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Philip Seymour Hoffman Plays Priest in 'Doubt'

Hoffman Stars with Meryl Streep and Amy Adams in 'Doubt'


Philip Seymour Hoffman Plays Priest in 'Doubt'

Philip Seymour Hoffman in 'Doubt.'

© Miramax Films
Philip Seymour Hoffman had seen John Patrick Shanley's play prior to taking on the role of Father Brendan Flynn in the big screen adaptation of Doubt. He'd also known Shanley for 10 years and Meryl Streep, who plays his onscreen adversary Sister Aloysius, for eight years. In addition, Hoffman had worked with Amy Adams before (in Charlie Wilson's War) and even knew Viola Davis (who has a small but pivotal role as the mother of one of Father Brendan's students) since his 20s, so he was quite comfortable not only signing on to the project, but also on the film's set.

"It was incredible," said Hoffman of the experience of working on Doubt. "I've worked with everybody. I had a rapport and a good rapport with all of them. As dramatic as the film is, it was great fun that was had, I think. It was very serious, you know, the work was, but ultimately the minute we could have fun, we did. We had a lot of laughs and enjoyed each other's company."

Shanley adapted his play for the screen and served as director, his first time behind the camera since 1990's Joe Versus the Volcano. Having watched Doubt performed onstage, Hoffman had this to say about the job Shanley did of making the play into a theatrical film: "It was markedly different, but in what was added kind of. You know, around just the environment and the children and the school and the congregation and the neighborhood. But the play - it was still there. I mean it was a really great adaptation. You didn't lose the essence of it at all."

Shanley's script calls for Hoffman to be familiar with how priests behaved in the 1960s. Asked how much research he did into the Catholic Church during that decade, Hoffman replied, "Just I know this priest now and he told me about what was happening to the Catholic Church in the '60s, and it was very informative and helpful. And then he just kind of told me…he kind of led me though the business of being a priest. The business around Mass and what they do and what they're wearing and what it means and everything, so it was very helpful. Past that, I didn't go in any deeper than that because the play is not really about the Catholic Church. The venue has to be convincing, but ultimately what we're getting at is something that's not about the Catholic Church. It's about something else."

Doubt is being mentioned in the same sentence as 'Oscars', but Hoffman doesn't let that get to him. "I think you just keep going on with your life and you do what you do," said Hoffman about award campaigns and Oscar buzz. "I have things I need to be doing. I just had a third kid like 4 weeks ago, so I know I'm going to…I have work coming up. I know I'm going to have things I need to do, and so that's what I’m thinking about. So if any of that stuff comes into play, I'll answer that when I get to it. Do you know what I mean? Because I don't know how I'll deal with that at all, actually, at this juncture at all."

So at this point in his career, how does Hoffman decide which movies to choose? "It's just time, you know? It's just time," answered Hoffman. "There's things you want to do and there's people you want to be with, and priorities change and all that. That's the challenge: time. Because you can't free yourself up to think seriously about all the things you would like to do, knowing that there's not enough time. You know what I mean? I think that's just everybody's issue as they get older. I think anybody who's entering into middle age understands that. You know, you start to go, 'God, it's just weird how it doesn't seem to be enough time anymore. Why does this feel that way,' you know? It's kind of what Synecdoche is about, you know? And it's like, 'Why am I starting to panic about all that?' So I would say that would really…because I’ve been grateful to be given many opportunities to work with great people and great material and so that hasn't been a problem, you know? It might become again, but it hasn't now. So now it's a time issue."

As for upcoming film projects, Hoffman says he's heard the rumors (many, many, many times) that Christopher Nolan is interested in him as The Penguin in the next Batman movie. "Yeah, for months. No, it's not true and there's no truth to it at all. I don't even know if I've met the director..."

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Doubt hits theaters on December 12 and is rated PG-13 for thematic material.

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