- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 19, 2005

TORONTO - The hesitation Philip Seymour Hoffman felt about playing Truman Capote was not unlike the uncertainty audiences might feel over seeing a movie about the man who wrote the true-crime classic “In Cold Blood.”

Mr. Hoffman wondered how he would hold up in the title role of “Capote,” impersonating the author’s weirdly effete, self-important mannerisms and cadences, and he questioned whether moviegoers would want to watch him do it.

“I did have hesitations and just knew that if I made the story the main character and really worked on that to fulfill it in a very personal and soulful way, that all the technical stuff about playing him would become secondary for people watching the movie,” Mr. Hoffman says.

The result could be a breakout lead performance for Mr. Hoffman, a character actor who has earned enormous respect with idiosyncratic supporting turns in such movies as “Happiness,” “Almost Famous,” “Punch-Drunk Love,” “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and “Magnolia.”

Mr. Hoffman, 38, undergoes a remarkable transformation as the bespectacled, dapper Mr. Capote — a raconteur with a wily, grandiose style of talking and a need to ensconce himself at the center of attention.

The performance may put Mr. Hoffman at the forefront of the best-actor race at the Academy Awards the way Jamie Foxx’s portrayal of Ray Charles in “Ray” made him the top contender last year.

Mr. Hoffman recalled growing up seeing Mr. Capote in his unproductive later years, holding forth on TV talk shows in the 1970s. His recollections were hazy, though, until he reacquainted himself with Mr. Capote’s off-putting demeanor by watching interviews and the Albert and David Maysles documentary “A Visit With Truman Capote.”

At that point, having agreed to do the film, Mr. Hoffman says, he began moaning, “Oh, what the hell have I got myself into?”

The film, opening tomorrow, centers on what would become the most agonizing period of Mr. Capote’s life, as he spent more than five years researching “In Cold Blood,” a nonfiction novel about the 1959 murders of the Clutters, a farm family in Kansas.

Mr. Capote, previously known best as the author of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” became obsessed with the killers, particularly Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.). Smith and Dick Hickock (Mark Pellegrino) executed the Clutters after a robbery that nabbed just a few dollars from the family farmhouse.

Aided by author and lifelong pal Harper Lee (Catherine Keener), who later would depict the boyish Mr. Capote in her novel “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Mr. Capote befriends the Kansas investigator (Oscar-winner Chris Cooper) leading the Clutter case, crossing the line from observer to active participant as Smith’s and Hickock’s death-row appeals move through the courts.

Based on Gerald Clarke’s biography, the film depicts Mr. Capote as a man torn between devotion to his lifelong companion, Jack Dunphy (Bruce Greenwood); his perverse love for the killer Smith; and a desire to see the two murderers executed so he would have a suitable ending for his book.

Mr. Hoffman plays Mr. Capote as friend, accessory, artist, manipulator, liar, cheat and sympathizer. After the killers were put to death, “In Cold Blood” was published to great acclaim in 1966, followed a year later by a film version featuring Robert Blake as Perry Smith.

The strain of his research left Mr. Capote broken, a heavy drinker and pill popper whose writing became sporadic and uninspired. Though he published an acclaimed collection of stories a few years before his death in 1984, he generally played the intellectual buffoon in his final two decades.

“Somebody says the other day, at the end of the movie, you feel like Capote committed a crime, and that’s exactly right,” Mr. Hoffman says. “That’s why the film works so well. You really have this sense that he’s the one who committed the crime, and I think deep down inside, that’s how he felt, too. That’s something he could never come to terms with.”

An athlete growing up near Rochester, N.Y., Mr. Hoffman got into acting after he was sidelined by a wrestling injury. An acclaimed stage performer, he moved into small film and TV roles, working his way up to solid supporting parts in “Twister,” “Boogie Nights” and “The Big Lebowski.”

Mr. Hoffman memorably co-starred as a drag queen opposite Robert De Niro in “Flawless” and had the leads in the small independent flicks “Love Liza” and “Owning Mahowny.”

“Capote” is the first of two movies dealing with the author’s “In Cold Blood” years. The second — an as-yet-untitled film starring Toby Jones as Mr. Capote and Sandra Bullock as Harper Lee and featuring Gwyneth Paltrow as singer Peggy Lee — is due out in fall 2006.

By that time, Mr. Hoffman will have moved on to his next gig, playing the villain to Tom Cruise’s heroic agent in next summer’s “Mission: Impossible 3.”

“To play a bad guy in an action movie is something I’ve never done, and I don’t know if I’ll ever do it again. So this is really that opportunity, and it’s the perfect place to do it, perfect people to do it with,” Mr. Hoffman says.

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