Philip Seymour Hoffman: Life, work and demons

The great character actor who died suddenly last week talked candidly about his addictions with Steve Kroft in 2006

The following is a script from "Philip Seymour Hoffman" which aired on Feb. 9, 2014. Steve Kroft is the correspondent. John Hamlin, producer.

When the actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead in his apartment last week from an apparent heroin overdose it came as a shock to all but his closest friends and family. How he came to die that way, at the height of his fame, is still a mystery, although this was not Hoffman's first battle with drug addiction. 

 He was only 46 years old, but he had already created a lifetime's worth of memorable characters and the New York Times, in a front page obituary, called him perhaps the greatest actor of his generation. He was in talent, in temperament and commitment a true artist…intense, introspective, sensitive, and obsessed with his work.

He did not often sit still for long interviews, but he did for us back in 2006, as his career was taking off. He had just received an Academy Award nomination for best actor in the film "Capote" and we spent several days in New York and L.A. talking about his life, his work and his demons.

Philip Seymour Hoffman: If you can go to the theater 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. And that's the thing that is a drug. That's a drug. That's something you get addicted to.

When we talked to Philip Seymour Hoffman eight years ago he told us he’d rather people remember the characters he’d played than remember him.

He insisted on meeting us at 8 a.m. in the heart of New York's Greenwich Village, which was the center of his world for nearly 30 years. He went to drama school here at New York University and never really left the neighborhood.

"If you can go to the theater 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. And that's the thing that is a drug. That's a drug. That's something you get addicted to."

Steve Kroft: So why did you want to do this at 8?

Philip Seymour Hoffman: I thought it'd be easier to talk and stuff and there wouldn't be as many people around.

He came dressed as though he might have slept in this park or wandered out of a homeless shelter. Yet we still got stopped by an admiring fan.

Unidentified Woman: You deserve the Oscar, Mr. Hoffman.

Philip Seymour Hoffman: Thank you.

He was already a familiar face, having appeared in 40 films in just 14 years.

Working with major stars and A-list directors, he'd become famous taking small roles and transforming them into memorable characters. Like the trust fund playboy in "The Talented Mr. Ripley" or the pernicious preppie in "Scent of a Woman." Or the gay, curious sound man in "Boogie Nights." Not to mention various turns as the obnoxious, overweight friend and a pre-op transsexual, all of which beg the question about his scruffy wardrobe.

Steve Kroft: Is this the real Phil Hoffman or are you now preparing for some other role?

Philip Seymour Hoffman: No, this is me.

He was totally without vanity unless the role called for it and despite his success at age 38, he was still very much the struggling artist, consumed with the craft of being an actor, and grateful for the recognition. Yet suspicious of fame and celebrity and how it might change him and what he did.

Philip Seymour Hoffman: I think part of being an actor is staying private. I do think it's important. Part of doing my job is that they believe I'm someone else, you know? That's part of my job. And if they start watching me and thinking about the fact that I got a divorce or something in my real life or these things, I don't think I'm doing my job.

Steve Kroft: You want to be a mystery?

Philip Seymour Hoffman: Well, you just want to be--you don't want people to know everything about your personal life or they're going to project that also on the work you do. It's impossible not to. If you know enough about somebody, it's impossible not to--like my friends who I've grown up with and know me very well, I know they watch my films different than anyone else. I know they come up to you like, "Oh, that thing you did, that's just like that thing you do," you know? They'll say that. And you know, you want to find a way even to get them to think you're someone else. And when you get that person that knows you that well to think you're actually someone else and lose themselves, then you've really done your job.

"I think part of being an actor is staying private. I do think it's important. Part of doing my job is that they believe I'm someone else, you know? That's part of my job. And if they start watching me and thinking about the fact that I got a divorce or something in my real life or these things, I don't think I'm doing my job."

It was a challenge he faced every day in what is perhaps his most famous role.  His portrayal of Truman Capote, who for 20 years was not only America's most famous writer, but one of its most recognizable celebrities.

philip-seymour-hoffman-capote-portrait.jpg
"Capote"
Sony Pictures Classics
 [Philip Seymour Hoffman as Capote: Have you read the article about the killings in Kansas in the front section of the New York Times? I think that’s what I want to write about.]

