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Q&A: Philip Seymour Hoffman

The Oscar-winning actor stars in and directs "Jack Goes Boating" and tries not to be average

February 02, 2014|By Matt Pais, @mattpais | RedEye

Whether he’s playing a gay boom mic operator in “Boogie Nights” or rock critic Lester Bangs in “Almost Famous,” an evil arms dealer in “Mission: Impossible III” or a priest in hot water in “Doubt,” Philip Seymour Hoffman pretty much always convinces. Yet the New York native actor says there’s not one performance, including his Oscar-winning turn in “Capote,” that wouldn’t strike him as a combination of parts that were OK and “parts that I might loathe.”

“Every film I would watch it would be a roller-coaster ride of emotions,” says Hoffman, 43. “’That was bad!’ Or ‘That’s pretty good.’ Or ‘I remember that being good; now I don’t like it.’”

Clearly the actor’s very familiar with examining his own performances. Something new for Hoffman, who has directed numerous plays including “The Long Red Road” earlier this year at the Goodman Theatre, is directing movies. For the indie drama “Jack Goes Boating,” opening Sept. 24, Hoffman not only reprises the starring role of Jack from the Off Broadway play but takes a shot in the director’s chair as well. That doesn’t get in the way of another credible performance from Hoffman, who turns Jack, a lonely limo driver trying to find the right words to get close to a funeral home employee (Amy Ryan), into a sad but sympathetic guy who needs someone to pull him out of his rut.

At the Elysian Hotel Hoffman talked about the challenge of directing himself, avoiding post-Oscar mistakes and starring with Zac Efron in a musical in which they play each other.

When you were in Chicago directing “The Long Red Road,” what did you like doing when you weren’t working?

God, you know it felt like I was at the Goodman Theatre most of the time. I remember going to Steppenwolf and checking out a show there. I remember the last time I was here I went to Lookingglass. I do try to do that when I’m here is to check out some of the companies because I really enjoy their work. And then just try to get around. I remember when I was here last time I was like, “I want to find a great barbershop ‘cause I know that will force me to go to an area of Chicago I haven’t been to yet.” … It’s a great city, but I was working a lot. I was at the theater six days a week … I think I ate about 10 billion hot dogs at a place [called] Portillo’s. Like A LOT. I ate there way more than I think I should have, but I couldn’t help it.

With mustard or ketchup?

I think both. I don’t know. I just said “With everything.” [Laughs] They had great French fries. Hot dogs are serious here; I love it.

Some people, not me, will boot you out of the city if you put ketchup on a hot dog.

Oh, really. I remember when I first got a hot dog from there, I was like, “That’s a serious hot dog. I don’t want to screw it up.”

You didn’t feel any anger towards you for putting ketchup on?

No, I think I put ketchup on in hiding. Back in my room or something.

How challenging was it to direct an actor like Philip Seymour Hoffman in “Jack Goes Boating”?

[Laughs] He’s a nightmare that guy. Directing yourself isn’t an easy task. I really wouldn’t want to do it again. I guess never say never but … It’s very enjoyable, directing. I think in a certain sense I was very spoiled by the people I had around me. But I really enjoyed the process of directing the film. When I had to act it took away from the enjoyment of having to direct. That’s a whole other ball of wax. You have to stop being a director. You stop thinking that way and you have to start thinking another way. It’s very different. I’d love the opportunity to direct a film where I didn’t have to worry about that.

Jack can’t swim. What’s something many people can do that was never easy for you?

There’s things I never really learned how to do. I never learned how to ice skate, which is crazy ‘cause I grew up in Rochester, New York, which winters are huge there. I remember skating a little bit as a kid but I never really did learn. I never really did learn how to ski. I learned how to snowboard later in life, but I never really learned how to ski.

If we went ice-skating right now, what would it be like?

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