The first time I really became aware of Philip Seymour Hoffman, I loathed the man. Aged sixteen, riding the peaks and troughs of a hormonal rollercoaster, I fell in love with Tom Ripley (aka. Matt Damon in the Anthony Minghella adaptation of The Talented Mr Ripley). Though Ripley was a homicidal sociopath, this emotionally vulnerable repressed homosexual struck a chord with my teenage self that still resonates today. Damon remains one of my favourite actors, Ripley remains one of my favourite films and Hoffman’s character, the unrelenting and doggedly sceptical Freddy Miles, was a terrifying and constant threat to my beloved anti-hero. It was only when I began to notice Hoffman in other movies that I realised his brilliance as an actor, that his portrayals of the darker sides of humanity was his real astonishing talent. Freddy Miles was that rugby boy you knew at school, to whose friends he was boisterous and fun but to whose enemies he was thunderous and cruel. For sixteen year old me, Freddy Miles was that boy who was torturing me at school.
It should probably come as no surprise now to learn of Hoffman’s darker side in real life. As reports flood in that his body was found on his bathroom floor, with a syringe still attached to his arm, we learn that this is a man who struggled with addiction for most of his adult life. Admitted to rehab at 22 for heroin abuse, Hoffman was a recovering addict. In 2013, 24 years after beginning his recovery, he relapsed. Less than a year later, we learn that he has overdosed and died. This was a man with his own inner demons, whose darker and troubled past came through in his performances, giving us some of the greatest performances in cinema of the last twenty years. It’s easy to condemn a person after an overdose, but would Hoffman have delivered these same performances if he hadn’t experienced and lived through these hardships? Probably not.
There will be much debate over the coming weeks of the legacy he has left behind. For the people who know him from The Hunger Games or Mission: Impossible 3, Hoffman is probably just another face to be lost from the annals of Hollywood to the perils of substance abuse. Unfortunately, his loss is much deeper than that. When Heath Ledger passed away, its worst facet was that he was on the verge of greatness. Just another actor before, his performance in The Dark Knight was about to catapult him to stardom, showing this remarkable actor’s range and versatility. That he died before this moment is one of cinema’s greatest tragedies. The death of Hoffman is very similar, except this time we know for certain his broad talent. If you look at his extensive filmography, you see classic after classic, films of note, films that are remembered as much for his performances as they are in themselves. Hoffman was fulfilling his potential, delivering on his early promise of greatness, but this wasn’t a man who had finished. He was at the pinnacle of his career. Who knows what other performances he could still have given?