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Sunday, 31 December, 2000, 00:55 GMT
Hoffman proves his character
Hoffman as Lester Bangs in Almost Famous
Hoffman as Lester Bangs advises fledging music writer William, played by Patrick Fugit
Coming to a screen near you in 2001 is Oscar-tipped movie Almost Famous from Jerry Maguire director Cameron Crowe.

There are undoubtedly many good things about this movie, as its Academy Awards recommendation from critics suggests.

But one of its strongest assets is another memorable character performance from Hollywood actor Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Philip never met Lester - just read his stuff and listened to tapes - but he found Lester; it was a beautiful thing

Cameron Crowe

Hoffman's name may not rings bells with the majority of viewers.

Yet his scene-stealing roles - such as an obscene phone-caller in Happiness and a spoilt playboy in The Talented Mr Ripley - will.

Almost Famous is based on Crowe's experiences as a young music journalist in the 70s.

Hoffman plays real-life doyen of US rock criticism Lester Bangs - Crowe's friend and mentor.

Philip Seymour Hoffman in Happiness
Hoffman as Allen in the controversial Happiness
That Crowe entrusted Hoffman with the role is a measure of the respect with which the actor is held in Hollywood.

And, confirmed Crowe, Hoffman did not disappoint, capturing Bang's passion and rage with aplomb.

"Philip never met Lester - just read his stuff and listened to tapes - but he found Lester. It was a beautiful thing," said Crowe in a recent press statement.


It is a sentiment echoed by numerous Hollywood directors, some of whom have described Hoffman as a "genius".

This admiration has been inspired by a seemingly endless supply of varied and talked-about roles.

Philip Seymour Hoffman in Magnolia
Hoffman played kind nurse Phil in Magnolia
In Boogie Nights, Paul Thomas Anderson's wry look at the 70s pornography industry, he played geeky tank-topped technician Scotty.

Scotty made a humiliating lunge for porn star Dirk Diggler, played by Mark Wahlberg, and figured largely in much of the post-movie buzz.

It was followed by another near-the-knuckle role in Happiness, Todd Solondz's uncompromising examination of paedophilia.

Hoffman played a sweaty crank caller, prompting Solondz to enthuse to Time: "Whatever genius is, he has it."

In Anthony Minghella's long-awaited The Talented Mr Ripley, Hoffman played conceited, chubby playboy Freddie.

I don't label or judge, I just play characters as honestly and expressively and creatively as I can

Philip Seymour Hoffman

Hoffman ending up stealing much of the thunder from his beautiful, bronzed co-stars Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow and Matt Damon.

Minghella later summised to Time: "I don't think there is anything he can't do."

And the role in Flawless - his most recently released film - opposite Robert De Niro was handed to Hoffman on a plate because director Joel Schumacher would have no one else play bubbly but tragic transvestite Rusty.

By Hollywood standards, Hoffman is no matinée idol and his looks have arguably helped him win many of his quirky roles.

'I don't label or judge'

But it is his skill and willingness to find the humanity in unlikeable people that really stands out.

"I don't label or judge," explained Hoffman in an interview with Time.

"I just play them as honestly and expressively and creatively as I can in the hope that people who would ordinarily turn their heads in disgust instead think, 'What I thought I'd feel about that guy, I don't totally feel right now'."

The role of Rusty had Hoffman's name all over it
Yet, despite both his bulky appearance and the depth and intelligence of his approach, Hoffman almost made a career in sport.

He grew up in Fairport, New York and was a keen footballer, baseball player and wrestler until a neck injury put paid to his sporting aspirations.

Acting in high school plays became both a way of filling the void and attracting girls.

After studying at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, he acted in regional and off-Broadway productions until his first major Hollywood break in 1992.

Hoffman won the part of a slimy student in Scent of a Woman, opposite Al Pacino and Chris O'Donnell. Since then, he hasn't looked back.

In addition to the films mentioned, he has played the tornado-obsessed nerd in Twister, a compassionate nurse in Anderson's Magnolia and a prissy suit in the Coen Brothers' The Big Lebowski.


Including Hard Eight, Anderson has cast Hoffman in three of his movies and has admitted to be being "very possessive" of the actor.

Schumacher also even stopped filming Flawless to allow Hoffman to honour his concurrent commitment to The Talented Mr Ripley.

He's quite possibly the best character actor of his generation

Director Joel Schumacher

This loyalty is reciprocated by Hoffman, who admits to being driven by a huge sense of obligation to his characters and directors.

Of his role in Almost Famous, he told journalists: "One of the things that excited me most about playing Lester was Cameron's love for the man, but it also challenged me to be really true to him.

"I had to do right by Lester, not only for me but for Cameron because he was his friend."

Sadly, despite his talent and commitment, Hoffman has so far not been recognised with an Oscar.

Almost Famous could change that. Either way, Hoffman's career continues at full pace.

State and Main
Hoffman gets romantic in State and Main
In another forthcoming movie, David Mamet's State and Main, Hoffman takes a romantic role in a film also starring Alec Baldwin.

And perhaps the most conclusive assessment of Hoffman is that offered by Schumacher: "The bad news is that Phil will never make $25m (£17m) a picture," he told reporters.

"The good news is he'll be working all his life. He's quite possibly the best character actor of his generation."

Almost Famous opens in the UK on 26 January. State and Main follows on 16 February.

See also:

18 Dec 00 | Entertainment
Critics crown Almost Famous
17 Mar 00 | Oscars 2000
A Law unto himself
31 Oct 00 | Entertainment
Director Crowe's Famous venture
31 Dec 00 | Entertainment
Philip Seymour Hoffman: Filmography
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