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The Talented Mr. Hoffman

Philip Seymour Hoffman, on his way to The Loft, talks about everything from 'The Bad News Bears' to kissing Mark Wahlberg

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This weekend, Philip Seymour Hoffman will be in Tucson to show some of his films, answer some questions and host a fund-raising dinner for The Loft. Tickets for all events are available at The Loft, including--and especially--a Saturday morning showing of The Bad News Bears, introduced and hosted by Mr. Hoffman.

TW: Is it OK if I misquote to make you look anti-American?

PSH: Yes.

Great. This week, at The Loft, you'll be hosting screenings of Magnolia, Almost Famous, Owning Mahowny, Talented Mr. Ripley and Bad News Bears. So, seriously, The Bad News Bears?

Well, I picked The Bad News Bears, because I think it's fun. And I didn't want all the films to be me. I feel weird enough showing that many films of mine. When we were picking the films, I was flipping through the channels, and Bad News Bears was on. That's the kind of movie you fall upon every few years somehow--at least I do--and I just think it's one of the great films. I just can't get over how amazing it is every time I watch it. And I don't think they make movies like that anymore.

What do you think sets it apart from modern films?

It's a film that they try to remake all the time. It's like one of those films that was made so well, and they've been trying to capitalize on the success of that film since. It's kind of like the first Rocky movie.

Rocky?

Yes, Rocky is an art film about something commercial. And that's what Bad News Bears is; it's an incredibly believable film; it's shot extraordinarily well; it's wonderfully acted; and the writing is superb. It's really moving, and it's truly funny, and it's all those things that you want films to be that come out of Hollywood. And I think that you rarely see a film like that. These days, you're not going to see Walter Matthau driving in a convertible with the top down drinking a beer and smoking a cigar with a bunch of kids in the car. That wouldn't be happening in a Hollywood movie. But it also seems to me a really strong difference between then and now, in films coming out of Hollywood, and I do think it's a film that speaks of an era that's gone.

An era of filmmaking, or an American era?

An American era. It's about my childhood. Adults drank a lot more; they smoked in front of you. It was a different time. Drinking beer in the car and driving wasn't as big an issue in 1975. Those kinds of behaviors were more of the norm when I was a kid, if I recall. And now we live in a much more PC world. A lot of those things are shunned for very good reasons, but there was a certain laissez-faire attitude about all that stuff back then, and so, how that story unfolds, and how adults treat children and children treat adults in that film is really ... it's really appalling! It's appalling, and you still find humor in it, and you also find a lot of drama in it, and both of them work. I just think the movie's amazing, and I just don't think it would be made today. Now we're living in a day and age, if you don't make $100 million with a big-budget film, you're a failure. That's kinda awful.

What about the films you're in ... why did you pick Magnolia, Almost Famous, The Talented Mr. Ripley and Owning Mahowny?

For the diversity. I think there's a diversity in character; I also think there's a diversity in filmmaking, ranging from a really hard-core independent style, to a kind of broader commercial picture. Those were really the two criteria: diversity of filmmaking and diversity in characters.

On that diversity of character: You're a very studied actor ... if you saw Keanu Reeves at a party, what tips would you have for him?

I don't think there's anything Keanu doesn't know. I heard he went and played Hamlet at some theater once, and I see the things he does, and it's like, he's just another actor struggling to try to get better. And I am, too. I just don't get into that "he's someone to put down" kinda thing. Acting's a really hard thing to do, after all, and some people, I think, do it easier than others. But I do think that some people get better, and I also think some people do take it seriously, and I have a feeling he's somebody who probably does, that he struggles like everybody else to try to do it well. But if I saw him, I'd probably ask him for tips, to be quite honest, my friend. I'd be like, "So, how did you get in that first Matrix movie? How'd you swing that?"

But you're not aiming at a blockbuster, apparently.

No. But ending up in one is not a bad thing. I get offered them, and I'll say no if I don't like the part. But there are those opportunities that are worth taking, like the Matrix--I like that movie. So I'd ask, "How'd you get that job?"

