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Transcript: Inside the Actor's Studio, 2000
As interviewed by James Lipton and 3 Audience Members

Special Thanks to the Remembering Philip Seymour Hoffman Facebook page for locating this archived transcript.


    [Note: I am missing the beginning of this episode due largely to cable television station's annoying habit of beginning their programs five minutes before they are supposed to. So if anyone has this on tape and is willing to type up the first few moments for me, I'd appreciate it. But I'll start where my tape does.]

    Philip Seymour Hoffman: ..it's cool but that's why he ends up where he is, and he works in a drag club and all these things...
    James Lipton: What kind of research did you do for it?
    PSH: I,well I was in Italy actually, at the time when I - I had to go to Italy to shoot The Talented Mr. Ripley, and Joel sent me all these videotapes. And so I watched a lot of stuff on transgender people, and on the drag world because he works in the drag world, and all his friends are drag queens. And I just I really just scoured these videos and found a couple guys that are tuned into the - thought were in the right area and just started working... physically and vocally... because I could work on the acting part seperate but I needed to know that once I got to the set that no matter what what came to me or what I was creating emotionally or intellectually or thought-wise or logically would come onto me naturally in the physical and vocal way I needed it to come out.
    JL: Did Joel Schumaker schedule his movie around The Talented Mr. Ripley so that you could do both parts?
    PSH: Yeah. Yeah he did. He was very nice that way... and Anthony Magella also...
    JL: You were going back and forth?
    PSH: I was goin' back and forth. Yeah.
    JL: Did it ever confuse you?
    PSH: No, no, it's [something] it was really nice to be able to lay down one and pick up the other.
    JL: Is it true that all of you did that picture for scale?
    PSH: Yeah. I didn't get much. [laughs]
    JL: Everybody did it for scale.
    PSH: Yeah, no, it was it was a pretty low budget. We shot it like eight weeks, something like that... yeah, pretty quick.
    JL: It is one of the most layered performances I've seen in many years. You were creating a person who was creating a person.
    PSH: Yeah, exactly. That's exactly right.
    JL: You were surrounded in the film by legendary drag queens.
    PSH: Yeah, yeah I see them now, I run into them once in a while [picture cuts to still from Flawless of Phil and drag queen friends] and they're just soooo...
    JL: How did they treat on the... Did they help you?
    PSH: Yeah, yeah. They were really helpful, and they... [picture cuts back to Phil] they saw me play the part right there and they were... they just embraced me completely.
    JL: Was the drag body suit an easy thing to accommodate?
    PSH: No, none of it really was, you know. The body suit attaches to, you know, from the crotch area there and I and I remember they - my fitting they left me alone to put that on. And, and it wasn't snapped, you know... So I put it on like over my head and tried to snap it. Well, you're supposed to snap it and pull, you know, pull it up. I could not get this thing around to snap. And I was sittin' there tryin to get this thing around to snap and literally I almost broke into tears. I was like 'they GOT the wrong guy, they GOT the wrong guy. I'm totally - never gunna be able to do this, right I don't even know how to put this [bleep] thing on', you know. It was AWEFUL. So eventually I snapped it on, and I was sittin' there and they walk in. I'm like, and then, that was the day. I remember goin' like 'I'm gunna quit today'. I mean it was really, really like 'I'm gunna quit' and that was... Literally in that half hour, I had to say 'Just put on the dress', and you know it sounds silly but that was.. and that's just what it is, just go like that and you go like that and you just keep walking forward. And that's what I did, and.. and really it's about that feeling of like 'Ok, they didn't laugh.' I put on the dress, they didn't laugh. See me, I just immediately thought: Ok, I'm gunna put this dress on, I'm gunna put this makeup on, play this part and they're gunna be like 'WHAT?' [mumbles] Everyone's just gunna be like 'What were you thinking? This is a joke. You're like a 220 pound... linebacker, what the hell are you doing here?' But the thing is is that when I met these drag queens, you know, there's this one guy that was built like Lawrence Taylor, this guy, built like Lawrence Taylor and he's this huge, huge famous drag queen in the community and... I loved him. And I was like - so boom, I started walkin' through the part. That was it.

