by Bill Smyth
photography by Michael Muller
Men’s Moves: I saw the photos and they look fantastic. The one thing I noticed was the short hair. You couldn’t take the dreadlocks anymore?
Philip Seymour Hoffman: Yeah, no, I’m doing this other gig right now where I gotta play a guy who’s a bit older than I am and he’s obviously going bald so he shaved his head because of it. So I’m just trying to keep it close.
MM: Keep it as real as possible.
PSH: It’s kinda nice in the hot month actually.
MM: Absolutely, its been brutal, the weather here… Well let’s get right into it. I just want to congratulate you on your directorial debut [Jack Goes Boating, out this September].
PSH: Thank you.
MM: You’ve established yourself as one of the greatest actors of our generation. Tell me about your experiences working on this film and why you chose Jack Goes Boating for your directorial debut?
PSH: It kind of chose me in a way, I guess. Which is a common answer, but it’s a true one. I’ve been involved with the LAByrinth Theater Company for 16, 17 years or so now. I was one of the co-directors with John Ortiz for about 10 of those years and I’ve been directing plays for that company for about 13 years. So that’s kind of what I’ve been doing for a while. This play [Jack Goes Boating] is something we did that I acted in. I didn’t direct; Peter DuBois directed it. While we were doing the play we always talked about how cinematic it was. I’ve never been involved in a new play – and I’ve been involved in many – where I have thought “wow this play is a very, very cinematic thing.” Bob Glaudini [screenwriter] and I were sitting in the lobby of the Public Theater talking about this and it was becoming a reality. John Ortiz mentioned that I should direct the film. And so it was kind of this ‘Oh wow, I didn’t even think about that, but that’s kind of an interesting idea. Uh, give me some time.’ About a month passed and I said ‘You know, I think I’ll do it.’ I think it made sense, but I didn’t want to act in it. So then we spent a lot of time trying to find someone to play the part that I did in the production, and that was tough you know. We started getting close to some guys and then they would be busy or they had something else and it was very frustrating because we had to shoot in the winter. So we were running out of time and I realized that I was gonna have to play it or else we were going to miss the winter slot and have to wait another year. So that’s really what happened; it was kind of an extension of some organic steps that had happened in my life up to that point and it just made sense.
MM: What was it like being on the other side of the camera directing yourself?
PSH: That is not a very pleasant thing. I think there are some people that do it often – like Woody Allen – and those people know way more about directing films than I do because the part they are playing is an extension of themselves. So I was kind of going back and forth to make it easier. But this part I was just playing in this movie is quite a character. I had to really kind of change hats in a big way, which isn’t easy when you’re directing… it’s all about other people and about being outside yourself and helping other people do the best they can.
MM: Yeah, you’re focusing on yourself and then you have to focus on everybody else.
PSH: It’s much more pleasurable being a director and helping other people; it’s a very satisfying thing. There were many days when I struggled with the change between the two. I had to kind of get over myself in a big way and kind of just say, “Okay, it’s your turn so you gotta just be the actor,” and I’d have to rely on other people telling me how… I don’t think I could do it again. Definitely when I direct another film I just want to be the director because I really enjoyed that a lot.
MM: So you’d rather just do the directing rather than acting and directing in the same film?
PSH: Yeah, definitely.
MM: The one thing that stuck with me throughout the film was how real the actors were, how identifiable. I know a few “Jacks.” Is there any of Jack in you?
PSH: Yeah, I think that’s what’s kinda great about this story, is that Jack is someone you can project all over. I mean, he’s a real kind of character, he’s a real embodiment of fear, and somebody whose lived their life in a certain stage of being afraid and being sick and tired of that and needing to do something about it. I think that quality he has, and the fact that we’re meeting him at a point where he wants to actually do away with that, or overcome that, is something that I think all of us can identify with in our own way.
MM: Jack takes a lot of inspiration from Connie [Amy Ryan], with the cooking lessons and the swimming. That connection I found to be very real. Was it hard to build chemistry with Amy?
PSH: I’ve known Amy for a long time, and we haven’t been close friends but we’ve known each other a while and worked together a few times, and we always get along when we’re hanging out. I think there is a lot of respect there…
PSH: [on Jack and Connie meeting] They met the person that will not judge them, you know, and that’s quite a moment in someone’s life when you meet that person.
MM: New York plays a key character in this movie and I love the scene settings. The scene where Connie’s looking at Central Park in the winter and wishing it were summer – I think we’ve all done that. What are some of your favorite spots in the city?
PSH: That one [Bethesda Fountain in Central Park], that’s a pretty great one. Oh god, you know, I love the river; I love being by the river in the city, in Brooklyn by the river or Manhattan by the waterside… love that. I like the Village a lot, I go to parks a lot, I used to go all the time when I was younger… I like New York, I like Yankee Stadium.
MM: Are you a Yankees fan?
PSH: Yeah, I love baseball.
MM: I read somewhere that you’re a big Jets fan – I’m hoping that’s true.
PSH: Well, it’s funny. I grew up in Rochester, New York so I grew up a Bills fan, to be honest, and that’s where I spent my youth. But I couldn’t tolerate all those years of disappointment. I do have a soft spot in my heart for the Bills… I kind of have a soft spot for the Jets, which is ironic since they’re rivals. I actually sat in the owner’s box and they were playing the Bills so I had to be neutral. So I just sat there and watched the game, very neutral, and I think the Jets ended up winning. There’s a lot of pain in New York’s football teams.
MM: So what do you want to get out of this film; what is the message you want to convey?
PSH: I really hope that people are surprised by it, that they go and they might have an idea one way or another what the film is or what it’s about and that they finish watching it and realize it wasn’t what they thought at all… It’s kind of about the connection between one person and another and that’s basically everything: how difficult that is and that it doesn’t always work out and that it’s not always pleasant and that it’s actually pretty difficult. All those things, they’re all in the movie and I think it’s quite a poetic way, that friendship is important but it’s also quite painful… I just hope that people see that there’s a lot to this story.
MM: Now are you part of any charities or social causes?
PSH: I’m on the board of some things. I’m on the board of the DreamYard Project [arts educator in the Bronx that serves inner city youth]. I just feel like that’s something hard for the culture. I just like to be a part of things I think are helping the city.
MM: Great. I have one more question. The photo shoot in L.A. had some props and after looking at all the photos, the one prop that stood out was an umbrella. Can I get confirmation that you will be the Penguin in the next Batman film?
PSH: No, you know what? No one’s ever, ever even asked me if that would be an interesting thing – from a movie, from any studio at all. I think somebody wanted that to happen and they blogged about it… but I don’t think that’s going to happen.