Remembering Philip Seymour Hoffman
A version of this interview originally appeared in the October 2005 issue of Out
A regular presence in gay-themed movies (The Talented Mr. Ripley, Flawless), Philip Seymour Hoffman played the flamboyant author of Breakfast at Tiffany's in 2005's Capote—[and he would eventually win the 2006 Oscar for Best Actor for the role—in one of two upcoming Truman shows, this one follows the story of the writer and a condemned murderer featured in Capote's In Cold Blood. Here, the actor offers some illuminating takes on what it means to be Hoffman.
Musto: Congrats on a deft performance, Phil. How did you avoid descending into caricature or mere impersonation?
Hoffman: That scared the shit out of me when I was offered the part. What an esay guy to just mock or mimic. It would have come off kind of foolish. I worked hard to make it more about the story than just him. His character is incredibly important to that story, but ultimately what transpires is the story of an artist at the pinnacle of his career. I t could be any writer standing at the gallows at the end of that film.
I'm glad it wasn't me. Did you know there's another Capote coming out? [Have You Heard? with Toby Jones.]
In this business, it's always something. Either you can't get the money together or it rains or there's another movie about the same subject! I don't wish them any ill will. I don't think our films are probably that similar.
And even if they are, at least yours is coming out first. Anyway, do you think maybe on some level Capote fell in love with Perry Smith [the co-murderer he bonded with]?
No one really knows what happened when they were alone talking except for what Truman would say, and he was known to embellish. What was clear was there was a connection that was made—five years of letter-writing and intimate personal things back and forth.
And Perry was kinda cute.
[Laughs] Yeah, he was kinda cute! Fortunately, Truman—unlike so many writers, ahem—had a boyfriend to ground him [Jack Dunphy, played by Bruce Greenwood]. They were companions for a long, long time. They had confidences together and Truman trusted Jack implicitly. The film deals with it really well—the phone calls and the walk in the park. Jack was the exact opposite of Truman, so Truman could sound things off Jack to find out where he should be going.
So Capote was completely out way back then? I'm finding this hard to believe.
I watched a lot of stuff when I was doing research. He was out, he never hid it, it wasn't a secret, but I don't think he went around talking about it a lot or made it an agenda. My opinion is he just was. He was a gay man and that was part of who he was. He was comfortable with that. That was a unique thing.
It still is! And I guess he couldn't have passed for straight even if he tried.
Will this movie spark such a Capote phenomenon that kids will dress like him this Halloween?
[Laughs] Well, for all the people who are closet Capote lovers, a lot of people don't know who he is at all. I say, "I'm doing a film about Truman Capote," and they say, "Oh." My jaw drops. They're in their thirties—and they're in film business! Hopefully a lot of people will be introduced to him anew.
Capote is certainly not your introduction to playing gay. Are you drawn to gay projects or do they find you?
When I play somebody gay, I never think of it as "I'm playing a gay character." It's interesting to play all the different aspects of the character. There's something else about the character that's pulling me there that I identify with. With Flawless, it's not that he was gay—I found it more interesting that he thought he was a woman. With Capote, it's the story that he had as an artist. And in Boogie Nights, he was so completely stunted I don't even think he knew his attractions were of a gay nature.
Are you ever frustrated that you're cast as fringe characters?
It's never really frustrating. I don't judge the characters I play nearly as harshly as the people who watch them. I don't see them as so fringy. But I guess you're right. I've played a lot of people who live on the outside of things. The great thing about playing Capote is he was on the outside of things, but on the inside of everything. He was the it guy, the center of the party and attention. he was rubbing shoulders with Gore Vidal, Normal Mailer, and George Plimpton, for God's sake, and riding on yachts and hanging out with Babe Paley. This isn't Allen [the serial masturbator] from Happiness.
But I bet Capote made some obscene calls.
Yeah, to reviewers that did him wrong!