Veteran actor Philip Baker Hall has starred in more than 75 films over 40 years, yet some of his fondest memories have been starring alongside Philip Seymour Hoffman. Hoffman, who died Sunday morning of an apparent drug overdose, and Hall were both favorites of filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson, who cast the duo in 1996’s Hard Eight, 1997’s Boogie Nights and 1999’s Magnolia. (The pair would also collaborate on 1999’s The Talented Mr. Ripley.)
Hall spoke to Rolling Stone about Hoffman’s singular talent, his generosity and why “the whole film and theater community will suffer this loss for a long time.”
Philip and I had a working relationship with the Paul Thomas Anderson movies and my regard for him both as an artist and a man couldn’t be higher. He was a great artist and amazing actor. As a man, I found his generosity and purity of spirit was absolutely remarkable.
I first met him more than 15 years ago — he was very young then — and he was like a kid. Even then, he always had a positive attitude and a wonderful sweetness about him.
I first saw him in [the 1994 film] Nobody’s Fool playing a police officer with Paul Newman. When we filmed Hard Eight, I was shocked at his ability to improvise his way through. He improvised most of that craps scene and just had such a sense for timing. At that point, I was older and he was very young. I was like, “Who is this kid?”. He was so aware of everything and had the instinct of an older trooper. As I began to know him better and work with him more, I realized he was a genius and operating at a different level than the rest of us. His talent was so dynamic that he didn’t need the years of experience. I think he arrived fully formed.
He was like the rest of us working with Paul [Thomas Anderson] at that time: We were all glad to be there and so respectful of Paul’s uncanny ability. I would almost classify the two of them together in a way; they were very young people who arrived at a higher artistic level at such a tender age. Philip was always accessible and had a wonderful lightness of spirit, but his demeanor would accommodate whatever the demands of the character were. He wasn’t an actor who was lost in his character to the point where you couldn’t speak to him or where he couldn’t appreciate the paternal interaction that went on. He was always very life-affirming and encouraging to his peers. He just had such a positive and cheerful demeanor.
With Boogie Nights, we didn’t realize the influence and acclaim it would have at the time. You try not to make those judgments at the time because you have to do your work today and keep moving. You don’t have time to reflect on what might be or what might happen. I was certainly aware of his extraordinary gift, but I didn’t know that that would be his breakout role. We were all aware of the daring excellence of the movie and of Paul’s brilliance, but you never know how these things are going to go.
His death is an absolute shock and loss to the whole world of artists. Everybody will feel this loss, whether they know it or not. You can’t lose a person of this dynamic and importance without it lessening the whole fabric of art. I’m also thinking of the younger actors. He was relatively young, but for many, he had already become an icon and they will certainly be affected by this as well. The whole film and theater community will suffer this loss for a long time.