SCENT OF A WOMAN he established himself as in the class of Pacino, in FLAWLESS he matched Robert De Niro punch for punch, in CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR he stole the screen from Tom Hanks AND Julia Roberts, which is not even to speak of his four master classes in film acting portraying a veritable cornucopia of characters in the film art of Paul Thomas Anderson - HARD EIGHT, BOOGIE NIGHTS, PUNCH DRUNK LOVE, and perhaps his finest film, MAGNOLIA - who is also the writer and director of his exciting new film project about faith, family and brotherhood. From Mamet (STATE & MAIN) to Minghella (THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY), Sidney Lumet (BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD) to Spike Lee (25th HOUR), Mike Nichols (CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR) to MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: III and Meryl Streep in DOUBT, Philip Seymour Hoffman's resume reads roughly like a list of the best films of the last twenty years. He has excellent taste in projects, exquisite skill in performance and an engaging presence and palpable energy that is effortlessly revealed as he passionately describes the projects closest to his heart - foremost of all, his directorial debut (which he also stars in), JACK GOES BOATING, co-starring Amy Ryan, Daphne Rubin Vega and John Ortiz. All this, plus he runs the LAByrinth Theater Company!
In this BWW Exclusive InDepth InterView with Philip Seymour Hoffman we discuss directing JACK GOES BOATING, why the project inspires him, the process of adapting the stage play to the big screen, his collaborative relationship with playwright Robert Glaudio, his favorite scenes in the film and play and what they mean to him, working with co-stars and friends Amy Ryan, Daphne Rubin Vega and John Ortiz, and what the near future holds for the already critically heralded Oscar-bait enterprise with Hoffman at the helm. Additionally, we discuss his extensive theatre work: doing LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT with Vanessa Redgrave, directing and alternating roles every night with John C. Reilly in Sam Shepard's TRUE WEST, going to see his fellow actors in Broadway shows like LES MISERABLES and being inspired and invigorated by that experience; as well as what Broadway means to him as an actor, a director and an artist. If all of that weren't enough, we also take a look at his film career with insightful and intriguing comments about MAGNOLIA, BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD, CAPOTE, and, of course, JACK GOES BOATING. Three names aren't nearly enough to properly personify the positively astounding and myriad abilities of the fantastic Philip Seymour Hoffman!
PC: It's a rare privilege to be speaking with you!
PSH: Oh, thanks.
PC: This is beyond the beyond to be talking to you about it, so I just have to say: MAGNOLIA is my favorite film of all time.
PSH: Oh, great! I'm glad! I'm glad! (Laughs.)
PC: Was the experience working on MAGNOLIA really interesting, did you know it would be that innovative?
PSH: Oh, yeah. I think it's a very... I love that movie.
PC: It's really a musical in many ways, isn't it?
PSH: I think it's.... I always thought of that movie as an opera.
PC: Oh, what a beautiful way to put it! I so agree.
PSH: Yeah, I don't think it's even a musical. No, it's not a musical. It's an opera. I mean, it's really, really... you know....(Pause.) I think it is already an opera, like in its emotional content, and in the way it's filmed and the way it's acted and, you know, everything else. It's a beautiful film.
PC: Does your character (the diva at the center) Phil Parma, come from your real name, perhaps?
PSH: You'll have to ask Paul that!
PC: I'd love to ask Paul! He's my favorite director!
PSH: I think he had an idea of he wanted me to be that guy in that role. And it was a great role.
PC: You've got that right, no one could have done it better!
PSH: Great role.
PC: Tell me about directing and acting in TRUE WEST onstage that same year and switching roles with your BOOGIE NIGHTS and MAGNOLIA co-star John C. Reilly every night.
PSH: Aww, that was great. It was a highlight that I think will be for the rest of my life. A highlight of the career I've had. I think John would feel the same. It was a quite unique experience that we got to have with each other. I think we cherished it. We really got the most out of it. (Pause.) Yeah, it's hard to think of how to have a better theater experience than that one!
PC: I read in Ben Brantley's ArtsBeat that he now considers your performance in LONG DAY'S JOURNEY possessing some of the best moments in recent theater history. Do you have any reaction to that?
PSH: Brantley said that?
PC: I thought you would have seen it!
PSH: That's interesting. I remember the review that he gave at the time didn't say that! (Hearty Laugh.)
