“Actors are responsible to the people we play. I don’t label or judge. I just play them as honestly and expressively and creatively as I can, in the hope that people who ordinarily turn their heads in disgust instead think, ‘What I thought I’d feel about that guy, I don’t totally feel right now.’”
~Philip Seymour Hoffman, in an interview with Michael Krantz, TIME, Nov. 20, 2000
I am devastated by the death by apparent heroin overdose of Philip Seymour Hoffman this morning.
For over a decade now, I’ve been talking about my inexplicable crush on Philip Seymour Hoffman. Since 1999, in fact, when he made his entrance as Freddie Miles in The Talented Mr. Ripley and managed to be both wholly repellent and utterly, devastatingly charming at the same time, a feat that few men can really ever pull off with anything like aplomb.
While my attraction to the loathsome Freddie Miles probably says more about my twisted psyche and early exposure to private-school boys in their blue blazers than anything else, the truth is that my crush wasn’t inexplicable at all.
Philip Seymour Hoffman was amazing.
He was, by all accounts, one of the most talented actors of his generation. I may have fallen in love with Freddie Miles, but I was asking “Who was that guy?” as early as roles in Next Stop Wonderland and Boogie Nights. He had a way of moving into his characters, however small the role, and making them fit him like a comfortable old shoe. He managed to imbue the men he played with a certain world-weariness, even in roles where he played a variation on the manic pixie dream boy. He brought a sense of compassion to even the most amoral or outright evil characters, and he managed to play an astonishing range of humanity in his career, now cut so terribly, tragically short.
He wasn’t movie-idol handsome, but he was an attractive man, and dead sexy. He had that deep, rumbly voice that made you want to dive into it, lovely blue eyes that always seemed to have a hint of mischief, big hands that still managed to seem delicate. He laughed from his core and smiled until his eyes disappeared.
More than that, he seemed like he had qualities that, as I get older, seem sexier and sexier to me. He was a private guy, but whenever I’d see him in interviews he seemed like someone you might want to get a drink with. He was smart, and not afraid to take his work seriously, but he also seemed to be pretty down to earth. He seemed content to be a working actor with a life that he led largely out of the spotlight. He had a family he seemed to delight in. He carried himself with authority and seemed to be at home in his own skin.
Maybe, in the end, that was just another role he played.
No one just wakes up one morning and decides to start doing heroin. Maybe he spent decades feeling insecure and unloved because of his looks, because of his childhood, because acting is a game of rejection. Maybe he was facing middle age with a sense of panic and foreboding. Maybe he felt the best years of his life were behind him. Maybe he felt unworthy of adulation.
Or maybe it was all true. Maybe he loved his family with his whole heart and soul. Maybe he woke up every day grateful for a chance to do work he loved with people he admired. Maybe he stumbled deeper and deeper into addiction, fighting tooth and nail every step of the way.
That’s the thing about addiction. That’s the thing about addicts. There’s no one path into it and there’s no one path out of it. Sometimes people find their way. Sometimes they are lost to us forever. Some people are “functioning” addicts for their whole lives, the devastation they wreak on themselves and their loved ones only seen behind closed doors. Sometimes, they’re clean for month, years, decades, only to be pulled under again by a moment of weakness or vulnerability.
We all have gaping holes somewhere inside us that are never filled, no matter how much we love and are loved, no matter how rich and full we strive to make our lives, no matter if we live lives of creation and productivity or quiet desperation. We try to fill those holes in all sorts of ways, each of us, and some of us choose those paths that are the most destructive.
You can’t love someone out of addiction – that’s one of the tenets of Al-Anon and pretty much a universal truth. But you can keep loving them. You can recognize the hard battle they’re fighting, every day. You can offer them your support and your compassion, and you can reach for them when they fall. And most of all you can recognize that addiction is a disease, not a character weakness.
There are no easy answers, and no one solution. But I know that I saddened by the passing of a man I loved and admired, and am thinking of his family, who truly knew and loved him, and of their pain and sorrow.
I’m sorry for all those years that I didn’t call it my “totally explicable crush on Philip Seymour Hoffman,” and I’m selfishly sad that I won’t get to enjoy his work for decades to come. I’m going to try to reach out more often and remind the people I love why I love them, too, even when it’s hard.
And to everyone fighting that hard, good fight, you have my support and admiration.