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Philip Seymour Hoffman Talks About "25th Hour"
by Rebecca Murray and Fred Topel

Edward Norton, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Spike Lee
on the set of "25th Hour"
Photo©Touchstone Pictures - All Rights Reserved.

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• Interview with Rosario Dawson ('Naturelle Riviera')
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"25th Hour" director Spike Lee has long been fan of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. “When you see people you like, you know that you want to work with them. Philip is one of those people that I wanted to work with. I was patient because it always should be the right role.”

Lee cast Hoffman as one of Edward Norton's close friends after discussing Hoffman with Norton. Norton gave the director an unqualified endorsement of Hoffman's abilities. “I have admired Phillip’s work for a long time,” says Norton. “He is one of the best actors of our generation. We didn’t actually work much together in ‘Red Dragon’ and I kept thinking to myself that it would be really nice to do something more substantive with him. And this turned out to be the next thing.”


You directed Anna Paquin in a play. How did that relationship help with the interaction between your characters in this movie?
Working with her in the play was fantastic and then working with her as an actor was actually kind of seeing something through to its fruition. I love working with Anna so it's all good (laughing).

When you play characters with questionable obsessions, do you have to come up with some way to sympathize with them, or to justify their obsessions?
I do. I sympathize with this guy completely. I don't think it's very questionable with this guy; I don't think it's crazy. I think that this guy has no interest in sleeping with underage girls at all. I think this is an obsession he has with one specific girl for very specific reasons that the minute he kisses her, evaporate very quickly. I didn't see it as something I had to justify. In fact, I tried very hard to make sure that that story was told and not the dirty old man story, which I don't think it is.

What do you think are the reasons he is attracted to her?
Because she stands for everything that he'll never be and never was, which is somebody who is brave. She's got the tattoo and the bellybutton ring, and the way she dresses; she's very open with her sexuality and she's very confident. She's sexy and she's all these things that he never was and never will be. None of those girls were ever attracted to him and never will be. I think it just prays on his own insecurities, which creates an obsession, which creates this thing. I think that that's how I looked at it. I think that's how it is.

In the book that's how it is. He keeps walking around thinking, “Is there something wrong with me?” He's more disturbed by his attraction to this 17 year-old than really anyone else is. He brings it up in the book and in the screenplay. I think it's humorous how he brings it up to his two friends and his two friends are like, “What's your problem? Get over it. Move on.” That's what tells you that it's not about that; it's about this other thing that he's not coming to terms with, which is that he's created a prison of fear in his life. The minute I kiss her that becomes incredibly obvious because it's immediately inappropriate, immediately wrong, immediately not whatever he thought it might be. I think that's very clear in the movie, the way that it's shot.

Is the dog thing between your character and Edward Norton's character, Monty, a 'passing of the torch?'
Yes. I think it's also a way to be very clear about what his story is. I think that the dog is Monty giving him a piece of himself. Saying, “I think I know you know you need a piece of myself, and I need a piece of you.” I think he needs a piece of who I am, too. I think there's an admiration between the two characters, which is pretty great because I think they both want what the other has in a weird way. So I think yes, the dog is a gift of him, from him.

Is the fact that directors want to work with you over and over again a bit of a safety net for you?
There's only a couple of directors I've worked with more than once, actually. There's Paul (Thomas Anderson) and Anthony Minghella, but I understand the question. I think I'm like any actor, most actors it's kind of inbred in you that you're never going to work again even if you are working a lot. It's just the way it is because you spend so much time before you start working regularly, trying to get work, and feeling like no one will ever hire you. When you finally get there, you still feel this feeling. There's also the fickleness of the business and the fickleness of this country. It's like everyone loves people to go down and go up again, and then go down again. It's the way the business stays afloat, in a weird way. You always think like, "Well, eventually I'm not going to be working for one reason or another." I never really feel like, "Okay, gosh, I have working coming to me because of that." But I do feel that way about Paul.

Right now, I think that if Paul didn't use me in another film for the rest of his life, it wouldn't matter. You know what I mean? I think that we're so close and that we've done a lot of work together and he doesn't owe me anything.

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