Seattle Met Uncut: A Talk with Philip Seymour Hoffman and John Ortiz
You got in last night, right?
JO: Yeah, we like being here.
PSH: I kinda want to hang out here for a while. I like that it’s overcast, a little chilly out. I’m like into it.
Have you ever been here before?
JO: Once before for three days, I did a reading at Seattle Rep five years ago.
PSH: You do kind of go from one thing to the next. [While we’re here] we’re going to go to one of the recording places…
JO: Where they have the licensing for Fleet Foxes.
I noticed there are a couple Fleet Foxes songs on the soundtrack. Who’s the fan?
PSH: It was kinda Sue Jacobs, the music supervisor. But I heard them in a coffee shop in LA, and they were thumping in stereo, and I was like, What’s that great song? I found out, and that was a year before we made the movie. So when I was editing the film, I was trying to put together the music, and that kept coming back to me. With Sue Jacobs’s help I started listening to more of their stuff. Their stuff’s really big, emotional…you know what I mean? It’s kind of operatic in its emotion, which is how I think this film is, actually. Though the film’s really subtle and kind of simple, the emotion in it is quite large.
It doesn’t even seem fair to call it a romantic comedy. How would you peg it?
PSH: A tale. You know what I mean? A dream tale. Really, kind of a… Somebody wrote something that was absolutely perfect: “a love story that almost forgot to happen.” Meaning, you’re going to watch this story that almost doesn’t tell itself. And that is what the movie’s like. It’s a romantic comedy that forgets that there’s romance and a comedy. That these people are…it’s hard. It’s not a label movie. I would say it’s a throwback in a way to, er, not in the story, but the kind of movie I watched when I was younger. I remember when I would see films like Save the Tiger or these films with my dad that he would recommend from the early ’70s. It does remind me that—even though when I was making it, I wasn’t so conscious of it—I remember watching movies from that time about men or women or people, ordinary people, these kind of simple, beautiful, really heartfelt things. There’s a poetry to them. I really did think of that.
Do you think there’s something special about this love story? Why this story?
JO: You’ve seen so many love stories. It’s this thing that kind of happens all the time. But relatively speaking, I cannot stand—why does something that’s so universal, that happens so many times, why is it only seen in certain ways and told with certain kinds of people? You know? When it’s something that’s so universal! Me playing Clyde in like almost any other movie, I’d be described as a “Puerto Rican guy” a million times. You don’t hear that once [in Jack Goes Boating ].
PSH: No one says that, that’s true. That’s really good.
JO: And I love that. That’s how it should be. I don’t walk around the streets of Seattle proclaiming my Puerto Rican–ness! You know? I love landing here, being calm, taking it in, and people taking me in, and it’s great. That’s how we live life for the most part. This is also everyone in the film and the kinds of people they are. All of us know these kinds of people and these characters, and they’re like not only out there, but they’re the majority of people getting through life, walking down the streets, and they have their own story where they’re the lead protagonist. So that’s why I said this is a story that needs to be told.
And why did you think Philip was the one to direct it? I read somewhere that you kind of encouraged it.
PSH: He did make the first suggestion.
JO: LAByrinth was the theatre company where this all started. We challenge each other to do things we normally don’t do, whether you’re acting and it’s a different kind of role or genre. Phil started directing at LAB, even though he may have always wanted that, for some reason he felt this is the place to do it. I love that. I love challenging each other to do things that are a bit different. So I was like, “You know, you should do it.”
And right away were you like, Yeah! I should direct!
PSH: No, I definitely thought about it. I knew that it’s a big job and I have a lot of respect for the profession of film directing, but in the moment I was like, “Oh yeah, maybe this is the time.” I always thought that maybe—because directing was becoming a bigger and bigger part of my life in the theater, and since I act in film so often—eventually it would bleed over like it did in the theater. So then, I was like, “Yeah, yeah, this is right.” You kind of know this is right. I’m supposed to direct this.
Was it hard to direct and act at the same time?
PSH: Yeah, that wasn’t so pleasant. It wasn’t. But I did it. And I figured I did okay. But I was so enjoying directing the film, it was such pleasure. … I don’t think I ever didn’t feel pleasure, even when I was upset; there was something so satisfying about the whole process. Acting is not like that. Acting is something—it’s just not. It’s something else. It does something else to me, which is a much more complicated thing. I love directing, it’s what I’ll do, it’s what I’ll keep doing, but I would have to stop kind of experiencing that kind of collaborative, creative pleasure with people and go, [ mumbles ] I gotta go act now. I want to direct a film eventually when I can just go to work every day and direct.
So you see directing as the more creative side to filmmaking?
PSH: I actually don’t. I actually think acting is just as creative. This is blasphemy, but it’s harder. There’s more work to do as a director, more decisions to be made, there’s way more. But in the essence of the actual act of acting well, in a kind of difficult role, to do it really well, it’s the hardest thing to do.
Speaking of difficult acting jobs: Of your most recent roles—say, Jack, Father Flynn in Doubt, and Truman Capote—which of those was the most challenging?
PSH: It’s so variable. It depends on the day, it depends on the scene. That’s the truth. But in the overall scope of things, Capote is one of the hardest parts. That was a very difficult job. That job and acting in Synecdoche were the two hardest acting jobs I’ve had overall. But on any given day, you could be playing a part that you feel is coming quite easy to you, and you can have a day where you’re like just lost, and it’s really hard.
How does that happen?
PSH: Some things are written some way, there’s a revelation, you’ve reached a point in the story or the evolution of the character and you’re like, This character’s tough, I’m not understanding this. This part’s not like me. Everything else seemed to come easy and now I’m here and I’m not… Remember the scenes with John [Ortiz] in the pool? Those scenes, acting-wise, I felt in tune. There was something I understood about that, something that clicked. The scene with Connie [Amy Ryan] when she comes over for the dinner party, in the second half of the movie, when she first enters, and I’m like, You look great. That scene, when we’re sitting there? Which I now think is a really nice, funny scene. I must have done that 15 times. It was just awful. I could not grasp it anymore. It was elusive. It was out of my “What was this scene about? What was I doing?” reach. Art’s art. Art’s kind of elusive. And you try to find exactly what it is, and sometimes you lose it. And for acting’s sake, that’s bad. [ Laughs.]
What is this film saying about love and relationships?
PSH: I do feel like the film is saying something… What keeps us from being in a relationship is the inevitability of being hurt. It’s impossible to avoid. You’ll be hurt, disappointed, rejected. You’ll probably fall out of love. You might fall back in love. But all these things are just what happen. And even though I know all that, I’m still going to do it. It’s the way of the world. That’s what the film is about.