It was almost 12 years ago when I found myself at a table with Phillip Seymour Hoffman, a young Anna Paquin(Sookie Stackhouse from HBO’s True Blood) and Brian Cox (both with in-character hair from the set of X2, which they were both filming) and Barry Pepper as part of a press junket for Spike Lee’s 25th Hour.
As a mainstream movie nut who paid his bills writing about Black culture, it was rare for me to sit down with white actors I dug. And I was fan of EVERYONE there.
Hoffman was the closest to me and I had been grinding in the minutes before he sat down to hit him with some questions he hadn’t gotten before(as if there were such a thing). There I was, this then long-dreadlocked kid in front of a dude who had already delivered masterful performances in flicks I loved like Boogie Nights, Magnolia and The Big Lebowski. Between him and Cox I was a little starstruck.
There were five or six journalists there, none of whom seemed that familiar with him, and he seemed eagerly impressed that I’d been into his career. I remembered being the only Black guy in the entire theater on the night Magnolia opened. This might not have been as memorable had my girlfriend at the time, who was white, hadn’t started a yelling match with the woman in front of her for talking too loud before the movie even started.
Hoffman had that classic affected Hollywood actor demeanor. But it didn’t take away from the work he did. As the years went on he took chances in his roles doing action flicks I loved like MI:3 with Tom Cruise and co-starring with Ethan Hawke and Marisa Tomei in Before The Devil Knows Your Dead. He knocked it out the park in Capote and gave a really good performance as a bank con artist in Owning Mahoney. I never really imagined writing an ode to him just over a decade later.
I won’t focus on the overdose of some new strain of heroin that has people dropping like flies, or wonder why he wasn’t more responsible about his habit. What I know is that he did good work in an era where such a thing often feels like a fairy tale. I’ve seen a lot of his flicks and now I’ve got reason to check some more. That’s it and that’s all. Light and love to you dude, wherever you are over there.