Unlike so many of the very well written and moving pieces I’ve read over the last few days, I don’t have anything personal to say about my favorite actor, Philip Seymour Hoffman.
I don’t have any stories about him brushing by me in the West Village, wrapped in a knit scarf and rumpled buttondown. I never had the occasion or pleasure to interview him for a larger publication. I never picked his brain about what it meant to be the world’s only close-to-anonymous “movie star”, and most unfortunately I never saw him live on the stage.
But I am sad he’s gone.
Not in the same way that I would be if I lost a family member or a friend, as his loved ones have, but I am definitely still sad. And if I’m being honest with myself it’s probably a little odd. I never knew the man, have only seen maybe a dozen of however many movies he’s been in, and I wasn’t the type of fan who knew anything about him beyond what I saw on a screen.
It feels strange to be sad. Awkward even.
And despite feeling some small measure of this actual, active grief over his passing, I have little more to say about Hoffman’s career than I do about his person; all of which has most likely been said already. The only thing I know is that when I saw Philip Seymour Hoffman in a movie, I never recognized him. We knew Truman and Gust and Freddie seemingly down to their cores to be sure, but we never saw Hoffman in there, and so we never felt we knew him at all. It doesn’t make sense to be sad.
Think only for a moment and there he is: screaming through a phone at Adam Sandler in Punch Drunk Love, smoking cigarettes and sneaking hooch with Joaquin Phoenix in The Master, and making it absolutely RAIN in Along Came Polly. Think a little more and there he is lecturing Catholic schoolboys on the length of their nails in Doubt, or somehow so unexpectedly breaking your heart in Boogie Nights. And trapped as those iconic moments in our minds, we know that those characters aren’t going anywhere, even when Hoffman, the one we hardly knew, has.
Hoffman played freaks, creeps, rejects, outsiders, and enigmas, but he was always an everyman, finding pieces of humanity in each one, all the way down into the gutter. He was not handsome like DiCaprio, or as relentlessly volatile as Penn. He wasn’t as smooth as Clooney or as masculine as DeNiro, but he would tremble before he thundered, slump defeated before straightening, a giant of raw emotion capable of evaporating instantly into self-doubt. He was authentic and true, and he was tucked deep down somewhere within Brandt and Lester Bangs and Sandy Lyle, never the other way around. He was whatever the role needed him to be, and he was whatever we, without pause, asked him to be.
Where we sought out greatness, he was gargantuan. Where we looked for frailty he was a waif. Even when we never thought to look, he would turn up, a new iteration of one of us, our own, begat by his immense talent. But in spite of the great breadth and sum of his work, it has become suddenly static, never to evolve again.
And now we, or at least I am here, selfishly sad because we don’t know from whence the next Father Flynn or Lancaster Dodd or Phil Pharma will come. Because when a great artist dies, for better or worse, we mourn the loss of his or her art above all else. In the case of this great artist, whenever we asked, whatever we asked, he delivered. And now as selfish consumers of his art, we are left to wonder who do we ask at all?
This is our concern, Dude.