Philip Seymour Hoffman, then age 32, on the cover of the Nov. 18, 1999, issue of NOW.
Philip Seymour Hoffman is dead at 46, and the landscape of American cinema is gutted.
Reports broke Sunday afternoon of the Oscar-winning actor's body being found in a New York City apartment, with a needle in his arm following an apparent heroin overdose. Last spring, he had undergone rehab for issues with the drug.
Hoffman's death is a tragic, miserable waste, retroactively hollowing out a huge chunk of recent American cinema. Hoffman had the electric talent - and the good fortune - to emerge as a really, really interesting actor at a time when American cinema started actively seeking out the really, really interesting.
Even in his smallish, starting-out roles, Hoffman had incredible presence and focus. He first registered as Chris O'Donnell's dickish rival in Scent Of A Woman in a way that made people turn around in shock a few years later: Christ, that was him? It was, and that was more than two decades ago. Hoffman put in the work.
His rise to prominence, and that Oscar for Capote, tracks like a bluffer's guide to indie cinema. Hell, just his work with Paul Thomas Anderson operates like a master class in unselfish acting - a small role in Hard Eight, a little more to do in Boogie Nights, his amazing performance as the endlessly empathetic nurse who proves the unconscious locus of Magnolia, that tiny, antagonistic role as Adam Sandler's nemesis in Punch-Drunk Love ... and then that stunning, magnetic, utterly unknowable turn as Lancaster Dodd in The Master.
If those were the only Hoffman performances you saw, you'd still think he was one of the most versatile and talented performers of his generation. And you'd be right. But then there's everything else, and there is just so much of it.
The objectively loathsome yet somehow pitiable Allen in Todd Solondz's Happiness. The fatally perceptive Freddie Miles in Anthony Minghella's The Talented Mr. Ripley. Clear-eyed Lester Bangs in Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous. Laura Linney's damaged brother Jon, forever trying to downplay his emotional scar tissue, in Tamara Jenkins's The Savages.
As the youngish Truman Capote in Bennett Miller's Capote, Hoffman's performance managed to hint at the self-parody that lay in the author's future while still showing us the man's raw, conflicted soul.
And think about how good he was in those big studio pictures, when he could have simply coasted: Red Dragon. Mission: Impossible III. Moneyball. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Throwaway roles became interesting, layered characters - and the chunk of Mission: Impossible III in which Hoffman plays Tom Cruise in a Philip Seymour Hoffman mask is pure pleasure. He put in the work.
Having never had the good fortune to see him on stage - his Death Of A Salesman was apparently the stuff of legend - I'll close with what I consider Hoffman's finest hour: the driven, deluded auteur Caden Cotard, Charlie Kaufman's avatar in Synecdoche, New York.
Forever struggling to make something of artistic substance while his life crumbles to pieces, forever obsessing over his own mortality, it's a character that brought Hoffman's greatest quality as an actor to the fore - the ragged, panicked vulnerability of a man who doesn't know what is going to happen next. You can see that cornered, hunted look flash across his face at multiple points in his career, and Kaufman clearly noticed, building an entire character around it. And Hoffman was up to the task, turning uncertainty and emotional paralysis into the stuff of a symphony.
One small warning: If you've never seen Synecdoche, New York, this would probably not be a good time to do so. It's a deeply sad movie, and it'll only be sadder now.