Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman

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Academy Award winner explains why some films are making money these days and others aren’t and talks about his new film, Jack Goes Boating, which also marks his directorial debut.

Philip Seymour Hoffman is known for memorable characters. His work in the films The Talented Mr. Ripley and Magnolia won several awards; but it was his compelling lead role in Capote—which he also exec produced—that won him the best actor Oscar statuette. He's also a recognized presence on Broadway, having earned multiple Tony nods. Hoffman is co-artistic director of the LAByrinth Theater Company and is next up as exec producer and star of the film Jack Goes Boating, which also marks his directorial debut.



Tavis: Always pleased to welcome Philip Seymour Hoffman to this program. The Oscar-winning actor has established himself as one of the best of his generation, with films like “Capote,” “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” and of course, “Cold Mountain.”
His latest project is called “Jack Goes Boating,” a film that he also directs – directorial debut, mm – and produces. The movie always stars Oscar nominee, Amy Ryan. Here now, a scene from “Jack Goes Boating.”
Tavis: So it’s your directorial debut of a film. We have a monitor in the studio here so I saw you look at it, study it for a few seconds.
Philip Seymour Hoffman: Yeah. (Laughs)
Tavis: You looked away. So what do you think of your work?
Hoffman: (Laughs) Well, it’s funny that I obviously haven’t been watching it for a long time now, but lots of things become an obsession, but when you’re directing something you’re with it for a long time. So every time you look at it, you still think, like, “Maybe I should have cut away.” (Laughter) Really, you know what I mean? “Is that too long?” It’s a torturous thing.
Then you’re relieved because you realize, “Oh, God, I don’t have – it’s actually fine.” But yeah, it doesn’t stop.
Tavis: Well, you are a bold brother, because you decide to make your directorial debut a piece where you’re directing Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Hoffman: Yeah, no good. (Laughter) No good.
Tavis: And not just Philip Seymour Hoffman, but you’re like one of four main characters, so you’re on screen for a significant amount of time. Why that decision?
Hoffman: Yeah, no. I blame John Ortiz. I’m saying it here publicly. (Laughter) My partner in crime. John and I have been working together for a long, long time. He plays Clyde in the movie. We were co-artistic directors of this theater company, elaborate theater company where this play was born, and when Big Beach showed interest in making it into a film, John said, “You should direct it.”
I said, “Well, what do you mean?” He said, “Yeah, you direct it and you act in it.” And I was like, “I’m not going to do that.” He said, “Yeah, you’re going to do that.” (Laughter) It’s like for months, he was like, “You’re going to do that.” And I would say, “I’m not going to -” and he’s like, “You’re going to do that.”
I think I finally convinced him that I wasn’t going to do both, but then we just – it was very tough with time and everything to find somebody to take that, because everyone knew I did it as a play, so it was tough to find it. But basically, it became a situation where I kind of had to do it to kind of move the thing forward, which was fine.
But directing my – that’s not fun. Yeah, I had a lot of fun doing this job, but the scrutiny of directing yourself is just – it’s not right.
Tavis: It’s too late now, but if you had to do it over again would you make – I know you love the piece, because as you said, you did it on stage.
Hoffman: I do love the piece, yes.
Tavis: But if you had to do it all over again, would you direct Philip Seymour Hoffman again in your directorial debut?
Hoffman: In this piece in particular, with these circumstances, yes, because it ultimately worked out well, I think. But I will not put myself in that position again if I don’t have to, because the joy I had in directing –
Tavis: Unless Ortiz says you will.
Hoffman: Unless Ortiz – well, Ortiz has a lot of say in my life. (Laughter) Ortiz – yeah, he has a lot of say, but I enjoyed so much – I mean this – I enjoyed directing. Waking up in the morning and going to the set to direct a movie so much, and part of that is John and Daphne and Amy showing up, Mott Hupfel, the DP, Bob Glaudini, the writer, Mary Bailey, the script supervisor, showing up, and that these people would be there and I would get a chance to collaborate with these people as a director.