The film deals with the six years that Capote spent writing "In Cold Blood," which would make him famous and in the process, ruin his life.

The project was developed by two of Hoffman's oldest friends, Bennett Miller, the film's director, and screenwriter Dan Futterman. The three had met when they were 16 years old and knew each other so well they were concerned the film might end their friendship.

Steve Kroft: This is what Bennett Miller says about you: "He works himself into a state of crisis and distress worrying that people are going to know he's a fraud. And that his career is over."

Philip Seymour Hoffman: He talks too much that guy.  Well, you do think your career is going to be over all the time I mean that-- that's pretty common. Part of my job is actually that it's me. I'm not a painter, I'm not a musician, I'm not these things where actually I'm creating something that then I can distance myself-- and you can actually experience it.  I'm actually the one.  It's me.  My body, my head, my mind, my voice.  It's right here. You know, and there is something about people criticizing that, or failing in that realm, and it's actually you they're talking about, that is-- that's hard. That's hard to take. And I do fear that, definitely.

Hoffman spent a huge amount of time at Miller’s apartment studying old film.

(Footage of Truman Capote)

Truman Capote: You know that it had that effect on you, personally…

Philip Seymour Hoffman: He leans right in there. I mean, the guy's not even looking at him but he's...

(Footage of Truman Capote)

Truman Capote: ….It had that effect on me.

Bennett Miller: I mean, look at how he adjusts himself to the guy, you know.

Plumbing the depths of Capote’s life and his own to try and capture the character and get inside his head.  He was worried that the line between parody and perfection was razor thin.

Philip Seymour Hoffman: I knew that this was going to be something that the risk quotient was high.

Steve Kroft: Why was it high risk?

Bennett Miller: Just the possibility of humiliation.

Philip Seymour Hoffman: Yeah, failing was high. Yeah, it was huge. People knew who he was. He's an iconic figure. I--just the fear, the nightmare or the fear of just being embarrassingly bad in the role was--was very real.

[Philip Seymour Hoffman in "Capote:" This research and this work have changed my life…]

Steve Kroft: How did you identify with him?

Philip Seymour Hoffman: The ambition, the drive, the wanting to be the center of attention, the wanting to succeed.

Steve Kroft: Those are all you?

Philip Seymour Hoffman: Yeah. They're all inside me somewhere.

Hoffman grew up in a middle-class household near Rochester, N.Y. In high school, he was a clean-cut, competitive jock who excelled in baseball and wrestling until a neck injury cut short his athletic career and his hormones led him to acting.

Philip Seymour Hoffman: This woman that I was just--had a mad crush on--woman, girl. She was in high school, walked by the other way. I said, "Where are you going?" And she's going, "I'm going to go audition for a play." You know, and kept walking. "I think I'll go, too," and I turned around and I followed her in. And I auditioned for the play and I got to be with her every day, you know what I mean? It was like you're a teenager and you have a crush, you know. And then, all of a sudden, it's not about the crush. All of a sudden, you realize you like doing theater and you like being an actor and you like hanging out with these people.

Over time, he applied the same competitive drive he had with wrestling to grappling with roles on stage and screen, steadily building an impressive resume with a stubborn, single-minded zeal for perfection that he was never entirely comfortable with.

Philip Seymour Hoffman: If I don't think I'm doing well, I'm unpleasant. That's my neurosis. You know what I mean? If I don't feel like I'm doing the job well and I don't know how to get there or I'm too scared or whatever, I'm--I'm not a happy guy, and I'm not pleasant. I'm not pleasant to be around.

Steve Kroft: You feeling all right about this?

Philip Seymour Hoffman: Oh, yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Steve Kroft: Yeah, yeah. Is it going alright?

Philip Seymour Hoffman: But I--I think that that--yes, actually I do feel right about it. I mean, this is me being pleasant, I hope.

