Philip Seymour Hoffman never carried himself like a Hollywood star, which made him one of its brightest.
Bookish, intense and leery of the press, Hoffman, 46, who was found dead Sunday in his New York apartment, earned his greatest fame for his Oscar-winning turn in 2005’s Capote and his recurring role as Plutarch Heavensbee in the Hunger Games franchise.
But he appeared on the radar of Hollywood’s most respected directors years before that. If an actor can be measured by the caliber of filmmakers on a resume, Hoffman’s was spectacular.
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His directors included the Coen brothers in The Big Lebowski, Anthony Minghella for Cold Mountain, and he was a favorite of Paul Thomas Anderson, who cast him in Boogie Nights, Magnolia and Punch Drunk Love, among others.
Hoffman’s first role was in television, as a defendant in Law & Order in 1991. He would make his film breakthrough in 1992 when he appeared in four movies, the biggest being Scent of a Woman, in which he played the morally-questionable classmate of Chris O’Donnell.
Hoffman’s love of performing included directing and the stage. He earned wide acclaim for his work on and off-Broadway. In the ’90s he joined New York’s LAByrinth Theater Company, whose other members include Ellen Burtsyn, Bobby Cannavale, Ethan Hawke and the celebrated playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis. Hoffman also directed plays, earning Drama Desk nominations for helming Guirgis’s Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train and Our Lady of 121st Street, in 2001 and 2003 respectively.
He earned both Drama Desk and Tony Award nominations for all three of his Broadway roles, in revivals of the American classics True West (2000), Long Day’s Journey Into Night (2003) and Death of A Salesman (2012). Salesman teamed him with director Mike Nichols, with whom Hoffman had worked in an acclaimed 2001 Public Theater Shakespeare in the Park production of The Seagull, also featuring Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline and Natalie Portman.
He was a TV force as well, capturing an Emmy nomination for playing Charlie Mayne in the 2005 HBO miniseries Empire Falls. He also was set to play a middle-aged, social media-phobic adman in Showtime’s Happyish, due later this year. Only the pilot had been filmed.
But Hoffman’s true medium was film, for which he would would earn scores of awards and nominations, including four Academy Award nominations and four Golden Globe nominations and one win, also for Capote. His Oscar nominations included Capote and three supporting actor nods for Charlie Wilson’s War (2007), Doubt (2008) and 2012’s The Master.
Though Capote made him an undisputed A-lister, Hoffman never shied from character roles, and he surprised critics with his range. He was arguably the best villain of the Mission: Impossible franchise with his turn as Owen Davian in Mission: Impossible III in 2006. He would direct Jack Goes Boating in 2010.
Still, Hoffman shunned many media requests, saying that he preferred for the public to see his character, not his own personality.
Hoffman’s work on The Hunger Games: Mocking Jay Part I, due in theaters Nov. 21, was primarily finished, and he had about seven days remaining to shoot on the sequel, out Nov. 20, 2015. Distributor Lionsgate said Sunday that the deaths are not expected to to alter the release dates of the film.
“Philip Seymour Hoffman was a singular talent and one of the most gifted actors of our generation,” Lionsgate, which distributes the Hunger Games series, said in a release Sunday. “We’re very fortunate that he graced our Hunger Games family. Losing him in his prime is a tragedy, and we send our deepest condolences to Philip’s family.”
The actor, who appeared in last year’s documentary Salinger, had under-appreciated respect among his peers, says Salinger director Shane Salerno.
“To be honest, we were having trouble getting big names to participate” in the documentary about the author, Salerno says. “But when he agreed to do it, other people began getting on board.”
Other stars would include Martin Sheen, Ed Norton and John Cusack.
“Once Phil signed up, it was like we had a seal of authenticity,” Salerno says. “The interviews he gave were as good as the Yale professors we spoke with. You can’t imagine how intellectual he was about film, stage, literature. He was as smart as they come.”
Hoffman is survived by his partner of 15 years, Mimi O’Donnell, and their three children. The family released a statement via Hoffman’s publicist, Karen Samfilippo: “We are devastated by the loss of our beloved Phil and appreciate the outpouring of love and support we have received from everyone. This is a tragic and sudden loss and we ask that you respect our privacy during this time of grieving. Please keep Phil in your thoughts and prayers.”
Contributing: Elysa Gardner and Gary Levin