    [cuts to clip from Flawless of Rusty telling Walter about how he first started on his transgender journey]

    JL: It struck me that Rusty was at his most feminine in the scenes, not with the drag queens, but with DeNiro.
    PSH: Yeah, because, you know, he's with a man. And, to convince this man that he's a woman... It's not to convince him just so that he can be more of a woman.
    JL: What was it like working with DeNiro?
    PSH: It was fantastic. He was... amazingly nice to me and respectful of me and he's probably... and he's obviously he's one of our great actors. And... that goes without saying. But his listening skills as an actor were far beyond most people I've worked with. And that was really like, you could key into him like, like nobody.

    [commercial break]

    JL: 1999 was Philip Seymour Hoffman's year, with Flawless, followed almost immediately by Magnolia. You've said that Magnolia is one of the most important experiences of your life. Why?
    PSH: See I just think it's... a brilliant film and, but to play a character in type of film that has the morals and the principles that this character did was something that overjoyed me. And I can't tell you why, it just did. It just... that I got a chance to look at somebody who had their ducks in a row in such a way that most humans won't even come close to. And, you know, the fact that on Saturday night he wasn't goin' out to a club or he wasn't goin' out on a date, that he was home with a man who was gunna die...
    JL: What is the character's name in the film?
    PSH: The character's name is Phil.
    JL: Why?
    PSH: Because Paul wrote it, he wrote it for me, and he didn't want me to, and he said: This is, this is Phil. I want this to be you. You know, and that was very important to him. Of course, it's not me, I mean I don't think I have my ducks in a row like this guy does.
    JL: Phil is the film's catalyst. He brings the key players together, even against the wishes of some of them. He's the levening in this thing, is he not?
    PSH: Yes, yes, it's very true. He, I mean, that's his job. That's what he's doing in the film, is he's trying to bring the son to the dying father
    JL: Notice that Anderson uses the same device he used in Boogie Nights, which is keeping Phil, Phil the actor and Phil the character, in the frame in the two big, key scenes of Robards and Cruise. Look at those scenes, and you'll see in the background is this Greek chorus every single moment. I'm sure again, that was by design.
    PSH: Well, yeah, I mean that - Phil is, Phil, it's like we call him the crying nurse. Cuz we realized we shot and it wasn't planned that really everything that happened with Phil and this, this character played by Jason Robards, brilliantly, and he's a great guy, and [picture cuts to two black and white stills from Magnolia] that was effective and that, Phil got too emotioally involved, here on this one.
    JL: You heard Phil pay a tribute to DeNiro as a listener [picture cuts back to Phil], if DeNiro is the best, then Phil is very close to the second best. How important is listening to you?
    PSH: Oh very. Listening is, it's the key. You can do all the work you want to do but if you're not listening, you're not on the same play, you're not on the same stage, you're not in the same reality as the other person is. And the play doesn't happen if the scene never happens.
    JL: Did Anderson ever explain to the cast, the frogs?
    PSH: No... it's, it's pretty clear to me, I mean I think it's just...
    JL: Say what's clear.
    PSH: Well, it... Frogs falling from the sky is like someone dying of cancer. It's the same thing, you can't really wrap your head around it, can you? It doesn't really make any sense, the world, it never does, especially when you're going through it.
    JL: Both are plagues.
    PSH: Yeah, it's a, both are plagues and it's also, you know, that seems so obvious to me, cuz it's like 'Enough! Enough! Enough! Everybody. Enough! Drop it. Let go. Let go. All this pain. All this suffering.' There's a hospital right down the street here and if you walk by there every day, there's like these people sitting out in their wheelchairs, and they're sitting there, and this is the day they have. This is the sun they're gunna see and that's it. Then they're goin' back inside for whatever test they're having for whatever illness they have. And they don't have the money I have, they don't have the opportunities I have, they don't meet the people I meet, they don't have the life I live, they don't eat at the restaurants I get a chance to eat at, they don't have the friends I have. That's not me, I'm like one percent of this world, you know what I mean, it's just silly when we start thinking that everything's okay just because we are. You know, and just, I mean everytime I talk about this movie I get like this. I get to be the guy in it that says 'I will help you'... I mean, you can't get a better part than that. You just can't.
    JL: Or do it better than that. [Phil mumbles 'Thank you'] From the self-effacing, self-sacraficing Phil of Magnolia, you turned 180 degrees again to the snobbish, socialite Freddie Miles in The Talented Mr. Ripley. [picture cuts to stills of Phil in The Talented Mr. Ripley] This man is an acting whirling dervish. [picture cuts back to Phil] Was that role a stretch for you? It's a very upper-class guy...
    PSH: No, no, like I said I come... I was gunna say where I come from, no, I wasn't upper-class, I - but there's something about... I played some upper-class parts... like, I played three or four upper-class roles. This guy's like, you know, George Plimpton. Like, you know what I mean, very very very intellectual, educated, very wealthy...
    JL: Sounds like George.
    PSH: Yeah. And I looked, actually, remember, thinking about how he talked when I was doing the part and, but he's, it's just such a joy, it's so freeing. Somebody like that.
    JL: You have a spectacular death scene in that, after you've taunted Tom mercilessly.
    PSH: Yeah, it is, it's great. It was great.

