It can’t be easy to find your identity as a chubby performer in Hollywood. In an industry notorious for its worship of physical perfection, overweight actors must sometimes feel adrift.
Case in point: Phillip Seymour Hoffman. He didn’t settle on an identity for five years.
Of his first 15 television and film appearances he is credited three times as Philip Hoffman, three times as Philip S. Hoffman, and one time as Phillip Seymour Hoffman (with two “l”s). It wasn’t until 1996 when he permanently settled on the handle that is now famous.
Perhaps in 1996 he realized it didn’t matter what his name was, and it didn’t matter what his weight was, because he had something the pretty-boys didn’t have: the ability to flat-out act his balls off.
The first film with his new, permanent moniker was Twister, a movie that will be remembered for a flying cow and a star-making performance by Hoffman, himself.
He plays the aptly named Dusty, a lovable slob, who traipses after tornados in a grimy hoody and a baggy pair of cargo pants. It’s a masterpiece of overacting.
Hoffman uses every ounce of his body. He shimmies, he shakes, he claps his hands, and he dances to his own, unique beat. Once, he tries to dive through the window of a moving truck to kiss the driver on the cheek. He also shouts things like, “It’s the wonder of nature, baby”, with such enthusiasm that viewers briefly consider quitting their jobs to chase windstorms.
The true brilliance of his performance is that he is bombastic enough to get the attention of world-class directors and casting agents, but goofy and self-deprecating enough to avoid upstaging the film’s leads, Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt, who both turn in perfunctory, pay-cheque performances.
After Twister, Hoffman’s career took off.
He hooked up with celebrated auteur Paul Thomas Anderson in Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and Punch-Drunk Love. He played the brown-nosing nitwit, Brandt, in The Big Lebowski, and received Academy Award nominations for his roles in Charlie Wilson’s War, Doubt, and Anderson’s The Master.
He also won an Academy Award for his embodiment of the title character in Capote (2005). To understand the breadth of his talent, watch this movie back-to-back with Twister.
Then, on Super Bowl Sunday, Hoffman was found dead in his apartment with a needle in his arm, and a cupboard full of Horse.
Maybe, even after he settled on a screen-name he was never fully happy with it, or himself. Maybe the pressure of subjugating his own personality for the sake of his art drove him to heroin. I don’t know.
My conjecture is an example of the classic human impulse to bring sense to the senseless.
But here are the facts: Philip Seymour Hoffman will never act again. Neither will Philip Hoffman or Philip S. Hoffman. And we are poorer as a result.
Rest in Peace, Dusty.
Peter Jickling is a Whitehorse playwright and the assistant editor of What’s Up Yukon