Philip Seymour Hoffman Interview

The story behind Capote's book "In Cold Blood"

Philip Seymour Hoffman steps into the shoes of Truman Capote in his latest film Capote. The film is based on Truman's life and how he came to write the best selling novel In Cold Blood. The story focuses on Truman and his relationship with the two men responsible for the murders of an entire family.

Philip's portrayal of Truman is amazing and should be recognized at Oscar time. We spoke with Philip up in Toronto a day after the film's release at the Toronto Film Festival.

You could tell he had done his research on Truman and relished in the opportunity to play such a unique person in American history:

How did you keep your performance as acting and not an impersonation?

Philip Seymour Hoffman: It's concentrating on the story, probing into that story - understanding everything about it and everything about why he might have done what he did to get what he wanted and why that was such an obsession and all those things. As long as that was the core of it, what was making him tick. I knew if that wasn't happening, all the impeccable work I was doing would be fruitless.

So then was important to give him that recognizable voice?

Philip Seymour Hoffman: Of course it is, it would be impossible. What, do you think I can go up to Bennett and say, ‘I'm Truman Capote' and act like me? People would be walking out in droves. That's part of the story, that he is the guy who he is Kansas in 1959, that's part of the drama?

Did you stay in character off set as Truman?

Philip Seymour Hoffman: You spend the day while you're working not as Truman, as the actor, technically, sticking close to the voice and physicality because dropping it and bringing it back on is more exhausting. You have to stay in it. But when you're finished, you ought to go and take a rest.

Was it important to like Truman Capote to do this role?

Philip Seymour Hoffman: I think you ultimately have to love who you're playing. You have to have that kind of feeling. You have to have passion for the person. I was in a constant state of trying to understand why he did what he did and justifying it, defending it, and getting behind it.

Were the clothes helpful to stay in character?

Philip Seymour Hoffman: Well, they were from the period, and they were what he wore, right from the photos we had. Again, it's part of the story. It all goes back to the story. He walks into the sheriff's office, FBI, KBI, Alvin Dewey's office that first day with the scarf and this and that. There he is with the bow tie and the suit. It's all part of the story. That's going to clash. He still got past it. He still won these people over ultimately with the help of Harper Lee.

How did you figure out the private side of Truman since that wasn't documented in the media and information about him?

Philip Seymour Hoffman: I had to make a lot of assumptions and make choices based on what I found out, read and whatever. Some documentaries that the Maysles (Albert and David) made ‘With Love from Truman,' covers him black and white right around the first printing of ‘In Cold Blood,' '66 or '67, which you get a sense of him privately in that pretty strongly even though he's being interview and he's on camera, it captures him in a lot of different settings. And being the talents that they are, you get a sense of him in his private life, but I had to focus a lot on the majority of what I had to do was that guy.

Do you think he would have been as successful if he wasn't as great a self-promoter?

Philip Seymour Hoffman: I think he was always concerned with how he was being perceived. I think that's the trait of a good PR person - not always a good PR person - but paranoid maybe. I think he was very concerned about how he was perceived, to be accepted and be admired. Everybody's worried about that, but I think it was a huge character flaw; I think it was endless with him

Was he as much an actor as a writer?

Philip Seymour Hoffman: I don't know; no, he's not an actor, everybody's an actor. If you're going to say that, you're an actor. You know what I mean? Everybody's changing who they are in an environment to try to deal - that's not unique to him at all, that's a human quality, but he was a writer.

Do you also have to condone what he did? He's dishonest; do you think his relationship with Perry was built on lies.

Philip Seymour Hoffman: His relationship is not built on lies; he lied to Perry in order to do what he needed to do. But his relationship I don't think is built on lies, or else the tragedy wouldn't have unfolded. He would have coldly allowed him to die and it wouldn't have been a big deal. He would have been ‘I'm a journalist. I want to write this piece, and these guys did this thing, and they died.' You know what I mean? That's missing the point a little bit. I think the relationship itself was built on an extraordinarily powerful bond and identification that ultimately had to be betrayed because of what he needed to have done.

But when he can't wait for the death sentence, can you condone him being monstrous?

