Published on February 4th, 2014 | by Craig Silliphant


Five Lesser Known Philip Seymour Hoffman Roles

Constantin Stanislavski said, “there are no small parts, just small actors.”  Philip Seymour Hoffman played some pretty large roles, like his recent, towering turn in The Master.  However, when I first noticed him in the mid-90s, he was considered one of those often nameless character actors whose face you know that keep popping up in things.  His breakthrough role was in Boogie Nights, though that didn’t make him a household name quite yet.  It was probably closer to Magnolia, Talented Mr. Ripley, or his small turn in Almost Famous that solidified his name in people’s minds. And of course, after Capote, he went on to, without hyperbole, be classified as one of the best actors of our time.  He played heroes, villains, weirdos, scumbags, and normal guys, and he always filled the role like a fitted suit.  There were no small parts when Hoffman was on set — he was no small actor.

I know there are a lot of people arguing right now about whether Hoffman was a selfish drug addict or whether we shouldn’t blame people for their illnesses — but let the Internet rage about that.  Hoffman was one of my favourite character actors in the 90s, and it was amazing to watch him go from being typecast as the weird loser to being a true Hollywood star.  He was recognized for his talent, as opposed to so many big name stars that get by on their looks.  We’re all being bombarded with Philip Seymour Hoffman articles and think pieces right now, but I felt like I had to do something simple to celebrate the man as an actor.  So here’s a list of five roles that Hoffman played that most people probably haven’t seen.  Some of them were only a scene, some of them were lead parts, but all of them were quintessential Hoffman.


5) Flawless (1999)

Robert DeNiro plays a straight arrow, homophobic security guard who has a stroke and has to take singing lessons from his neighbour, a drag queen named Rusty, played by Hoffman.  The movie itself wasn’t very good, really, just a series of odd couple, transsexual stereotypes.  But Hoffman himself, still an up-and-coming actor at the time, shone brightly against the bad material, with charisma enough to share the screen with DeNiro.

4) Owning Mahoney (2003)

Based on the true story of one of the biggest frauds in Canadian banking history, Owning Mahoney tells the story of a bank manager with a serious gambling problem and access to some big bank accounts.  I haven’t seen the movie since it came out, but I remember it as being pretty dry for a (sort of) heist movie, but I couldn’t forget Hoffman’s performance as an addict sinking deeper and deeper made it worth watching.

3) Love Liza (2002)

Here’s a movie that covered me in a cold blanket of grief.  It’s the sad bastard tale of a man whose wife has died, leading him to spend his days huffing gas and playing with remote control airplanes.  This is not a movie for everyone — it’s a pretty quiet, bleak film with very little in the way of story development.  But this is probably one of Hoffman’s strongest performances, ever.  It’s a testament to grief, with Hoffman at the swirling centre.  It makes Leaving Las Vegas look like Arthur.

2) Hard Eight (1996)

I’ve been a big Paul Thomas Anderson fan since I saw Hard Eight in 96, and this is the first time I remember seeing Hoffman.  The role is small, but he makes the most of it, playing well against another of my favourite three-named Anderson staple actors, Philip Baker Hall.

1) Happiness (1998)

After his turn in Boogie Nights and as the hilarious Brandt in The Big Lebowski, Hoffman had a decent-sized role in the Todd Solondz film, Happiness.  You either hate this movie, or you love this movie, and Hoffman stands out as a loser who crank calls women so he can masturbate (he’s actually one of the more wholesome characters in this fucked up movie).  This movie succeeds largely on the actors (like Dylan Baker) selling the black humour that ripples madly through the script.  Don’t come crying to me if you can’t handle this movie, but if you haven’t seen it, you haven’t seen one of Hoffman’s best performances.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Hoffman.  You were proof supreme — there are no small roles.

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is a D-level celebrity with delusions of grandeur. A writer, critic, creative director, editor, broadcaster, and occasional filmmaker, his thoughts have appeared on radio, television, in print, and on the web. He is a juror on the Polaris Music Prize and the Juno Awards. He loves Saskatoon. He has horrible night terrors and apocalyptic dreams.

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