Remembering Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Most Impressive Roles


By Elizabeth Eckhart

This past Sunday, the world was devastated by the news that Philip Seymour Hoffman had passed away, likely due to an overdose of heroin (though official autopsy reports have yet to be released). The actor, who is widely recognized as one of the greatest character actors of his generation, was found with a syringe in his arm, in his apartment, where close to 50 envelopes of heroin were later discovered.

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death was unexpected, yet for those who knew of his previous struggles with addiction, understandable. Though Philip had been clean for more than 20 years, this past year he relapsed and re-entered rehab, once more proving the disease’s tight grasp on his life. Friends say he seemed to be on the right path, but as anyone who has encountered addiction knows, a relapse can strike hard and fast when it’s least expected. Hoffman’s death, particularly coming so soon after Glee star Cory Monteith met a similar fate last year, brings to light once again the connection between celebrities and substance abuse.

Many point out the lifestyles of the rich and famous might lend a hand to addiction, an idea which has more than a little validity. For actors, though, there is also the high correlation between mental instability and the performance career path. The BBC has even reported that creativity is often a part of mental illness, and those in the creative professions might be driven to those very jobs due to certain mental traits. For example, genius and creativity could arise from a person with the hyper-attention and focus that stems from autism, and the manic drive of bipolar disorder, among other correlations.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, who had been fighting addiction since age 22, was praised for his versatility as an actor through his career. While in character he became almost unrecognizable – physically, he was the same blue-eyed, heavyset man, but mentally, Hoffman could dramatically transform. It might this chameleon-like skill that kept him somewhat out of the limelight, or it might have been his decision to generally opt for sideline characters with more scene-stealing, antagonist traits. In the films that managed to have leading characters anti-heroic and interesting enough for Hoffman’s taste, the actor simply shone, and he ultimately received an Oscar for his titular role in 2005’s Capote.

Starting with that one, here are five of Philip Seymour Hoffman most impressive roles:

Truman Capote, Capote (2005)

Capote’s famous novel, “In Cold Blood” was based off his interactions with the convicted murderer Perry Smith. The film documents Capote’s research for the book, as well as the strangely intense relationship Capote had with Perry. Hoffman was highly praised for his ability to perfectly emulate the author’s eccentric behavior, down to his high, nasally voice. Capote wasn’t perfect, in fact, he often acted selfishly for the sake of his novel. Nonetheless, in typical Hoffman style, audiences remain engaged with his version of Capote, and find themselves incapable of fully disliking him.

Scotty J., Boogie Nights (1997)

Boogie Nights marked the second collaboration between Hoffman and director Paul Thomas Anderson. Hoffman played Scotty J., a side member of porn star Jack Horner’s group of adult film stars. Scotty J. works behind the camera and has an inner battle as he struggles with his unrequited feelings for his crush, Dirk Diggler. His tearful breakdown following Dirk’s rejection on New Year’s Eve is likely the most powerful scene of the film.

Father Brendan Flynn, Doubt (2008)


In this film, Hoffman stars alongside Meryl Streep and Amy Adams as a priest who is questioned regarding his relationship with a young student. Father Flynn, who is viewed as charismatic and is disliked for his attempts to change the school’s strict, fear-based discipline, finds himself in a precarious position with his reputation on the line. This film resulted in Hoffman’s nomination for his third Academy Award, which was well-earned, since Hoffman had spent time with Father Jim Martin, author of My Life with the Saints, in order to perfect the role. Martin wrote on his Facebook page following Hoffman’s death, “Phil was so devoted to his work, took pains to get every aspect of his performance as a priest correct, and, as such, it was a real grace to watch him work. Seeing him act was a reminder of what it means to have a real vocation.”

Lancaster Dodd, The Master (2012)

The Master was Hoffman’s fifth and final film with Paul Thomas Anderson. Hoffman played an especially convincing cult leader, which was a highly potent role due to Lancaster’s similarities with Scientology founder L Ron Hubbard. Needless to say, Hoffman quickly surpassed thoughts of Hubbard’s reputation with his own dominance in the film, during which he gathered a loyal following of lost souls including Freddi Quell, played by Joaquin Phoenix.

Allen, Happiness (1998)

Philip Seymour Hoffman was his best when he played the worst, which is perhaps why his role as the perverse Allen in the film Happiness stands out as one of his best performances. Allen is a character who is happiest when making anonymous, obscene phone calls to his neighbors. Hoffman’s greatest talent was his ability to play troubled characters, and loner Allen fell neatly into that category.


Elizabeth Eckhart is a film and entertainment writer for She has been a Philip Seymour Hoffman fan since seeing his brilliant performance in Capote. Currently, her homebase is in Chicago, and she can be followed on Twitter at @elizeckhart.


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