Philip Seymour Hoffman: You shouldn't condone it. You're watching the movie, but me as the actor. So you see him in the premiere scene in the bar. That's not a guy who's like ‘Aw f*ck, man. When are these guys going to die?' It's just not. It's a guy who's like ‘I need them to do this. They're torturing me.' He's tortured because he knows that's what it's going to take. He needs that to happen. That's where you start to see this self-destructive part of him, the selling of the soul, all that stuff. You start to see the price he's going to pay. That slowly creeping self-reflection starts to sink in. He starts to see himself in this bright light that's unbearable. So he starts to project that all over the place. So I think all those things are happening at once. I think there are moments when he's been known to say ‘G-d I hope they die.' He's cold about it. I always remember Joe Fox saying after their execution he [Truman] cried the minute he got on the plane till he got off. So it's Kansas to New York. That's a three and a half hour flight that he sobbed the whole time. And Joe Fox isn't some embellishing guy like Truman. Joe Fox is a guy who's telling you this is what happened. Held his hand, gripped his hand the whole way home. So you know that that wasn't for the cameras, that wasn't for this, that wasn't for that. That was him going ‘Oh, f*ck,' going downhill.

And he never finished another book.

Philip Seymour Hoffman: He wrote those four chapters of ‘Answered Prayers' and never finished that. Look what little he did with that. That really did a number on him, too. ‘Handcarved Coffins' (short non-fiction novel) that came out, but he never wrote another book. He never wrote another novel. He never finished anything of significance after that. He never finished his great work, which was going to be ‘Answered Prayers,' his Proustian effort, that he'd been talking about for years. He was finished.

Was it the result of this or his alcoholism or a number of other things?

Philip Seymour Hoffman: It's never just any one thing, but he said ‘If I had known what would have happened, I would have driven through Kansas like a bat out of Hell.' Our take on it is that it had a lot to do with what ultimately happened afterwards.

This role seems perfect; why did it take so long for someone to approach you to play him or to make a movie about him?

Philip Seymour Hoffman: Because he's such a mimicked, sort of ‘out there' iconic figure in our society that I think is a dangerous place to go. It could be a lot of pitfalls there. I think it somebody actually attacking it from a certain angle that was going to be as artistically fruitful as possible. Approaching me, I don't know. I never thought about playing the guy until they told me.

In real life, would you like him?

Philip Seymour Hoffman: I think I would actually, it depends. There were a lot of people who liked him very much, and then he really did them wrong. They stopped liking him. So who knows? I might have been on the bad end of the stick with him at one point. It could have been bad. But ultimately, if I was just a passive observer of him, met him or just hung out with him a little bit here and there. I think I would've. Yeah, just because who else is like that guy? He's pretty fascinating. No matter what he did I think I would have wanted to know him and hear him and listen to him.

What do you look for in a role?

Philip Seymour Hoffman: I try not to plan that too much. I try to get a vibe, get a feel for what it is. Certain things I know I don't want to do much anymore. So some things are easy choices. Ultimately what I'll do next is up in the air for me. As much as I want to say, this is what I should do. I don't really function that way.

Is there a personal importance?

Philip Seymour Hoffman: Yeah, personal is huge. Even Mission: Impossible 3, it's got to be something about that that's personal to me - the why I want to do it, even if it is about career. It's still got to be some drive, some personal ambition of mine of wanting to do it - on top of the ‘I've done that' justification with that character, getting that story told. There's a certain aspect of the character in Mission: Impossible 3 that I'm playing that's new to me and I know that it's something that I'd like to explore.

Do you think Truman was attracted to Perry, or is it more about the story?

Philip Seymour Hoffman: The problem is that you want to compartmentalize your life. You want to say ‘That doesn't have to do with that. If I can do that, so I can live with it.' That was the problem. He couldn't separate the two. He couldn't separate his obsession and attraction to Perry Smith from the actual piece of the project. It was inseparable, so therefore, it fed into the ultimate demise. He couldn't have one without the other. He couldn't say ‘I love you, I'm obsessed, I'm fascinated, I want this for you - could you be executed? Is that possible?' And that sounds so silly, but you know that that ultimately was the dilemma; it's a no-win situation. And he had to look at it when the greatest books of all time, but you've seen the story. It wasn't enough because ultimately at the end of the day he was going to be abandoned once again. He was going to be left once again. It sounds as self-centered as possible, but that's the grief that he's feeling at the end. There's all the self-reflection that's crushing him. He can't be left alone again. I know that sounds weird, but that's really what's going on. It's grief that's unbearable, inconsolable grief mixed with this self-reflection, all the asshole flashing. I don't know if it has to do with what happened after. It's too powerful an event to not have something to do with somebody's downfall.

Are you thinking of a possibility of awards for this?