It was so pleasurable that I want to have that from the beginning of the day to the end of the day. To break it up with okay, now I’ve got to act is what’s tough, because that’s a whole different world. It’s a whole different mind-set. So I hopefully next time will get a chance to just enjoy that experience all day.
Tavis: Like I’m telling you something you don’t know; you do understand the way this business works. When you do this again you may not have all the people you want.
Hoffman: I know. (Laughter) I sure hope so.
Tavis: It may not be as pleasurable.
Hoffman: I know, you’re right.
Tavis: You may not be waking up ready to go to the set every day.
Hoffman: You’re right; I was spoiled on this one. I have to say Big Beach had a lot to do with that, Overture had a lot to do with that, and I mean that. I was spoiled. You’re absolutely right, actually. I was pretty spoiled, yeah.
Tavis: For those who have not seen the play, give me the story line there.
Hoffman: It’s a very simple story, actually. It’s about these two very good friends – there’s two relationships, two guys. They’re limo drivers together. That’s John, who plays Clyde, and me, I play Jack, and John, Clyde, is marred to Daphne’s character, Lucy. Daphne works at this job at a funeral home, and there’s a woman that works with her, Connie.
Clyde and Lucy set Connie and Jack up. That’s basically the simple premise. The movie basically is about these two middle aged people who have actually found the right person. That’s what’s different about this story. They meet on this first date, and as awful as it goes, you still realize, and I think they realize, I think actually hey, I think I’ve – that person, I’ve met that person.
So it’s a tale well, are you going to actually accept that? Are you actually going to do it now? And what they go through in order to help each other move toward each other. While there’s a parallel tale of this married couple who has put these two together and are helping these two try to get together, you begin to see the cracks in their relationship.
So it’s this very simple tale, but it’s about a very big thing, which is in order for something to be born, something has to die. That’s how I think about it sometimes. And that’s always the – but there is something about that that I find to be true. That is, it’s a natural thing, and this movie plays around with that idea a little bit.
Tavis: I don’t want to get too deep here, give too much of the storyline away. I’m fascinated by the way you phrased it, having seen the project myself, the way you phrased it got my attention when you said that this first date that goes so horribly does not necessarily mean that this is not the person for you.
Hoffman: That’s right.
Tavis: So what’s there to learn, what’s there for a middle aged person to learn when they see this about the fact that the date might not have gone the way you want it to, but it doesn’t mean that person isn’t the person.
Hoffman: Well, that might be the – the fact that the day didn’t go well might be the very reason why, meaning the energy that’s created between – you’ll see in the scene where they first meet, it’s right at the top of the movie. The energy that’s created between those two is powerful, and it brings up all of their inadequacies.
But you see them doing battle, probably for the first time in their life, with those inadequacies, because there’s something about that person they want to connect. But that causes, obviously, a lot of awkwardness. But it’s a beautiful tale of two people who really, really are courageous about stepping (unintelligible).
Tavis: How cool does it feel to direct something these days especially where it’s a wonderful love story, and yet there are lessons weaved all throughout this, things that we can wrestle with, things that might cause us to reexamine the assumptions we hold, things that might expand our inventory of ideas, and yet you do all that in this wonderfully told story without proselytizing, without being preachy.
Hoffman: Right. Well, that’s a really great question, because I think good art, if I could be pretentious enough to say, I think good art deals with the micro to explain the macro. Do you know what I mean? That there’s something in the very small minutia of life that tells us something about the big, big picture that we see every day all over the place, and so I think the more specific and creative and revelatory you are in the micro, the more powerful the macro will be.
That this is the tale which is I need you, you need me, and that’s hard. That’s – there. (Laughter) You did it. But do you know what I mean? That’s kind of the tale of all issues, and it’s like so what you do is you have these two little middle age working class people. They need each other, and that’s hard. It’s not an easy thing.