    [cuts to the clip from The Talented Mr. Ripley of Phil taunting Matty 'mercilessly']

    JL: For his performances in Magnolia and The Talented Mr. Ripley, Philip received two richly deserved National Board of Review awards. Last week my wife and I went to the theater. Twice. To see the same play. No. We saw two different plays on the same stage, in the same set. It's a staggering. Experience. And of course it's Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly alternating principle roles. In Sam Shepard's True West. [picture cuts to a playbill of True West, then back to Phil] Tell us please, how did this. Marvel. Come to pass.
    PSH: I was shooting a film this fall, with David Mamet, and I got a call from John Reilly, and he said: I met this guy, Matthew Warches, doing True West out in L.A., cuz John was in L.A., and he wants me to do it and I told him that I think you should do the other part. And I was like 'Really?' and I was like 'Oh that's nice, thanks John but I don't know if I can do it.' Then he said we'd be able to switch parts. And I was like 'Oh... I dunno, that's kind of strange.' I really thought at first, I was like 'Well that's kind of a gimmick, and I don't know if I'm interested in that.' But he's like 'We should really, Matthew's really great, you should really read it again, read the play.' So I read it again and I was like 'Wow'. I forgot how much... How good it was.
    JL: How did you rehearse the play?
    PSH: Well, we both played two parts and by this time I was convinced that two parts was actually the way to do this play, because of the nature of the play, that it is the two sides of one person. Meeting Sam, Sam actually was saying that to us, verified that even deeper. And so we would, every three days we'd switch. And there you are, all of a sudden watching the other person do the part that you've been having ego about. All of a sudden the other person's doing it, and they're figuring it out quicker than you are. You know what I mean, or they're making breakthrough in something that you didn't make a breakthrough yet. And that's really [picture cuts to stills from True West] the experience that me and John went through. Cuz I wouldn't have found the way I play Lee now, if I didn't rehearse it the way I did. I would have found it differently, obviously. So a lot of things were found through osmosis, through just the learning from each other, and how we behave and how we express is the difference, but the play we explored together. So we're really one actor up there in a way and that's, what I think was Matthew's diabolical plan from the beginning, is that because of that, naturally, you're involved on a much deeper level than if you were just playing one of those parts.
    JL: Each of those parts exists on the stage through the whole play. You had to learn an entire play.
    PSH: Twice. Yeah, yeah. The learning the lines part which I always thought was... people always say 'How do you learn all those lines?' and you always think 'Oh, that's so silly, that's the thing they think is the hardest part, and then is a job where it was one of the hardest parts - learning every word in that script was, was a task.
    JL: Both parts are immense.
    PSH: Yeah, I mean, you don't leave the stage...
    JL: I saw the play twice in two days. With the roles reversed. And I noticed that. The blocking is pretty much the same.
    PSH: It was very similar.
    JL: What was more interesting. If you are priveleged to see it twice. Is the differences. Each of you butters the toast. In his own way. One of the most arresting aspects of the production. Is it's use of silence. I happen to be a lover of silence. Especially on the stage. The two of you do it. Extraordinarilly well. It's planned I'm sure.
    PSH: Yeah, no, it's very important the time for their not saying anything. It's extraordinarilly important to Sam Shepard. Sam Shepard, when he writes this, he puts actually puts those pauses there. And they're pretty right, ninety-five percent of the time, it's like right on the money, you know, and you see why. Once you get to the truth of it.
    JL: I'd just like you to say one or two sentences about. The other half of your persona in this play. An amazing actor. John C. Reilly.
    PSH: Oh, John, yeah. Most actors you act with in theater, even some very very good ones, you know, eventually you just reach this point where you kind of know what they're gunna do, and you're kind of the one trying to find how to do it differently. But with John, it's like you're both finding out how to do it differently together. It's just very very odd and very real and very new, like, if you're not doing it, there's John who's gunna do it. It's like 'Oh my god, what'd he just do there?' or 'What am I gunna do?'. He's just extraordinary and I love it, love doing it with him.
    JL: I'd like to close with a question about the LAByrinth Theater Company. This is your company is it not?
    PSH: I'm a co-director with John Ortiz and David Deblinger and David Zaus. [something] for about five or six years, and I've acted in shows with them, I directed a show with them last summer, I'm gunna direct another show with them this summer.
    JL: What was that show called?
    PSH: Called 'In Arabia, We'd All Be Kings'. Written by Stephen Adley Grierges who's a tremendously talented playwright who I look forward to doing this next show with that we're doing a workshops of right now, but... It's really, it's what I look forward to, tell you the truth, out of everything I do. And I'm very busy doing a lot of things, but when I go to the theater and I see these people... it's like, I swear like this breath comes out of me and relaxtion comes and I get very relaxed. I'm like 'Okay, here I am, the place I wanna be, what're we gunna do?' You know, and I'm so happy.
    JL: What do you want from a director? As an actor?
    PSH: Oh god. For them to be right. No, what I want from a director is, is trust, A. And then I want them to know how to talk to me specifically. To know what they're getting at when they're talking to me cuz a lot of directors will talk to you and they're like 'Well I don't know... It was a little... I don't know... you know, it's just kinda, kinda... it kinda went uuuuu... you know and... you know, you were kinda goin' along and it was pretty good there and then and then it kinda like dropped...or something, it's like too loud... it's too loud or something' You know, and that's a nightmare. That's just like: What? What do you want? Like what are you talking about?

