Petrified. That's how actor Philip Seymour Hoffman describes his reaction to Truman Capote's voice as he watched "A Visit With Truman Capote," a 1966 documentary about the author by David and Albert Maysles.
Director Bennett Miller had told him to watch the black-and-white documentary to observe and listen to the man Hoffman was supposed to portray in "Capote." He remembered from childhood that Capote had a thin voice, but this mincing squeak? How was he going to sound like that?
"It shocked me," Hoffman recalls. "You literally go, 'What the hell is that?' It's almost too much."
Little by little, Hoffman says, he developed his Capote sound -- not too exaggerated but pronounced enough so "the audience would experience the same shock and then, hopefully, very quickly forget about it."
Then there was the disparity in physique. Hoffman is 5 feet 9 inches of boomy-voiced, big-shouldered robustness. He could play Orson Welles, Vince Lombardi or any of his Green Bay Packers. But scrunch down into Capote, a 5-foot-3 pipsqueak?
"It's angles and staging," says Miller. He created the illusion of Hoffman's smallness with camera angles that dwarf Hoffman compared with others in the same scenes, and he cast background actors who were taller than Hoffman. In terms of props such as couches, "with all other things being equal, I'll go with the bigger one."
"I got as thin as I was at 15," says Hoffman, "so I could wear certain clothes that made me look smaller, because I have big shoulders -- that was a big issue. We tailored the things I wore to slope off the shoulders as much as possible, to bring the sides in, things like that.
"Our legs actually are very similar. He had short legs but very stocky like mine and very muscular. I looked a lot like him from the waist down."
The way Capote walked helped with the size issue, Hoffman continues. Capote was "quite an alpha male -- an alpha person. He's cocksure. He walks with his hips forward, you know, and his head cocked. Walking like him, you kinda take an inch off yourself, because everything kind of sinks down that way."
So a biggish man playing a small man with a tall ego? "Although he was smaller than people, physically, that was not how he saw it."
-- Desson Thomson