PC: He featured it in his column last week!
PSH: What, he went back and saw it again?! (Laughs.)
PC: Yeah, he must have gone on YouTube! (Laughs.)
PSH: Wow, that's so interesting.
PC: What do you think about reassessing performances?
PSH: Yeah, it's funny because if you go back, and if you, I guess, Google the review, in the review he is totally fine, nice, but he definitely didn't say that [then]!
PC: I'm glad I could let you know. So, you read reviews?
PSH: I remember being... my child was just born and I remember reading that and thinking, "Oh, he saw an off night or something." (Laughs.)
PC: It was an utterly brilliant performance.
PSH: It makes me think that he went back and saw it again which is... Big ups to him if he did. That's pretty cool.
PC: It is pretty cool! I love that you love theatre so much and really care about the audience's perception of you.
PSH: I do.
PC: It's also pretty cool that you now join your DOUBT co-star Viola Davis in participating in this column!
PSH: Oh, yeah? She is something!
PC: How did you experience JACK GOES BOATING first? Reading the script as an acting project?
PSH: Well, the thing is, is that I actually acted in it with John Ortiz and Daphne Rubin Vega, written by Bob Glaudini, at LAByrinth Theater Company where John and I are co-artistic directors. We developed plays.
PC: LAByrinth has done amazing work.
PSH: Bob wrote it and then we kind of helped develop the play with him and then we did it. Peter DuBois directed it and it did very well.
PC: Yes, it did.
PSH: Yeah, but the whole time people were, you know, kind of talking about it as a film. Like it would be a great idea for a film. Because of the whole visualization aspect of it, it's really something that lives inside the mind. The story. You know?
PC: Oh, yes. Totally.
PSH: It's just something that we knew that, cinematically, that it could be brought out.
PC: So much!
PSH: But, we were just doing the play!
PSH: We didn't think it would, you know, become a reality.
PC: Who would?
PSH: Yeah, but then some film companies - Big Beach, Overture - they thought, immediately thought, "Wow, this could be a film!" And they were pretty excited about doing it as a film, so they approached us.
PC: It must be fate.
PSH: John Ortiz said, "Well, why don't you direct it?" Since I had been directing with the company for awhile. So, then we were off. You know what I mean?
PC: Off to the races!
PSH: Yeah, we were off and running.
PC: How fantastic!
PSH: We did. We had a ball. We really did have a lot of fun over the next two years adapting it along with Bob.
PC: Bob, the playwright.
PSH: Yeah, that really turned it into what it is, now, which is a film.
PC: A lot of changing things around, rewriting scenes and adapting?
PSH: Not a lot of changing, but, just kind of evolving. You know what I mean by that?
PC: Opening it up.
PSH: You realize that some stories want to keep evolving. There's more story to tell. There are places that you can go deeper with and more complex with and I think that this one has that quality. It opens itself up for a lot of different emotional landscapes. You know?
PSH: We were able to explore those landscapes given this opportunity. Which is cool.
PSH: Well, it's based on... our relationship. I have a relationship with Bob that goes way back. I've produced many of Bob's plays and we're very, very good friends. I have a huge amount of respect for him. So, we can sit down and I can be straight with him and he can be straight with me and it's OK.
PC: Yeah, it's real.
PSH: It's always real, we're not ever very precious with each other. That helps. That helps.
PC: Big time.
PSH: Yeah, I know that we're like that with each other so we can hang out on the hot seat together and it will be all right.
PSH: So, in all, I think it depends on if people have a relationship like that.
PC: OK, if you don't mind, I'm going to give you the name of each of your co-stars so you can give me your impressions of them both as your fellow actors and your friends that sort of distill and describe your experience making the film version of JACK GOES BOATING.
PSH: OK. Shoot.
PC: Daphne Rubin Vega.
PSH: Well, Daphne is... (Pause.) I'm in love with her.
PC: Me too, from afar!
PSH: She's one of the most loving, just genuine people that you'll ever meet. She's a sort of effortless talent, to be honest.
PSH: She's a born performer, you know?
PC: I completely agree.
PSH: I don't think she's even aware of it! There are no boundaries to what I think she is capable of.
PC: Not at all.
PSH: I kind of feel like if you have her on your team, she's gonna come through!
