Judging Philip Seymour Hoffman
Philip Seymour Hoffman was one of my all-time favorite actors. The ability to disappear into a role is a gift, one that has to extract a high price on the human being with that gift.
That’s what I’m telling myself anyway, because he left the stage before he had the chance to star in my book-to-movie.
I wonder what Hoffman is thinking right now. Is he in some Nowhere place, standing off to one side? Does he see the news coverage? Perhaps worry that people like me will never see him in a movie without imagining him on the bathroom floor with a needle in his left arm? Will that taint his legacy, if he even has one after the frenzy over his death is forgotten?
What’s weird is this: Meriwether Lewis also died too young. Maybe by his own hand, or at the wrong end of someone else’s gun.
Whatever anyone says, our American news media has always been sensationalist. The newspapers and pamphlets of 1809 screeched about Lewis’s ‘suicide’ and speculated about the details of his final hours. When they didn’t have information, they filled in the blanks.
Lewis was bigger in his day than Philip Seymour Hoffman. He was a celebrity akin to Katy Perry or Lady Gaga, but he was also a national hero who served his government. Godson of President Thomas Jefferson. A federal employee.
His death was pronounced a suicide without a federal investigation. He was buried without a funeral, in an unmarked grave that was too shallow to hold him. Wild boars found him, though. Parts of him made for a tasty meal.
If he were in that Nowhere place, standing on the sidelines watching what happened to him after he died, do you think he would worry about how he was remembered? A man of mind-boggling accomplishment, shunned for suppositions about how he might have died?
I never saw Philip Seymour Hoffman as Meriwether Lewis. Oh no. He was always my bad guy. When I wrote the words that became the Judge, it was Hoffman’s voice I heard, his facial expressions and ticks I studied. I wanted to create a character that was worthy of his talent.
I’m sorry we’ll never know.
To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis will be available on March 1, 2014 from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBook and Kobo. The amazing tintype photo of Philip Seymour Hoffman is by Victoria Will/Invision/AP.