So many things you wish you did not live to see.
More than we can measure, Phil was a masterpiece of humanity and he leaves such a blank space upon the canvas.
Hoffman was unlike anyone I have ever met.
When I proposed to Alison in Paris, upon our return, while hustling through the gates of Heathrow, who do we see but Phil ambling before us. That trademark side-grin glowing. We hug, clap backs and spin some yarn. I take his mighty congratulations as a benediction. It’s a glorious way to prepare a marriage.
When Alison opened Chocolate Bar, Phil became a regular. He and his family would swing by for cookies or ice cream. Often, late at night, he would come in alone where he would sit for hours reading scripts or working on characters. He’d keep his back to the door and go completely unrecognized. If sighted he never caught on. He was completely engrossed in his work.
Living across the street from a West Village park our children would sometimes play together. Skateboards and basketball. Football and rollerblades. And in this remembrance, as our kids grow up in parallel, my heart is torn asunder for Mimi, their kids Tallulah, Willa and Cooper, and his family at the Labyrinth Theater Company which he helped found in 1992 with University of the Arts alumnus from the class beneath me.
On September 24th, 2001, twelve days after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, Phil agreed to participate in a celebrity edition of The 24 Hour Plays which I co-produced with the original founders Tina Fallon, Kurt Gardener and Philip Naude. An incredible group had amassed to perform over those dark days.
Phil and I were cast by Frank Pugliese's play A Living Room opposite Marisa Tomei and Fisher Stevens. We spent the day running lines, trading smokes, telling tales. Truth is, he was running lines. I was trying to appropriate every single aspect of his creative prowlessness. I wanted to gather his incredible genius. Figure his mad method. It’s so incredibly rare to have that kind of proximity. To be the fly on the wall of technique. To witness one of America’s greatest actors build a character within the span of 24 hours. To witness the fire of his kind of artistry. I just wanted to absorb every single atom.
It was an amazing cast: Rosie Perez, Benjamin Bratt, Billy Crudup, Mary-Louise Parker, Julianne Moore, Marisa Tomei, Kyra Sedgwick, Lili Taylor, Natasha Lyonne, Scarlett Johansson, Liev Schreiber, Robert Sean Leonard, Drena DeNiro, Catherine Kellner, Brendan Sexton, Jared Harris, and Sam Rockwell. But to me, Phil was starlight. The gold standard. Rumpled and unparalleled.
He was as 'everyman' as it gets. But in that mundane humanity was a kind of flickering genius that burned so brightly that it was impossible to look away. He was fully naked under his characterizations. Scars and inadequacies abound. He seemed like a throw back to another age and yet he was so fully modern. So of the day. Every single character was imperfectly original. Every single moment had a kind of earthiness. Textured with true grit. Soiled. Those lines which filled a white page, were born from deep below his flesh and bone. They muscled their way past the tissue that holds hostage to all of our feelings, the kind you never want the world to see. For him, that was purpose.
In the neighborhoods of New York, I watched as mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and actors of similar prominence would engage him. Each and every one of them: Awestruck. Sure they tried to play it cool, act city casual, but you could see the flop sweat. The excitement of trading pleasantries with a guy you truly admired. I count myself as one of them. And for a city that prides itself on appearances, Phil -- with his stained and unkept attire -- maintained amazing power. He never appeared to put on airs, or pretend to be anything more than what he was. A father. The guy at the bar. The man on the bike. The kid in the candy store.
There have been many characters among us: Peter Lorre, Bert Lahr, Edward G. Robison but absolutely no one threw down like Philip Seymour Hoffman. The Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart of performance. He made us look up at film screens and down on floor boards with a deeper appreciation for the little guy. There in the auditorium, lost in the hypnotic trance of disbelief, we knew we were watching a master of artificial miracles.
God rest his soul and bring comfort to everyone who loved him.
Dim the lights. Let the camera rest.
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