PC: I'm assuming you've seen her onstage in RENT and/or ANNA IN THE TROPICS?
PSH: I've known her. She's part of LAByrinth, so I've known her for years!
PC: Yeah, I was at the final dress of BERNARDA ALBA at Lincoln Center a few years ago. What a performance!
PSH: Oh, yeah, yeah. Uh huh.
PC: She was unbelievable with Phylicia Rashad in that.
PSH: Yeah, yeah. She's really exciting! I actually remember... I don't know if you remember when they remounted LES MIZ a few years ago?
PC: Oh, yeah, of course, the revival. I saw it.
PSH: Did you see her sing that song in that?
PC: "I Dreamed A Dream"? Oh yeah!
PSH: She re-invented that song!
PC: So unique.
PSH: It's famous, that song.
PSH: It's so famous, and I remember I went and saw a matinee and I was like, "Wow!" (Pause.) I was just kind of blown away.
PC: Even you were moved!
PSH: I was like, "No one is ever going to do that song like that again!"
PC: No, they won't! How could they?
PSH: She's so extraordinary to me.
PC: Especially that grittiness and that earthiness she imbues her performances with.
PSH: Yeah, yeah. Exactly. Totally.
PC: And Amy Ryan?
PC: Old friends!
PSH: Yeah, and we've just known each other in the New York theatre scene through the years.
PC: And lots of movies, too!
PSH: Right, we did CAPOTE together and we were in BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD together. One of the early, early drafts of the screenplay [for JACK GOES BOATING] we did a reading of and she was a part of it and she was kind of... I told her, I'm like, "I'd really love you to be in this." So, she kind of stayed with us until we got it made.
PC: BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD is one of the best films of the twenty-first century, in no small part due to both of your performances in it. What a knock-out!
PSH: (Hearty Laugh.) Well, thank you.
PC: It is. Un-effing-believeable.
PSH: (Laughs.) Yeah. But, she's... how do you say it? (Pause.) She surprises you. I mean, she is kind of, just there. Very human. Her imagination is huge. The biggest thing about her is that she has an incredible sense of humor. So, she can play scenes that are naturally dramatic - in nature - but she will find what's funny. You know?
PSH: That is a huge quality in any actor.
PC: You have that quality, too, I think.
PSH: This character needs that. This character has a quality where things happen that are kind of funny. As she says, they're kind of quirky and offbeat, and she pulls it off. It's a hard quality in this part to pull off and she did it.
PC: Can you tell me about your relationship with John Ortiz?
PSH: Yeah, I do just want to say that John has been my close friend for years and my artistic partner for a long time. I just think he's one of the great actors.
PC: What's your favorite scene in the film?
PSH: My favorite scene in the film? Ummm... (Pause.) I have a lot of scenes that I like in the film, but...
PC: Try to pick just one, if you can!
PSH: I think actually a scene that I think is a really, really - I think - very good scene, is a scene where Clyde and Lucy are in their apartment, and they are talking about Connie, and Lucy takes her clothes off and she is in her bra and panties in the living room and you see Clyde try to come on to her. She's very cold. It's a really, really moving, uncomfortable, really beautiful scene about a couple; a relationship where something has been destroyed. You know?
PC: I can almost see it from that beautiful description!
PSH: That's my favorite scene in the film.
PC: Define collaboration. Or, was it just elemental to the whole experience of JACK GOES BOATING?
PSH: The collaboration... well, that's what we're all about!
PC: So it seems!
PSH: I mean: from the collaboration of adapting the screenplay, to my collaboration with Mott Hupfel the DP, to my collaboration with Brian Kates as the editor, to all the designers. I mean, that's the great thing about directing a film, that you have this long, long drawn out process of collaborating with so many different people. In a very intense way.
PC: You and John were always running the show, though, right?
PSH: (Laughs.) It's funny, it's like: John and I are very inclusive, you know what I mean? We are.
PC: Collaborators and co-patriots!
PSH: We work really well together so we have a real short hand. But, you know, we had an opportunity to bring all these people into the fold and that's what we're all about. That's what LAByrinth is about, I think. We brought them into how we do things as a group. And that was pretty, pretty cool.
PC: You are pretty, pretty cool!
PSH: (Laughs.) Thanks.
PC: Thank you so much for your time, this was great!
PSH: All right! Thank you, too. Bye bye.