The depth of Hoffman’s commitment and his talent are apparent in one of the final scenes of "Capote."  After six years of cajoling, befriending and seducing two killers into telling him a story that will make him famous, the author says his final goodbyes as they head off to the gallows.

[Philip Seymour Hoffman in "Capote:" I did everything I could…

Character: OK.

Philip Seymour Hoffman in "Capote:" I truly did.]

It took Hoffman nine months of his life to get the performance just right and when the shooting was over he was tapped out and done being Truman Capote.

Philip Seymour Hoffman: I remember I immediately started talking like myself, like that, and I--and I thought to myself, I'm never going--I'm never going to do that again. I'm not going to act like him anymore.

Steve Kroft: Why?

Philip Seymour Hoffman: Because I was free, first off. So the minute you're able to walk away from that, separate yourself, you do. I do.

Steve Kroft: So you can't even do it like one more time?

Philip Seymour Hoffman: No.

Steve Kroft: Like drunk at a party?

Philip Seymour Hoffman: Yeah. That might be, you know, if I start drinking again, you might be able to get me to do it.

That last comment was a small slip for someone who guarded his privacy as closely as Hoffman did. But it told us something about his past.

Steve Kroft: You said you don't drink.

Philip Seymour Hoffman: No, I don't.

Steve Kroft: In fact you went into rehab at a fairly early age.

Philip Seymour Hoffman: Yeah, I did, I did. I went--I got sober when I was 22 years old. Yeah.

Steve Kroft: So this was drugs or alcohol or both?

Philip Seymour Hoffman: Yeah, it was all--all that stuff, yeah. It was anything I could get my hands on, yeah. Yeah. I liked it all. Yeah.

Steve Kroft: And why did you decide to stop?

Philip Seymour Hoffman: You get panicked. You get panicked. It was--I was 22 and I got panicked for my life. It really was. It was just bad.  I was putting myself in situations and predicaments that were dangerous. Even now I think about it, I was so young, I was 22 at the time. But I do remember thinking I-- there's things I want to do. You know, there's things I want to do. And I'm not gonna do them if I keep doing this. It's not gonna happen.

Steve Kroft: So what was rehab like?

Philip Seymour Hoffman: It's a lot of things.  It is a lot of things.  But-- but I do-- don't-- I-- wouldn't really get into too much.  But—

Steve Kroft: It changed you.

Philip Seymour Hoffman: It did, yeah. Yeah. It did.  Meaning it was a-- it was a respite. It was a break.There was something about it that I remember it just-- it just-- it-- it so-- drastically pulled me out of my life. It changed something.  It made me see things differently. It made me see things differently.  Gave me this idea that those-- you know, those things you want to do Phil?  Those things you-- you want to get done, you can do them...

And he managed to do a lot of them. He won the Oscar for "Capote," and would be nominated three more times. And there were the triumphs on the New York stage.

["Death of a Salesman" ad: Philip Seymour Hoffman is magnificent, I beg you not to miss it.]

Philip Seymour Hoffman and cast members of "Death of a Salesman" on March 15, 2012 in New York City
Getty Images
 Friends believe Hoffman began drinking again in 2012, while losing himself in the physically and emotionally exhausting role of Willie Loman in "Death of a Salesman" and then he eventually sought escape revisiting heroin.

He was trying to quit, but unable to muster the discipline he found in his work to save his own life. When he was found dead last week, people remembered not just the characters Philip Seymour Hoffman created, they remembered him. Especially on the Great White Way which went dark in his honor.

 Philip Seymour Hoffman: The best you'll ever feel is when you've done a good job.  That's the best you'll ever feel. And that satisfaction is wonderful because it's a job well done. And I'm grateful for all of it. But I know at the end of the day that when I was shooting "Capote" or I was shooting any film I've done or done any play that the day that ended where I felt like I acted well and I went home and I was able to breathe a free breath that was long and deep, you know, and will go to bed and my eyes shut and I went to sleep peacefully.  Those-- that's-- that's as good as it gets.

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