You'd have been good as Neo. So, of the TV show remakes, which part have they offered you: Epstein, Wojo, Schneider? Father Mulcahey? They offer you Father Mulcahey?

Cat Woman.

Oh, you'd be a great Cat Woman!

I don't think I was actually offered that, though.

So now that you're like a big Hollywood star, is your typical day: You wake up, kick the 17-year-old starlet out of bed, yell at your staff until they bring you the roasted baby seal, that sort of thing?

No, no, mine right now is sitting here watching my 14-month-old son babble his way across the room, and my girlfriend being mad at me because I'm working too much at the theater (laughs). That's my life right now.

Do you feel like you get typecast at all?

Yes, I feel like sometimes people see me in certain ways like that, but it's not really a problem. I just say "no" if I don't want to take a role. And that's hopefully what this thing will be about at The Loft, with the different characters in Magnolia as opposed to Owning Mahowny as opposed to Almost Famous as opposed to Talented Mr. Ripley. In that one, my character has a lot of rage, but he's educated and savvy and clever. But his rage is not any less. And his aggression and his self-assuredness, his confidence and his behavior are very different, from, say, the character in Magnolia. That's the point of the choice of the movies, is that as an actor, you can really try to do a lot of things you want to, and work in a lot of different styles with a lot of different directors and stories and periods. That's really one of the joys of the profession I'm in, is that you gotta really make those decisions to make that happen.

You made a documentary, The Last Party, about the 2000 presidential election. What did you learn from that?

I made that documentary more for myself and people like me--meaning people who want to learn more about what goes on. You're dealing with the campaign, and watching nominees running for president, how to follow it and inform yourself and really know what's going on, and all the places you can go and look to learn those things. (You) become somebody who actually gets excited by the voting process and doesn't feel alienated from it or distanced from it, and learn from the mistakes and be aware of them to make a healthier choice. There's nothing in there that anyone doesn't know. And if somebody doesn't know, they should find out. If you're not interested, then you're missing out. So pick up a paper and read it; go online; go to the rallies that you hear about; hear the information; subscribe to some periodicals that some other people don't read; get The Nation, pick up your free newspapers that are going to be a little more radical than the next. That's all I'm interested in, is that people are interested in that kind of thing, whether it's conservative or liberal, at least know what you're talking about. If you don't, be curious to know.

And what's it like to kiss Mark Wahlberg?

It's fun. Yeah.

Not a bad kisser then?

No, no ...

Where would you like to see American films go now?

I don't know. I just know that I think it's a good time right now. I think you're really seeing right now the big-budget Hollywood films faltering because of the success of the films that aren't like that. I think you're seeing people like Spike Jonze and those people that have come in--Paul Thomas Anderson, Coen brothers, directors who have come in over the past 10 years who really staked a claim in the commercial big-budget market with very independent artful fare, and made that another option. It's not a given that a big-budget movie with big stars is going to make the money. Doesn't seem to be happening the way that it used to, through the '80s and even through part of the '90s. So what I'd like to see is more of what's happening, and if you're gonna make that film, that big ol' commercial film, make it like Bad News Bears.

Like, with a real script?

Yeah. Bad News Bears is so believable. I watch that movie and I feel like I'm 10 again. There's sprinklers going on, and the cut lawn, and how wonderfully believable those kids are, and how awful they are. It's just fantastic.

So they're willing to show something a little disturbing, I guess.

Well, no, I don't think it's even disturbing, I think it's just a certain amount of truth. You know, truth gets cut out for the benefit of a story, or not to offend people. The film's not disturbing; the film's just incredibly truthful. The film deals honestly with the fact of what it's like to be a child in the suburbs involved in Little League. It's really competitive. Adults get really nasty when that happens. It's true, and it's part of our world, so why are we gonna be so shocked by it? I think it's the exact opposite of disturbing; it's heartwarming. That film ends up being incredibly heartwarming.

And you think we would lose a lot of those elements because the studios are worried about offending someone?

I think so. I think you're not going to see a big-budget film with an adult drinking a beer, smoking a cigar, with the top down, and five kids in the car. That ain't happening today unless it's in independent fare. That's not going to come out of a major studio.

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