Philip Seymour Hoffman: An acting 'treasure' and the roles that defined him

Last month, Phillip Seymour Hoffman posed for a portrait at the Sundance Film Festival.
Last month, Phillip Seymour Hoffman posed for a portrait at the Sundance Film Festival.Victoria Will / Invision / AP file

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By Maria Elena Fernandez and Phil Helsel

Philip Seymour Hoffman was hailed as one of the best actors of our time by his peers, his industry, and the general public. The 46-year-old Oscar winner and Tony nominee began acting in high school, where he played Willy Loman in "Death of a Salesman," a role he would reprise on Broadway in 2012 and earn his third Tony nomination. As a young actor, he caught his big break on a 1991 episode of Law & Order in which he played a defendant in a gang-rape case. 

Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead in his New York City apartment at the age of 46.

He went on to dazzle both on the big screen and on stage, with memorable genre-crossing roles that defied typecasting. He was as brilliant in "Capote," for which he earned an Oscar, as he was a standout in "Boogie Nights" or "The Big Lebowski." Jeff Bridges, who starred in "Lebowski" issued a statement about Hoffman's death, praising him as "a wonderful guy" and "a real treasure." Hoffman also did franchise well, most recently, as the Games puppet master Plutarch Heavensbee in the recent “Hunger Games: Catching Fire.”

Hoffman earned three other Oscar nominations and three Tony nominations, but he never became a "movie star," and he never saw himself as being on top of his game. As he told CBS News in 2012: "The thing about acting is that whenever you start to think you’re good at it, something happens and you're like, oh god that was really bad. "Acting is not something you get good at and stay good at."

The world disagrees, at least, where he was concerned. Here are a few of Hoffman's best roles.

"Boogie Nights," 1997
On playing awkward gay porn fanboy Scotty, Hoffman told CBS News: "Scotty’s got some issues, yeah, As tormented as that guy is, I had the best time in the world. I had a great time. We had a great time. That was a great, great job."

"The Talented Mr. Ripley," 1999
Hoffman stole the movie playing the creepy Freddie, who is killed by Tom Ripley (Matt Damon). But he wasn't completely comfortable with the attention he was getting. "You get more recognition, yeah, it’s all good," he said at a press junket for the film. "I don’t want to make more out of it than it is or assume that it’s more than what it is. But obviously it's getting better and that’s good."

"Capote," 2005
When Hoffman was offered the role of eccentric writer Truman Capote, he wasn't sure he wanted it. He didn't think he could pull it off. 

"I, like everyone else, was why would I be the guy to play that part? I’m so far away from him in so many different ways...Then you realize that your guts leads the way." 

It led to an Oscar for best lead actor. 

"Charlie Wilson's War," 2007
As a potty-mouthed wisecracking CIA agent Gust Avrakotos, Hoffman earned a supporting actor Oscar nomination.

"Doubt," 2008
Hoffman earned another supporting actor Oscar nomination playing a priest who is accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a boy opposite Meryl Streep.

"The Master," 2012
Hoffman's final Oscar nomination came in his role opposite Joaquin Phoenix playing a charismatic cult leader.