Six under-the-radar roles that show Philip Seymour Hoffman’s eclectic talent

With the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, there’s been plenty of talk about the Oscar-winning actor’s biggest and most iconic roles: how he first garnered attention with a memorable bit part in “Boogie Nights,” the way he captured the character (and the Oscar) for “Capote” and how he humanized sinister personalities in “The Master” and “Doubt.”

But Hoffman’s filmography is long and eclectic, and some of his less-heralded roles best demonstrate the impressive magnitude of his talent. He wasn’t just a great dramatic actor in art-house movies. He was also a blockbuster-caliber bad guy, a farcical funnyman and even one-half of a meet-cute.

Movie:Jack Goes Boating” (2010)

Role: The romantic lead

As a prolific theater actor and director, it makes sense that Hoffman’s directorial debut would be the adaptation of a stage play. The movie follows Jack (Hoffman), a simple-yet-sweet and utterly awkward limo driver, who falls for Connie (Amy Ryan). But before he can take her on her dream date — boating — he needs to learn to swim.

Movie:Along Came Polly” (2004)

Role: The over-the-top comedian

Make no mistake: “Along Came Polly” was not a great movie. The Ben Stiller-Jennifer Aniston romantic comedy hit theaters right around peak Stiller saturation point. It also was hardly Hoffman’s best work, as he played Stiller’s sidekick, Sandy, a grotesque and manic character that seemed written with Jack Black in mind. And yet, Hoffman is utterly memorable here in what amounts to an otherwise forgettable movie. Start typing the actor’s name into YouTube’s search and it tries to auto-complete: Philip Seymour Hoffman Along Came Polly. Whether he’s throwing up bricks on the basketball court while yelling “Raindance” or pulling his friend away from a cocktail party for a reason that can’t be printed here, Sandy wasn’t Hoffman’s most intellectually stimulating role, but it was one that stretched him as an actor.

Movie: “Mary and Max” (2009)

Role: The lovable voice

Hoffman’s best-reviewed movie is a stop-motion animation feature from Australian Oscar-winner Adam Elliot. The movie follows the pen pal relationship between two friendless people, 8-year-old Mary and Max Jerry Horovitz (Hoffman), a curmudgeonly 300-pound New Yorker, who can’t seem to connect with any of his 8 million neighbors. Hoffman transformed his voice into a raspy Brooklyn accent for the role and injected a poignancy and likability into the kind of oddball who collects his toenail clippings.

Movie: “Punch-Drunk Love” (2002), “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” (2007)

Role: The bad guy

Hoffman could transform himself from a docile mountain of pasty strawberry-blondeness to a surprisingly intimidating harbinger of sinister deeds. He played creepy well in a number of roles, from “The Master” to “Red Dragon” (where he managed to be less sympathetic than the serial killer bad guy) to blockbusters, like “Mission Impossible III.” But he managed to capture malevolence in mere minutes in “Punch Drunk Love,” where he plays a necklace-wearing extortionist and the proprietor of a phone-sex operation. He also nailed it in “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” in which Hoffman’s character strong-arms his brother (played by Matt Dillon) into a jewelry heist that goes horribly awry.

Movie:Hunger Games: Catching Fire” (2013)

Role: The action hero

Okay, so this movie is hardly under-the-radar, and yet it’s also not the first role most people consider when they think of the actor (unless the person in question is a 13-year-old girl). When news spread that Hoffman would be joining the second “Hunger Games” installment, it gave some additional cred to the young adult-focused juggernaut. And sure enough, the sequel turned out to be a much more complex affair. Hoffman played Plutarch Heavensbee, a malevolent mastermind behind the state-sponsored child bloodbath, who turns out to be (SPOILER ALERT) chief strategist of the rebellion’s coup.

Washington-area native Stephanie Merry covers movies, theater and art for Weekend and the Going Out Guide. She’s also the section’s de facto expert on yoga, gluten-free dining and bicycle commuting.
Comments
Show Comments
Most Read Lifestyle
Next Story
Ron Charles · February 3