Philip Seymour Hoffman joins the ranks of actors who have moved into directing with ‘Jack Goes Boating’, a sweet indie drama about two couples hitting middle age, which opens next month. Coincidentally, this week sees Hoffman taking a supporting role in political drama ‘The Ides of March’ as a put-upon campaign manager in the latest from another successful multi-hyphenate, George Clooney. Here, Hoffman talks about both, as well as new projects, including the eagerly awaited ‘The Master’ from Paul Thomas Anderson.
So, how did you get involved with ‘The Ides of March’?
‘George texted me about it, I called him, read it, thought it was good. It was an interesting part, one I hadn’t played before. The movie’s about idealism mixed with the corruption that’s inevitable when you’re trying to win an election at all costs.’
Would you agree that it’s a slightly thankless role?
He’s a quiet, thoughtful guy trapped between two much bigger personalities (Clooney and Ryan Gosling)... ‘So you think the parts I play should be based on looking good? He’s the guy pulling all the strings, you think he’s not important? That’s why you play parts, because they’re not what you’ve done, they’re not what’s expected. People think this is the guy who gets screwed, but this is the guy who’s going to sleep well at night. He could be you. He could be anybody. And that was what interested me.’
How do you feel about the state of US politics at the moment?
‘It’s kind of impossible to deal with right now, to the point where I’ve shut down a little. But I don’t think the movie is about political affiliations, it’s about other things. It’s about what you have to protect, how you have to manoeuvre, how you have to compromise, all the things you have to do because you want something. And that can exist anywhere. I don’t look at this film as a representation of what’s wrong with politics, it’s a representation of how you lose your soul and what it takes to get it back.’
You’ve also just directed your first movie. What made you want to take on that mantle?
‘I was acting in the play “Jack Goes Boating”, and producing it through my theatre company. The production company Big Beach saw the play and thought it would be a good film, so approached us about it. It was a logical extension of what I’d been doing with the company for a while.’
For ‘Jack Goes Boating’, you went through a lengthy writing and workshopping process, then you put on the play, then made a movie. How did you keep it fresh?
‘From the play to the film, I knew the dramatic punch could be more potent. We had another opportunity to explore what the story is about. It’s not solely about people falling in love or a relationship falling apart, it’s about that elusive question: is my life working? What is this? What are we doing? That kind of elusive, awful meditative question that you have, especially when you get into your forties. The wear and tear of life starts to makes you think in a way you haven’t before, and the film is about four people being forced to make choices, to answer those questions the best they can. And it’s painful. All that stuff was in the play but I think we were able to make it a little bit sharper and more potent in the film.’
What can you tell me about ‘The Master’?
‘We shot it. What it’ll end up being, I really don’t know. I’ve had a great summer, though. It was really hard, but creative.’
There were rumours that the film was going to be, in some way, inspired by Scientology...
‘I think anyone who tries to assume what the movie will be is a fool. This is something Paul has created. It’s about the head of a movement, but he’s not the central character. It’s inspired by all those movements in the ’60s, it’s not a film about Scientology, I don’t think that’s something I’d really want to do. It’s not “The L Ron Hubbard Story”.’
And what about another of your upcoming projects, ‘A Late Quartet’?
‘They’re finishing editing. I’ve seen a few cuts, and it could be beautiful. It’s me, Catherine Keener and Christopher Walken –we play members of a string quartet. I had to learn to play the violin, which was pretty cool. It’s a dramatic piece, but not like any others I’ve been doing.’
So have you joined the ranks of celebrity Christopher Walken impersonators yet?
‘No, I’m not good at it. Everybody does it. Well, everyone tries to do it!’