    [commercial break]

    JL: [cut off by commercial] Beginning with. The questionairre that was invented by [someone]. Phil, what's your favorite word?
    PSH: It's okay, it's okay.
    JL: What's your least favorite word?
    PSH: Relax. But it's not in the way it's said, it's just when somebody goes 'Relax'
    JL: In this whole wide world, of everything that's in it, what turns you on?
    PSH: Oh boy. Oh god... what turns me on, I mean... well... you know... stuff... what turns me on...
    JL: Don't censor yourself.
    PSH: Well no, I mean there's like, you know, of course there's this thing, you know, beautiful women. You know, I mean, you'd think, you know, those are the obvious things... you know, like, that's good. And...
    JL: Or Errol Flynn.
    PSH: Oh yeah, or Errol Flynn, yeah, yeah... But... What turns me on, I was thinking about that the other day, and you know, you know what turns me on in the way that I think that that question's about, is when you, and I mean this, is when all of a sudden you're just going through your day and like da-duh-duh-duh-da, you're here, there, you're everywhere, and all of sudden you run into somebody who's just like nice because they wanna be, and that's just like such a buzz, man. And it never happens.
    JL: And if it turns out that she's a beautiful woman, then you've got it all.
    PSH: If she's a beautiful woman... [big smile]
    JL: What turns you off?
    PSH: When people think they have the right to somehow let their baggage be your news.
    JL: What sound or noise to you love?
    PSH: Sometimes I'll be alone and I'll sit there and I'll suddenly realize I can make sound, I don't have to be silent. And it's not cool to talk to yourself, so I'll... hum. And that's what I think sounds kind of corny cuz it's very much... like a baby, I think. And then, all of sudden you're like hmmm hmmm hmmm... so, the... the humming to myself. A very pleasing sound.
    JL: What sound or noise do you hate?
    PSH: Car alarms are the worst. I have one right outside my apartment, right now, that is just screaming...
    JL: What's your favorite curse word?
    PSH: [bleep] you, you mother[bleep]er, you stupid [bleep]ing [bleep]sucker, shut the [bleep] up, right, something like that. [comments on the applauding audience] They all... Lookit all together there, and they just keep it, keep it goin' until they're like 'I'm gunna ask you to leave!' So, oh, YOU'RE gunna ask me to leave! So, the curse word is really about a whole fight, it's gotta be a conversation.
    JL: What profession, other than yours, would you like? To attempt.
    PSH: Teaching.
    JL: What profession would you not like? To participate in.
    PSH: Oh god, a critic.
    JL: Finally, if heaven exists, what would you like to hear god say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
    PSH: All right, let's do it again.
    JL: You said a moment ago that you would like to teach. I would like to thank you for coming here and teaching us. Tonight.

