Born: July 23, 1967; Died: February 2, 2014

Loading article content

Philip Seymour Hoffman, who has died aged 46, was an Oscar-winning actor but he was not a traditional movie star. He was a character actor rather than a leading man; he was the man who stole the show rather than the big star; he was the colourful, macabre eccentric rather than the love interest. He was also one of the most respected actors of the last 20 years with a reputation for making any role - big or small, sympathetic or hateful - watchable, memorable and intense.

His film career was a mix of the mainstream and the quirky. He made his fair share of throwaway blockbusters such as the Hunger Games films and the third part of the Mission: Impossible franchise with his friend Tom Cruise, but it was in independent films that his reputation grew, particularly in the films of Paul Thomas Anderson.

In all, he appeared in five of Anderson's films and in all of them demonstrated his versatility. In Boogie Nights, Anderson's uncomfortable film about the porn industry in the 1970s, he was terribly moving as the awkward gay man Scotty; 15 years later, in The Master, he was frightening as the manipulative leader of a cult that might, or might not, have been modelled on scientology.

He was nominated for an Oscar several times, including for The Master, but he won for Capote, the 2005 biographical film which followed Truman Capote during the writing of In Cold Blood. Hoffman not only physically transformed himself for the part, losing lots of weight and changing his voice, he became a little obsessed with the writer, spending months and months watching and rewatching videos of him to get the role just right.

It was this role more than any other which earned Hoffman the reputation for an ability to metamorphose - rare, these days, among leading actors - although he might never have become an actor at all because his first talent was for sport. Born in Fairport, New York, as a teenager he was good at baseball, wrestling and American football but a neck injury meant a career in any of them was impossible. Encouraged by his mother, a lawyer, he joined his school's drama club instead.

Quite quickly, he discovered he was interested in acting, and good at it, and being taken to see Arthur Miller at the theatre confirmed his nascent ambition to take it up as a career. He would go on to star in a Miller play himself, taking on the role of Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman in 2012.

In the 1980s, he studied drama at the Tisch School of the Arts in New York and, after graduating, quite quickly began winning small parts on television and in film. His first major part was in the 1992 film Scent of a Woman, which starred Al Pacino as a blind sex-addict.

He made his first film for Anderson four years later when he appeared in Hard Eight as a craps player, but it was Anderson's second film Boogie Nights that Hoffman made his strongest impression.

In the film, which is set in the American porn industry as video is threatening to take over from film, Hoffman plays Scotty, an awkward young gay man who operates the boom mike on set. He falls in love with the porn star character played by Mark Wahlberg and when he admits his feelings, clumsily, there is a touching desperateness to it. "Can I kiss you?" he says. "Please? Can I kiss you on the mouth?" It was a small role but a rather touching one.

Hoffman went on to make three other films for Anderson. There was Magnolia in 1999, in which he played a nurse tending to a dying millionaire (it proved he could do nice as well), Punch-Drunk Love in 2002, a romantic comedy starring Adam Sandler, and, in 2012, The Master in which he played the cult-master Lancaster Dodd.

The Master was not a perfect film (it was way over-long for a start) but Hoffman as the enigmatic, charismatic preacher, combined with Joaquin Phoenix's performance as the strange, troubled Second World War veteran who joins the cult, made it a memorable one. The film follows Dodd as the cult, known as The Cause, starts to grow. When it was released, critics couldn't help noticing the parallels with scientology and Dodd's similarity to that movement's founder L Ron Hubbard. Hoffman himself, however, was always slightly uncomfortable with those comparisons. He wanted to make a film, he said, that was a hell of a tale. "I don't have a grudge against scientology," he said.

He was nominated for an Oscar for best supporting actor for the role, but won for Capote, the extraordinary film he made in 2005. "Playing Capote took a lot of concentration," he said. "The part required me to be a little bit unbalanced."

Among the best of his other films was Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, the last film Sidney Lumet directed before his death in 2011. He was also good in The Talented Mr Ripley, in which he plays one of the playboy friends of Tom Ripley, and he appeared in Joel and Ethan Coen's The Big Lebowski in 1998.

It was Hoffman's working relationship with independently-minded film-makers such as the Coens and Anderson that provided most of his greatest roles, although he was not averse to appearing in much more mainstream films including the blockbuster Twister and, most recently, The Hunger Games series. Other noteworthy films included Moneyball, The Savages, Cold Mountain and George Clooney's political drama The Ides of March.

A few weeks ago, it was announced he planned to make Happyish, a comedy series about a middle-aged man's pursuit of happiness. He also appeared last month at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah for the premiere of A Most Wanted Man, an espionage thriller based on the John le Carre novel in which he played German spy Gunther Bachmann.

At the premiere, he said he connected to the personality of Gunther, a man driven by the shame of previous failure into an obsessive pursuit of capturing terrorists by any means necessary.

"I think it'd be hard for anyone not to connect with the loneliness," he said. "He's pretty lonely, driven, obsessive guy, unforgiving of himself in a lot of ways. A lot of traits that a lot of people carry in one grade or another."

Hoffman also had considerable success on the stage, earning Tony nominations for the revival of Death of a Salesman as well as Long Day's Journey Into Night and True West.

He had recently spoken about his struggles with substance abuse, having first entered rehab in his early 20s. In a 2006 interview, he said he had abused anything he could get his hands on as a young man and last year admitted he was once again struggling with addiction. He was found dead in his New York apartment, probably from a drug overdose.

In all, he received three Academy Award nominations as best supporting actor, for The Master in 2013, Doubt in 2009, in which he played a priest accused of abusing a pupil, and Charlie Wilson's War in 2008.

He is survived by three children with his partner Mimi O'Donnell.