Philip Seymour Hoffman Interview
Philip Seymour Hoffman Interview
Philip Seymour Hoffman has long been a stalwart member of the American acting fraternity both on stage and on screen. With roles in the likes of Boogie Nights, The Big Lebowski, The Talented Mr Ripley, Along Came Polly, Mission Impossible and The Boat that Rocked over the years, he has now moved into the realms of acting and directing, with the adaptation of Jack Goes Boating from the theatre to the cinema.

Here, he talks to View’s Matthew Turner about his directorial debut, transferring the actors from stage to screen, and how difficult it is pretending not to be able to swim when you can.
Jack Goes Boating is a delightfully unconventional romantic comedy. Could you start by telling us what the origins of the piece were and why you chose this for your screen directorial debut?

Philip Seymour Hoffman

It was a play. It’s quite a cinematic play to begin with, all the things you see in the movie, we had to make happen on the stage, including the boat. It was an extension, something we’d never done before as a company, so we started to develop the idea of doing the play on the big screen. John Ortiz wanted me to direct it since I’ve directed a lot of plays with the company over the years, so I took a couple of weeks to think about the film, I had a lot of ideas about the story, how it could be developed. I thought it made sense, it felt right and off we went.
Can you cook and can you swim?

Philip Seymour Hoffman

I’m an okay cook, I used to be a lifeguard.
What was it like to film those swimming scenes then, was it a bit demeaning to be portrayed as a novice swimmer?

Philip Seymour Hoffman

Yep, I couldn’t handle it, I was so embarrassed, I couldn’t even look at myself [laughs], no that what was fun about it, because John [Orti]actually had to take lessons, he had to take a lot of lessons to know how to swim well enough to sell it that he was a good swimmer.
How different a director would you have been if you had made your screen directing debut five or even 10 years ago and did you draw lessons directly from directors you’ve worked with?

Philip Seymour Hoffman

Without consciously trying to choose shots based on directors I worked with, I kind of let it be. I’ve been around film sets for 20 years and I’ve been directing in the theatre for over 10, so I trusted that I would have a voice. I kept myself open and humble to learning whatever came my way from the people I was working with and that whatever I picked up along the way would inform that voice. This is the film I wanted to make, what you see is really what I wanted to do. But obviously all the things I’ve picked up from the great people I’ve worked with, was there with me all the time.
This is the film I wanted to make, what you see is really what I wanted to do...
How did you find doing both jobs – acting and directing? How did it affect you as an actor on the film? Would you combine both roles again?

Philip Seymour Hoffman

It was something I enjoyed immensely, the job of film director is a great job, but directing myself is not something that I liked. I’ve been an actor for a long time and I like someone else out there telling me that I’m not good, and challenging me, putting a good, strong firm hand, out there for me to take. I like that. Not doing well on any given day and knowing I was the only one to turn to was uncomfortable. So I had to get over that. I had to trust the writer who was there almost every day, and my DP and my script supervisor.

Sometimes I just had to walk off, go in a room and do my acting work and come back and be the actor. That really took a shift of concentration and focus that was kind of immense. As a director it’s a whole different thing, I managed to do that, it ultimately worked out, but I remember those moments and I won’t be doing both again in that capacity.
Presumably you enjoyed the experience enough to direct again?

Philip Seymour Hoffman

I’d like to direct another film again, yes, that would be great.
The tone of the film is a key element, and potentially was a challenge to maintain, where there any scenes in particular you found difficult in your capacity either as an actor or director?

Philip Seymour Hoffman

It’s an overall thing really, small parts leading up to the big whole, and this film’s message, if successful, and I think it is a statement on life, not on relationships. What you’re left with in that final image of Clyde is a man who does not know where he is going. He’s a man now lost in the middle of his life.

That’s what the film is getting at, so the tone had to be quite delicate, you would get the information you needed when you got it, the risk-taking would come out in bits and pieces, and they would take steps forward and back. The characters would be acting upon themselves and others without even realising it at just the right time. You had to be able to see how it unfolded. Ultimately, it’s a story whose ending at the beginning. There are bits and pieces, tonally but it’s hard to look at the parts now, I keep looking at the whole.
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Content updated: 22/03/2019 14:58

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