By Madelyn Ritrosky
Another Santa Barbara Film Festival honoree was Philip Seymour Hoffman, who is nominated for an Oscar. But he is not nominated as a supporting actor, the type of role he has often played. Instead, he is in the running for best actor, and the film is CAPOTE. Hoffman has been described as an actor’s actor or character actor, and has worked primarily in independent films.
But he has now moved into the limelight with his unforgettable performance as writer Truman Capote. What did he do first when he learned he had been nominated for an Academy Award for best actor? He called Bennett Miller, the first-time feature film director of CAPOTE and Hoffman’s long-time friend.
It turns out that CAPOTE is an interesting collaboration. The star, the director, and the screenwriter met as teenagers over twenty years ago. Hoffman, Miller, and screenwriter Dan Futterman first laid eyes on each other at a summer theater program while still in high school. And here they are today, all three nominated for Academy Awards for the film they made together.
Bennett Miller was also at the Santa Barbara Film Festival, participating as one of the directors on the directors’ panel. But it was Paul Thomas Anderson, whose films seem to always feature Hoffman, who had the honor of presenting the Riviera Award to Hoffman.
The Riviera Award was given to Philip Seymour Hoffman on the last Saturday night of the festival at the recently renovated Marjorie Luke Theater. This award is for “continued excellence” and “making an indelible mark for generations to come.” The red carpet press line was once again packed. The theater was full. And Leonard Maltin, who conducted the George Clooney interview, was ready to do his second on-stage chat with a festival honoree.
Hoffman was very forthcoming about his craft and profession, which included numerous witty descriptions of what it’s like being an actor. In junior high school, he played sports. But when he entered high school an injury sidelined him, and he tried out drama. His very first role was as the drunken jailor in his high school’s production of The Crucible. He talked about his start in and continued enthusiasm for the theater. He joked about audience misinterpretations when an actor first walks on stage: “It’s really the actor being incredibly in the moment with their panic.”
With film, Hoffman explained, the actor can do several takes to get it right which is not necessarily an exasperating thing for the director. “There’s a real pleasure in giving the editor or the director as many options as possible.” And if he, as an actor, thinks a somewhat different way to play a scene could work, he has discovered that it’s “better to do it than to ask, because then they can see it.”
When considering a part, Hoffman asks himself, “What’s the personal connection between me and this role?”
And he also relishes when a director whom he really respects specifically wants him: “Nothing gets better than that.” He also noted the differences between playing supporting roles, which is what the majority of his film work has been, and doing the lead role, which includes CAPOTE and a few others.
“When you have supporting roles, your rhythm is broken all the time. When you’re the lead, you’re in so much of the film that you can establish a rhythm.” Either way “you have to gauge your energy. . . . The minute I’m done I’m gone, because you’re really playing around with your emotional life.”
Hoffman humorously described the whole awards thing and how it can go to your head. “It’s a big killer to get it in your head. You have to carry a bat ‘get the f*ck away’.” The audience was rolling.
Later that evening, I was eating at a restaurant with my husband and the waiter noticed my program from the event lying on the table. He was quite interested and asked, “Did you go to that?” Affirmative. Then he asked, “Did you get to speak with him?” Affirmative (but only briefly). Finally he declared, “He was incredible in CAPOTE. He’s going to win the Oscar. Heath Ledger was good, too, but Hoffman’s going to win.” On March 5, we will find out.
Photo (above): Philip Seymour Hoffman, by Madelyn Ritrosky
Photos (2nd and 3rd): From the movie "Capote" courtesy of Sony Pictures.