But it’s such a simple thing, but it explains a lot of things. So that’s why I like this tale, and Bob Glaudini, the writer, has that kind of mentality as a writer. He’s a wonderfully talented man and he – all his plays and his screenplays; they all have this sense of something bigger, even though you’re looking at something very simple.
Tavis: Notwithstanding the fact that you chose this one to be your, as we said earlier, your directorial debut, your production company has now done two films.
Hoffman: Yes.
Tavis: “Capote.”
Hoffman: “Capote.”
Tavis: Not a bad way to start.
Hoffman: No, it was good. It was good.
Tavis: (Laughter) Not a bad way to start at all.
Hoffman: Downhill.
Tavis: “Capote -” not at all – “Capote” and now this. So what’s your process for figuring out what works for you as a producer?
Hoffman: Well, Emily Ziff and Sarah Murphy and me, the three of us are Cooperstown, and we go with our gut, I have to tell you. We really go with our gut. We’ve been together a long time and we have a lot of different projects that we work on with a lot of different people, but the one thing that we are about is that we like to work with artists.
We like to develop material and work with them and be creative in the growth of a project, and that’s something I think we get the most satisfaction out of. The hard part is what’s going to go. What’s the thing that somebody’s going to pay to have us make? That’s the route. These have been the two pictures we’ve been involved with that that’s happened to, and now because of our history we’re getting closer on more things.
But we just spend a lot of time working with writers. We really enjoy that, having a relationship with writers, developing material and getting a director, actors, that we have kind of that family kind of as a group we’re going to do it together mentality in a project. Then the tough part is – so what actually goes has very little to do with us sometimes.
Tavis: To your point now, Philip, how tortured a process is that in today’s Hollywood?
Hoffman: Tortured. (Laughter) The word, man. The world is changing in that business – in a lot of places, but in that business. People aren’t going to throw the kind of money at certain projects that I think they used to, to put it bluntly. People aren’t going to throw the kind of money at certain people that they used to.
The offers that come in, whether they are an offer to an actor to be in something or an offer to produce a film are not what they were, and that’s the struggle, because it’s happened quite quickly, in the past few years, to be honest. It’s happened slowly, but in the past few years, something more drastic has happened.
So it is a torturous process, because there is a lot of fear and anxiety about committing to things that are the art film, I think, with anything less than a very, very low budget.
But I do believe, though – this is where I think there’s a silver lining to this – I do think everyone wants to do it, though. I do feel like all the people I meet, all the people I’m in discussions with, if I’m working with somebody, I sense the same energy that everybody is suffering from the same predicament. No one doesn’t want to make something.
But everyone seems to be in the same situation of, “Well, then, how?” Where is the funds? The funds used to be there, they’re not there as much. The funds are coming from different places. We don’t know those places. It’s foreign to us. It’s new to us.
So there’s all that stuff going on, but I do feel like the business is going to morph, evolve and come out the other side in a different way, possibly, because people want to do it. I don’t sense that people are lying down or that people are cynical.
Tavis: So what’s stopping them? Pardon my naïveté.
Hoffman: Well, I think that things – well, I’m naive in this way, too. I just feel that certain – and this is more as just a fan, a person in the world that goes to movies – I feel like certain films are making money and a lot of the films that used to make money aren’t anymore. I just feel that’s like turned everything on its side.
So that’s – and all the different ways you can see movies now, whether it’s on the Internet or it’s on cable or whether it’s (unintelligible) all the different, varied ways of doing it. And I think that new forms are going to come out of it also.
I think the movie is actually – the idea of making a film is going to and already is turning into something else, whether it’s – there’s these websites out right now that Emily and I have actually looked into, where they do these webisode things. And you think 10 years ago, well, I don’t want to do that, it’s kind of silly.