Philip Seymour Hoffman: That's much more interesting than talking about all this stuff. To be honest, the awards stuff is - I'm a producer on this, a very hands-on producer, not just a name on this. Cooperstown in my company. I'm one of the companies in it. And I'm very excited, if that happens. No one knows obviously, but if that stuff does transpire, I'm very excited. I think I would be more nerve-wracked or nervous if it was just about me as an actor. But it is more than that legitimately than that on this project. So it allows me this room to kind of go ‘That would be exciting. That would be great!' What if a ton of people saw this movie that me and my partner Emily Ziff and Davey Littlefield had put together for our first film; that would be exciting. Who wouldn't be excited about that? Awards season can always help a film that way.

Why were you so confident in working with Bennett Miller and Dan Futterman?

Philip Seymour Hoffman: I've known them since I was 16. It took them a long time, 22 years. I read Danny's screenplay. I read that, so I was like ‘Oh, he's good.' So that was over. And then Bennett's been a filmmaker since he was a teenager. I'm the person that would know that. No one else would, but I know that. He's a very successful commercial director. The one big film, a documentary he made was a huge critical success. He's not had that much failure in the venues that he's tried as a director in the film world, whatever media that was in. And I just know how bright he is, how smart he is. I just know he's not going to say, I'm going to do something unless he knows that it's probably the thing to do. So when I said, here we are, since we're 35, 36 at the time, and now he's saying he wants to direct a feature. This must be the one. That's really how I felt. So it was easy for me to champion him as a director.

Is there another director you would have done this for?

Philip Seymour Hoffman: I would have been more wary.

You make some brave choices in your roles; is there anything you won't do?

Philip Seymour Hoffman: There's certain parts that - I can't get specific really - I just know when I read it. There's certain parts when I read it, it's like ‘Eh, I just don't want to deal with that.' You've got to trust that. It's kind of like when you go see a movie sometimes, you're like ‘I don't want to see - I don't want to deal with it.' It's too much, it's personal, it's there in the moment; it might even be a good movie you're watching. Usually it's something to do with things I've already done. Things I was more interested in when I was younger. I really don't want to go there again. And sometimes it's just blatant. You just want to call up the person who made the offer and go ‘I've done this. Did you see this? Just move on.

Was Truman's relationship with Jack a constant?

Philip Seymour Hoffman: Jack was a constant. A lot of it is documented, but Jack is a very private person. They're very, very different in a lot of ways. A lot of it is. But that's what's great about the screenplay. It's so simple and so sparse. In its way of showing exactly what you need to know. And Jack comes in right at those times. He's not on. He's not manipulating. He's not playing. There's one scene in the park that I like so much, and it goes by and is rarely talked about, where he's strolling in the park. I'm talking about getting them a lawyer, and at the end of the scene Jack says ‘You're getting yourself a lawyer.' That tells you everything you need to know about their relationship. It tells you everything about Jack. It tells you everything about them together. It tells you everything about why Truman would tell him that. If Truman would go to him - my assumption is that he'd go to him to hear the truth. It's self-reflection and then he'd go and do it anyway. But to have that anchor, he says ‘No, I'm getting them a lawyer. There's a difference.' He doesn't believe that and that's why he's in his life. There's stuff in Spain; he's always reminding him about ‘there's a life outside yourself; we're over here.' There's an interview with Jack that I saw, this very rare interview - it's heartbreaking. It's after Truman's been dead a while. In the interview he's talking about Truman. These guys, they were each other's worlds. It was very powerful.

What was his relationship with Harper Lee? What does he need from her?

Philip Seymour Hoffman: That's pretty clear; he brought her with him down to Kansas to buffer that immediate impact that was coming his way. I think that's clear. I hope that's clear. He brought her down for a purpose to help him ingratiate himself into that world. She was always there in that environment with him in those first few months. That made it easier for him to facilitate. Also very logistically she would listen to the interviews with him. So they'd go back and those two scenes where you see them playing off what they know. Talking about memory and what he can remember and recall. That's what they are. They're both sitting there going, ‘This is what I heard. What did you hear?' That's what they did. Ultimately, he became a taker, taker, taker. And she became Jack. So Jack and her started becoming the big mirrors in his life in the end. You see how they'd start to go by the side as the movie goes on. There's a reason. It's thought out. It's not by accident. They go away, because the more they start to become that reflection, the more they need to go away because he needs to move forward. So you see them kind of come in at that end there. They're basically cold with him. They're flat out: ‘What the f*ck are you doing?' He can't go there, he's got to finish. I think Danny Futterman's done an incredible job. I think it's hard to see because it's just that subtle.

Capote hits select theaters September 30th and nationwide soon after that; it's rated R. Mission: Impossible 3 is shooting in Europe and Africa; that will hit theaters in May 2006.

Dont't forget to also check out: Capote