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Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Thomas Anderson: One of film’s greatest teams

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What more can be said about Philip Seymour Hoffman, especially in the wake of his terribly tragic, premature death? He was perhaps the finest actor of his generation, he was deeply loved in his community, and he was a partner and father. At only 46, his death was deeply felt by so many people. The subtle and even more tragic irony is that his work frequently had the same effect.

In the days after his death, it seemed everyone was choosing their favorite performance or scene of his.  There’s the combative rock journalist in Almost Famous, or the slimy personal assistant in The Big Lebowski, the megalomaniac complex and manipulative leader in The Master, but the characters that so frequently stand out are the ones he portrayed while working with Paul Thomas Anderson. They were just one of those great director-actor teams; Anderson seemed to so deeply understand who Hoffman was as an actor and his unlimited talent. They made five films together, which are amongst the best of either of their careers.

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It started with Hard Eight but the movie that caught everyone’s attention was Boogie Nights. It was the arrival of an unexpected, powerful young filmmaker and introduced Hoffman to the world. His Scotty J is a chubby, socially awkward sound guy in love with Mark Wahlberg’s porn star Dirk Diggler.

Hoffman could have turned Scotty into a bit, into a one-sided gimmick character. With his way to tight T-shirts, quiet self-loathing, and unrequited love of an unsympathetic male porn star, Scotty was the purest definition of a sad-sack loser as you’ll ever find. But watch Hoffman’s meltdown, Scotty’s repeated “I’m a fucking idiot” after he is rejected by Dirk. It’s just about as raw and honest as any performance ever committed to screen. From the moment Scotty lays eyes on Dirk from across a crowded pool, he becomes the most realistic and relatable character in the film.

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Magnolia would follow 2 years later. In another ensemble piece full of wonderful performances, Hoffman walks away with every scene he’s in. At the end of the film, his performance as a tender and caring nurse Phil Parma is the one that stays in your mind. Magnolia, perhaps Anderson’s greatest movie, is a film that lasts in your memory long after it’s over. It says something that it’s Hoffman with his sincerity and honesty that’s so deeply felt. So much of Paul Thomas Anderson’s work centers on loneliness and missed connections. No other actor could embody that feeling quite like Hoffman.

The loss of Philip Seymour Hoffman is unbearably tragic for so many reasons. Whether playing those losers like Scotty J or loud mouths like Lester Bangs Hoffman imbued them with humanity not often found in film, this was especially true when he worked with Paul Thomas Anderson. Though only 46 he seemed like an unshakable presence. Even before his death, his influence as a truly brilliant performer was widely accepted. It’s hard to imagine adjusting to him not appearing on our screens and changing the way we examine a film. Now that he’s gone, it’s time to remember his contributions to the world he loved so much.

— Tressa Eckermann

This article is part of our Philip Seymour Hoffman weekend spotlight. Click here to read the other articles.

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