    [audience and JL give PSH a standing ovation!! yuh! now we move on to some q&a with the audience]

    Audience Member #1: Hi, I'm [something] Rodreguz and I'm on the acting track here. Is there any process you follow in order to find out and explore choices in your characters?
    PSH: Yeah, yeah, you look at a script and you find out well, what's going on, or the given circumstances, you know and you got all the given circumstances and you're very attuned and then what haven't they given me, that I need to know. And how long have I been here, all these are very basic questions that you learn and you know, ask all of them and really really look for all of them. I mean, given circumstances is one form of what the character needs or wants. And then you can start looking at the needs and the wants of the characters, and then you start asking questions about why would they need or want that thing. And then how would they go about getting it. Now, everyone has their own way of going about getting certain things. And that's where character comes into play. And you can learn that by being informed by the given circumstances of the character in the story, and you can look at life and you can look at things you've read, and art and stuff like that, and it can start informing you about how to go about, and that's behavior, and that's the character.
    Audience Member #2: Hi.
    PSH: Oh hey.
    Audience Member #2: My name is Lucy Anne and it's very obvious that the character work that you do do is different in each of your characters and that you - so it's obvious to me that you don't make judgements on your characters.
    PSH: I try not to, but I'm like everyone else, you know -
    Audience Member #2: How do you make specific choices without... judging - ?
    PSH: You have to allow the choices to come to you, you have to be free and you have to trust yourself that you don't have to make, don't have to answer all those questions immediately. You don't make the judgement that you keep asking the questions, they get specific and then they get personal. And the other thing is not be literal. Not to go like 'Well, it doesn't link up JUST RIGHT. I mean, I never really MADE toast, so I don't know if I can really do it... so, therefore, what will I do?' You know, you can't be literal, you gotta allow your imagination to explore all these avenues. That's why you have to allow yourself to create anew every night, every day. You have to allow yourself, you can't try to copy, you can't try to duh-duh. You gotta go: Okay, I'm gunna ask those questions again, only get at that again, what is that specifically, what is that, you know.
    Audience Member #3: I hear you sayin' yer gettin' yer objective, and yer also sayin' you gotta have that freedom. Now, I get the sense, work and everything, but how do you find yer character's objective so strongly and allow that freedom, you know, to be able to, you know, come in and inspire you?
    PSH: Oh boy...
    Audience Member : Do you break it down'n'beats? Or [insert gutteral noise]?
    PSH: Oh yeah, sometimes I'll like, every beat, and every beat's gunna be a different action. You have that as a tool, you have breaking down the whole beat of a scene, and like: I'm gunna put a title to that beat - this is the 'birds must die' beat, you know, I'm gunna write that on the side of the page. So with all that [something], what is it that I'm really going after there, and that clarifies it and I have something I'm going after. Why am I going after it and how am I gunna go after it. Now, those are the choices that you have to make, and that's all the technique that you use, what sentry work [???] is, in my opinion, is really something that brings you closer to yourself, it's not something that takes you farther away from yourself. It's like 'Okay, now I can get really character-y' - It's, what it does, is you're getting a sense of something that's actually going to bring you closer to who you are and how you react to the world. So that's what I think all that technique stuff is about, is getting closer and closer to who you are so you can start making smart decisions instead of just playing yourself over and over and over again. So you'll be able to form.

    transcribed by daryn cash on august 28, 2001. any corrections or comments should be emailed to me.


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