Dumbfounded. Not sure i should write anything at all. When so many others are much closer, much better placed to express the loss.
Still, silence was no good.
Two thoughts then.
One. Death of a Salesman seems to form a neat cycle in Hoffman’s on-stage life, as one of his first roles on high school and his last on Broadway was that of Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s classic. It’s for you to decide on the meaning of this, and whether there is any.
Two. My own favourite is his shy, compassionate Everyman Phil Pharma, home nurse to Jason Robards’s dying patriarch. Phil does not question neither does he judge the questionable indeed characters surrounding him; instead he becomes the driving force that leads them to mutual understanding, and forgiveness.
Let us bear in mind for a moment that this most astute of actors’ directors,
Paul Thomas Anderson, created his Magnolia characters very much after the personalities and real-life trials of his actors.
Enter Robert Falls, who directed Hoffman in Long Day’s Journey into Night, Eugene O’Neill’s drama on addiction and disintegration. He talks of the ‘emotional cost’ it had on the actor, then adds: ‘He just brought every fiber of his being to the stage. He was there – with his depth of feeling, depth of humanity – and no other actor I’ve ever worked with ever brought it like that, not at that level.’
In the two directors’ insights, i see a common thread. Humanity, generosity, depth, compassion, call it as you will – could this, i wonder, be the essence of the man? His great, overwhelming, capacity for empathy – this seems to be the source of his exceptional talent; his gift and his, alas fatal, weakness. A painful honesty seems ultimately to be the legacy, the inspiration and responsibility he passes on to us.
Philip Seymour Hoffman, farewell.