But actually sit down and watch some of these things – the kind of energy and creativity that’s going into these new ways of expressing yourself with cinema is fantastic. So those are the things that are happening. Why? I think I’m just as naïve as you are. I just know that obviously, there isn’t the kind of – where you walk into a room and you feel like the money’s there and they’re waiting to put it someplace. It’s more, “We don’t have it,” or “We have it, but we don’t want to let you know we have it,” or something like that’s going on.
Tavis: If it’s frustrating – and you happen to wear both hats here – if it’s frustrating for a producer or a director to be tortured, back to our word of the day, in that way by the process, how does an artist navigate that journey?
Hoffman: Well, artists – that’s why artists drive everyone crazy, because artists don’t think about that stuff. (Laughter) That’s why you hear me talk about it, and it’s even hard for me to get at. But I think you know what I’ve been saying. But as an artist myself, yeah, you don’t think about that stuff.
You see what you want to do, and why aren’t they helping me? (Laughter) You know what I mean? I’m sure (unintelligible) her own way. It’s just they have that kind – so that’s – it’s more of a torturous thing for them, in a way, I feel, because they’re the ones that might – we don’t want this to happen, but they’re the ones that might throw in the towel, and you don’t want the artist to throw in the towel, of course, but they’re the ones that are – they want what they need to make what they have to make, because the desire to have to make it is so strong.
Because that’s the kind of artist – that they want to, they are obsessed with actually putting their creation out to the world, and they want someone to help them do that. In a lot of cases, it’s not there. I’ve seen a lot of friends who have a lot of great projects, whether it’s a script or a play or whatever, and it is a great project and they have great people involved, and they can’t make it.
These are people that 10 years ago could have. It’s not that they won’t, ultimately, or won’t get there, but it’s a lot harder (unintelligible).
Tavis: See, I’m listening to you intently and I’m trying to figure out – you’re making me feel schizophrenic here. (Laughter) What I mean by that is you suggested earlier in this conversation that you’re hopeful that on the other side we’re going to come out of this and that the business will start to reflect – I’m paraphrasing here – some of the values in its choices that you’ve been promulgating in this conversation.
But at the same time you have friends, and you know the struggle yourself in getting this stuff done. So I’m trying to juxtapose – are you following me here?
Hoffman: Yeah, yeah.
Tavis: I’m trying to juxtapose those two things. I guess the ultimate question, given the tension here, is what makes you so hopeful.
Hoffman: I’ll tell you an example. I was reading this thing the other day about the theater, and there’s a quote from it that someone said, “Well, what about off-Broadway,” and someone said, “There is no off-Broadway.”
And I thought, that’s ridiculous. That’s been my hope – that’s ridiculous. Of course there’s off-Broadway. I know a guy who’s doing “Hedda Gabbler” in someone’s apartment right now. (Laughter) Do you know what I mean? And he got Ben Brantley to go review it. So you know what I mean? Which is an exciting thing for him.
Meaning it is still happening. I’m not saying there’s no struggle and we aren’t going through a harder time, but I feel like the need to want to create and make something is stronger than the difficulties we’re going through. That’s all I’m saying. And that either it’s going to come out in a different way or it’s going to come out the other side and we’ll see better times. But I just don’t think people are going to give up or stop making movies.
Tavis: Yeah, but I take that – when you shared the line about “There is no off-Broadway,” my mind immediately went to the fact, maybe this person’s right. Philosophically, maybe there is no off-Broadway, because if it can’t play on Broadway, does it really exist?
If it doesn’t play to the masses, if you can’t make money off of it, does it really exist, or in that sense there is no “off-Broadway.”
Hoffman: I was just talking to your producer about “Our Town” that’s been playing downtown at Beryl Street.
Tavis: Right.
Hoffman: I think if it hasn’t closed yet, it’s closing very soon. It’s been running for it seems like the last 25 years or so. It’s been running for about a year in this theater. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in the theater in a while, and then I went and saw Al Pacino in the park.
