Today marks the late Philip Seymour Hoffman’s 47th birthday, and in recognition of this and the release of his last fully completed film, A Most Wanted Man, we wanted to take a moment to remember one of our generation’s most gifted actors. Since his untimely death, most of the reflections on Hoffman’s career have revolved around his Oscar worthy performances in films such as Charlie Wilson’s War, The Master, and Capote. Although the ability to tackle these dramatic roles as seamlessly as he did is a feat in itself, it’s not a true testament to the skill and range Hoffman possessed as an actor to define him by these characters alone. No role was too small or too outside of his comfort zone. He truly was a master of the craft because he tackled a rare spectrum of performances, from throwaway to iconic, with equal commitment and passion. It’s a fact too often lost in memorial retrospectives: within Hoffman’s body of work, his endearing and comedic roles stand the test of time as steadily as the dramatic ones. And for those of you who may have forgotten, or maybe you never knew in the first place (if that’s the case and you haven’t seen Twister, we can’t be friends), let me remind you that Philip Seymour Hoffman was funny. So in celebration of him, let’s leave the heavy pondering up to the more opportunistic memorials while we focus on the good times. Shall we?
In some cases, Philip Seymour Hoffman consistently made the best of his material, sometimes outperforming the movies he took on, and he consistently upstaged his costars, whether they were newbies or veteran A-listers. It didn’t matter if you were in the acting world, your scene could be stolen if you were alongside Hoffman, especially when he was in the zone. And tight gray sweatpants. Before they began filming Along Came Polly, Jennifer Aniston and Ben Stiller should have asked themselves, “You douchebags bring your A game?” The 2004 romantic comedy was released in the middle of Ben Stiller’s hot streak, but the lackluster plot, flat script, and absent chemistry between Stiller and Aniston led to a mostly forgettable flop. Along Came Polly is only remembered due to Hoffman’s portrayal of Sandy Lyle, the crass, has-been actor best friend. Hoffman has always been revered for his complete embodiment of a character, and that standard applies to his comedic roles as well. He is Sandy Lyle, from his crude attitude to his overly animated hand gestures and misplaced confidence. Who else could deliver a deadpan line about sharting in the middle of a party and manage to make people belly laugh instead of roll their eyes? And no one has ever had more fun during a basketball game than Sandy Lyle. Except maybe me. I may or may not have watched that clip 17 times while writing this.
A supporting best friend role isn’t even a requirement for Hoffman to go all in. Even in the role of proud personal assistant (read: butler) he managed to turn heads. If anyone else had accepted the role of Brandt in The Big Lebowski, they would have faded into the decor, or been overshadowed by the powerhouse that is Jeff Bridges. But Hoffman went after the role with such gusto that he managed to not only keep up with the Dude, the subtle impact of his rigid body language and the shocked expressions he wore while trying to maintain control of the home he so proudly served enhanced both of their performances in every scene they shared. Although The Big Lebowski stands strongly on its own as a cult favorite, Hoffman’s presence elevates it even higher. In a way, Brandt’s enthusiasm and commitment to Mr. Lebowski is a direct reflection of Hoffman’s dedication to each of his performances, no matter how minor or seemingly nondescript.
This brings us, finally, to one Hoffman’s earliest and most memorable roles, as the free-spirited Dusty Davis in 1996’s Twister. Dusty has proven to be one of Hoffman’s most beloved characters, and rightly so. The laid back, tornado chasing jokester is the sole element preventing Twister from being just another 90’s natural disaster flick. Dusty Davis, perhaps moreso than any other character he’s ever taken on, fully embodies the reckless abandonment with which Hoffman immersed himself into a role. He lights up the screen in every shot, injecting the energy that goes hand-in-hand with the passion for acting.
YouTube is overflowing with highlight reels that compile the best Dusty moments, and when you watch them all together like that, you can’t help but be blown away by the sheer force of nature that is Philip Seymour Hoffman. And in the words of Dusty Davis, “It’s the wonder of nature, baby”.
Happy Birthday, Philip Seymour Hoffman. On behalf of audiences everywhere, we miss you.