“Success isn't what makes you happy. It really isn't. Success is doing what makes you happy and doing good work and hopefully having a fruitful life.”
- Philip Seymour Hoffman
Yesterday, Hollywood lost one of its greatest actors and a personal favorite of my wife and me. The talented actor Philip Seymour Hoffman tragically died yesterday of a drug overdose in his New York City home.
Hoffman acted in 63 films. Viewers treated to his performances witnessed diverse, deep characters. His trademark was portraying characters who work their way through a large range of emotions. It was not uncommon to see his characters explode in furious rages, experience devastating depression, be riddled with anxiety and worry, and reach highs of love, excitement, and joy…all believable, palpable, poignant. As the viewer, you are brought along these journeys and led to experience the range of emotions.
His acting range was uncanny as he enveloped the life of his characters. He became them. He was particularly deft at portraying the dark side of character. Certainly, he was more likely to portray vice than virtue. Many of his characters exhibited a psychological disorder of some kind. He portrayed spot-on drug addicts as the inhalant-addicted huffer in his unforgettable roles in Love Liza
(2002) and the Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
(2007). His performance as a gambling addict in Owning Mahowny
(2003) is so accurate that we highlight it in Movies and Mental Illness
as one of the greatest performances of gambling addiction in movie history.
He portrayed characters with personality disorders (usually antisocial and/or narcissistic) as exemplified by his charismatic role in The Master
(2012) and the phone sex crook in Punch-Drunk Love
(2002). At the same time, he revealed sentimental, equally complex characters with neurodevelopmental disorders (such as autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disability) as noted in Mary and Max
(2009) and Jack Goes Boating
Hoffman treated each role like a detective. He wished to unlock the “secret” of each character. First, he closely studied the scripts to gather ideas about his character. He then searched inside and outside of himself to learn about the character; he particularly loved the introspection and self-evaluation of acting. He did extensive research for his roles, as noted by his preparation for his Oscar-winning performance of Truman Capote in Capote
(2005). Hoffman studied hours of Capote’s voice and video of the iconic writer. With each portrayal, Hoffman mastered the character’s tone of voice, personality, body posture, mannerisms – he fully occupied his characters in body and mind.
As an actor, Hoffman was not only creative, honest, brave, and socially intelligent, but he was perseverant. He exemplified this when he suffered from the flu yet persisted in his role throughout the entire filming of Almost Famous (2000).
These and many other character strengths of Philip Seymour Hoffman will continue to live on in his memorable roles for viewers to cherish for years to come.
With much gratitude to you, Philip, for the many “gifts” you have given those of us who love movies.
Niemiec, R. M., & Wedding, D. (2014). Positive psychology at the movies: Using films to build character strengths and well-being (2nd edition). Cambridge, MA: Hogrefe.
Wedding, D., & Niemiec, R. M. (2014). Movies and mental illness: Using films to understand psychopathology (4th edition). Cambridge, MA: Hogrefe.
VIA Institute (the nonprofit organization)
VIA Classification (the system of strengths and virtues)
VIA Survey (the research-validated test)
VIA resources for practitioners