I don’t know, I see it. I still see it. I saw Steven Belber’s new play on 42nd Street, beautiful lay. Those aren’t Broadway. They might end up moving to Broadway, they might end up there, but I still think that that’s alive and well. I’m still seeing those plays. I’m still seeing those new plays.
It might not be what it was, it might be struggling, it might be going through, but it’s still happening, and I still think it will keep happening. I strongly believe that. I think the desire for it is stronger than the difficulties we face.
Tavis: To your point now, let’s bring in this other element that we’ve not discussed as yet. We’ve talked about the producers and the directors and whether there is off-Broadway versus on-Broadway, and the struggles of getting this stuff made. The one element we have not brought in are the people. The people who sit in the seats and watch these places, people who go to the movie theaters.
I wonder whether or not this struggle we’ve been talking about, this tension, has anything to do with us – that is to say, we the people, who seem to have if not a lesser appreciation, not the appreciation that we once had for the arts. Is any of this our fault? You could blame Hollywood –
Hoffman: No, no, it’s a good question. I don’t think it’s – no, I don’t think – I think that in New York and in other places in the country the economic situation is different. It’s always been an expensive town, but it’s a super-expensive town now, and that does change the face of Broadway, and that does change the face of the people that sit in the seats to come to Broadway.
It doesn’t mean – that’s not a judgment on the people that are there, it’s just ultimately, if something is this much money to go see, there’s only certain things that are going to be in that theater. And those things that are going to be in that theater are going to attract a certain kind of person to see those things, whether they’re spectacles or big shows or whatever.
But what I’m saying is that the drama is still happening, and it has been made more difficult by the fact that it’s more expensive, and Broadway isn’t where all that drama is being seen, at the new places, begin seen like it used to.
But I still – what I’m talking about is the quote, off-Broadway. When he said – I was like, “No, no, no.” (Laughter) “No, don’t go there.” Because that’s really bleak, and that’s not true. That’s not something worth putting out, because that’s actually not true, because off-Broadway is actually existing.
It’s struggling, it’s having a hard time, but it’s there, and I don’t think it’s because the people don’t want to see that stuff. I don’t think it’s because of the we’re not educated enough or I don’t want to see it. I don’t think it’s that.
I think it’s because of the economic situation so each theater is attracting certain kinds of people based on that fact.
Tavis: So here’s a wild card. Given – and it’s palpable; one can feel it. I can feel it here; I assume the audience can feel it coming through the screen – your absolute love and adoration for the theater, for the stage. What are the chances that one day you just chuck this film thing (laughter) and spend all of your time directing and performing on the stage?
Hoffman: Well, for this conversation I might not have the choice. (Laughter) But this conversation, there might not be any films to do. No, I love both. I love both, and that’s why I think I used that theater analogy, to try to explain what I was saying in the film, but not very well, but that ultimately I do think that there are still independent films being made was made was my correlation.
Tavis: No, that came through loud and clear.
Hoffman: There still is off – and I – so the way I was just talking about off-Broadway and the theater is the same kind of passion I have for film that way, and I think I like to have both. One without the other seems a bit more boring. Actually, life’s not as interesting.
Tavis: So like Jack, why don’t we all just go boating?
Hoffman: Just – just get some sun. (Laughter)
Tavis: Yeah. Don’t you ever take five years to come back and see me again.
Hoffman: No, I’ll be back. I just got – got to do something. (Laughter)
Tavis: Five years I’ve been waiting for Philip Seymour Hoffman to come back on this program, and he came back at the right time. It’s a wonderful film. I think you’ll enjoy it. It’s called “Jack Goes Boating,” starring and directed by, his directorial debut, in fact, one Academy winner, Philip Seymour Hoffman. Philip, good to have you on the program, man.
Hoffman: Thanks, Tavis.
Tavis: Good to see you.
Hoffman: Thank you.
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Last modified: February 3, 2014 at 3:23 pm