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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 January 2006, 09:47 GMT
Actor Hoffman's brush with Capote
By Neil Smith
BBC News entertainment reporter

Bafta winner Philip Seymour Hoffman reveals how he prepared to play the title role in acclaimed biopic Capote.

The term scene-stealer might have been invented for actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who - thanks to films as diverse as Boogie Nights, Happiness and The Talented Mr Ripley - has cornered the market in eye-catching supporting roles.

Philip Seymour Hoffman

But it is the 38-year-old who is the centre of attention in Capote, a biopic of American writer Truman Capote that focuses on the years he spent writing his celebrated "non-fiction novel" In Cold Blood.

Hoffman lost a reported 40lbs to play the legendary author and spent months perfecting his mannerisms and distinctive way of speaking.

Pressure felt

And his dedication paid off with a best actor win at the Baftas, Golden Globes - and a best actor Oscar nomination.

Capote, directed by New York-based documentarian Bennett Miller, is one of a series of critically acclaimed dramas involving real-life figures.

Others include Good Night and Good Luck, about the US broadcaster Edward R Murrow, and Walk the Line, a portrait of the late country singer Johnny Cash.

Hoffman, who previously played Rolling Stone journalist Lester Bangs in the 2000 film Almost Famous, says he felt some pressure portraying such a well-known personality.

Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote
The goal wasn't to mimic him but to capture his energy
Philip Seymour Hoffman
"It upped the stakes knowing people knew how he talked and behaved," he told the BBC News website.

"It took about six months of preparation, involving audio tapes, video tapes, books and people I talked to.

"I used everything I could get my hands on. It was then a matter of trial and error, an hour and a half every day."

Nailing Capote's external affectations, however, was only one part of the process.

"I could do all these things, but ultimately I was going to have to come up with the guts of it," he explains.

"The goal wasn't to mimic him but to capture his energy. I really wanted to get the essence of him, because I knew that would be more powerful."

'Human tragedy'

"A mere impersonation wasn't going to carry this movie," agrees director Miller.

"It really is a performance that digs deeper and gets to the universal human tragedy of the character."

In the film, Capote's struggle to complete In Cold Blood - an exhaustively researched account of a gruesome mass murder in Kansas - is complicated when he befriends one of the killers.

Bennett contends that, in achieving his greatest success, the writer sowed the seeds of his own destruction.

Philip Seymour Hoffman and Bennett Miller
(Capote) was an artist who was seduced by ambition
Director Bennett Miller (right)
"He was an artist who was seduced by ambition," explains Hoffman. "He didn't produce much after that and died pretty young.

"As Truman wrote in his last novel, 'More tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones.' He fulfilled his own prophecy."

As far as the actor is concerned, though, one does not need to be a literary giant to put oneself in his shoes.

"You don't have to be a writer to want something so bad, you'll go to any lengths to get it. Most people can understand that feeling, if they're honest with themselves."

Though he is best known for smaller, character-based roles in low-budget independent features, Hoffman is no stranger to larger parts on stage and screen.

"This was the third time I've had to carry a movie, so I knew what I was letting myself in for on the workload front."

Hoffman's next project, however, finds him on more familiar ground - playing Tom Cruise's nemesis in action sequel Mission: Impossible 3.

"It's another kind of role to play, which is refreshing and interesting to me," says the actor. "It was fun to let loose and not have to worry about my consonants so much."

Capote opens in the UK on 24 February.


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