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Tales of Philip Seymour Hoffman

The winner of numerous awards, Philip Seymour Hoffman is as prolific on stage as an actor and director as he is in the movie studio. As his production of Riflemind opens in the West End this week, here’s a Hoffman primer to get you up to speed on one of the most exciting artists of his generation.

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Hoffman on stage

One of Hoffman’s earliest stage appearances was in Food and Shelter by Jane Anderson (1991), in which his performance was described as “vibrant” by the New York Times. After a variety of roles, including Launcelot Gobbo in The Merchant of Venice and Mark in the New York production of Mark Ravenhill’s Shopping and Fucking, he was nominated for a Tony Award as Best Actor in a Play in 2000 for a Broadway revival of Sam Shephard’s True West opposite John C Reilly (the actors alternated their roles throughout the run). He also played Konstantin in the Mike Nichols-directed production of The Seagull at the 2001 New York Shakespeare Festival, alongside Meryl Streep, Christopher Walken, Kevin Kline and John Goodman, and won another Tony nomination in 2003 for his work in a Broadway revival of Long Day\'s Journey into Night, co-starring Brian Dennehy and Vanessa Redgrave.

Hoffman is co-artistic director (with fellow actor John Ortiz) of the innovative LAByrinth Theater Company, which was founded in New York in 1992 by a multicultural ensemble of actors. Resident at the Public Theater for the past five years, to date LAByrinth has produced 50 new American plays and has received numerous award nominations, including in an Olivier Award nomination (and a Edinburgh Fringe First Award) for Hoffman’s 2000 New York production of Jesus Hopped the \'A\' Train by Stephen Adly Guirgis, which transferred to the Donmar Warehouse before moving to the West End’s Arts Theatre. Hoffman’s other LAByrinth directing credits include the world premieres of Our Lady of 121st Street, In Arabia, We’d All Be Kings and, most recently, The Little Flower of East Orange, all by Adly Guirgis. As an actor, his most recent stage credit is Jack Goes Boating, a comedy in which Hoffman and Ortiz shared the stage for the first time in LAByrinth’s 15-season history.

Hoffman’s production of Riflemind, by Andrew Upton, premiered at the Sydney Theatre Company in 2007. The London and European premiere at Trafalgar Studios features original Australian cast members alongside John Hannah, Paul Hilton and Ruth Gemmell.

Hoffman on screen

After his 1991 film debut in Triple Bogey on a Par 5 Hole, Hoffman has gone on to make more than 30 movies, giving stand-out supporting performances in films such as The Scent of a Woman, Boogie Nights, Happiness, Flawless, The Big Lebowski, The Talented Mr Ripley, Almost Famous and Cold Mountain before breaking into lead roles with his unforgettable Oscar- and BAFTA-winning performance in Capote (2005). In 2006 he was cast opposite Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible III, in 2007 he co-starred with Ethan Hawke in Sidney Lumet’s Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, with Laura Linney in The Savages (a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor), and with Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts in Charlie Wilson’s War (earning more Golden Globe and Oscar nominations). Forthcoming films include Richard Curtis’ The Boat That Rocked, Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, NY and John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt opposite Meryl Streep. He’s also tipped for the role of the Penguin in the Batman Begins sequel.

Hoffman on Hoffman

  • Early ambitions – “The strange thing is I never thought I’d do films. I was studying theatre and my dreams were about riding my bike to the theatre on Sunday afternoons to do a play, and they still are.”

  • Stage acting – “If you can go to the theatre, and you’re in a room with a bunch of other people and what’s happening in front of you is not happening, but you actually believe it is – if I can do that, I’ve done my job.”

  • Film acting – “I’m not a great mimic. When I act I hope that my acting is not predicted. You hopefully don’t know what is going to happen next. I don’t look for performance value but for truth, and hopefully that’s a mess, a little raw. Just like people are and your partners are.”

  • Other directors – “What I want from a director is trust. And then I want them to know how to talk to me specifically. To know what they’re getting at when they’re talking to me.”

  • Personal privacy – “An important part of doing my job is that they (audiences) believe I’m someone else. If they start watching me and thinking about the fact that I got a divorce or something in my real life, I don’t think I’m doing my job.”

  • On LAByrinth – “It’s what I look forward to, tell you the truth, out of everything I do. I’m very busy doing a lot of things, but when I go to the theatre and I see these people… it’s like this breath comes out of me and I get very relaxed. I’m like, ‘Okay, here I am, the place I wanna be, what’re we gonna do?’”

    Riflemind receives its UK premiere on 18 September 2008 (previews from 15 September) at the West End’s Trafalgar Studios 1, where it’s booking for a limited season until 3 January 2008. A version of this article appears in the current September issue of What’s On Stage magazine, which is available now in participating theatres. Click here to thumb through our online version. And to guarantee your copy of future print editions - and also get all the benefits of our Theatre Club - click here to subscribe now!!

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