Like most film lovers, I am in mourning today, stunned by the sudden loss of Philip Seymour Hoffman. It was only a little over two weeks ago that I interviewed him at The Sundance Film Festival in Utah, where between the idyllic scenery and the palpable sense of joy surrounding the films, a tragedy like this seemed impossible.
Red Carpets are normally full of glitz and glamour, but at Sundance they are much more laid back. The stars are happy and relaxed, as is their attire, and Hoffman stepped in from the cold wearing winter boots and an easy smile. I admit I experienced a few butterflies at the prospect of speaking to this man, one of my favorite actors in films like The Master, Doubt and Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead to name just a few. But I had no reason to worry. He might have had incomparable talent, but he also had a very relatable quality that came across in his scruffy look, his twinkling eyes and the fact that he smelled like cigarettes—a balance of the genius and the human.
Hoffman was at Sundance to promote two projects, A Most Wanted Man and God’s Pocket, which now mark two of his final films, along with The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Parts 1 and 2, which he had largely finished filming. I spoke with Hoffman at the God’s Pocket premiere.
He started off by joking about playing Christina Hendricks’ husband in the film: “It was wonderful working with Christina, but if you see the film, being her husband in the film wasn’t a walk in the park (laughs).” (In the dark comedy Hendricks’ character assigns him the unhappy task of getting to the bottom of her son’s death). He then went on to praise Hendricks in what I can only imagine is probably one of the greatest compliments that a man who takes his work so seriously could offer; he called her “an actress.” He continued: “You’re showing up and working with someone who knows what they’re doing, and you get to work. It’s not a bunch of nonsense, there’s not a lot of extracurricular kind of drama going on or anything, and that’s how the whole film was, really.”
He went on to praise his other co-stars and first time film director John Slattery, explaining how Slattery’s experience as an actor was something he valued: “you have an affiliation through the acting, so you can talk to each other…” It was evident that Hoffman really was an actor’s actor. He took his work seriously and took his co-stars seriously, and he appreciated talent and hard work. Of course, it was that work ethic and passion that came across in every role he took.
At the very end of the interview I asked him about there being so much to see and do at Sundance and whether or not he had a fear of missing out. He responded with a laugh: “The fear of missing out left me twenty years ago.”
I remember wishing that I had a little more time to talk with Hoffman. Now I just wish he wasn’t taken away so soon.