I feel kind of devastated by this news of Phillip Seymour Hoffman's death. Not only was he an incredible actor, but he is directly tied to my first working film experience. He was in the film Empire Falls, and I was a production assistant--my first big feature. There were a lot of big name actors, for the time--Helen Hunt, Ed Harris, Paul Newman, Joanne Woodword, Robin Wright, Aidan Quinn, and PSH. The three months it took to film, were three months of me forming my first thoughts about Hollywood. I have a lot of crazy stories from that film--way more than I can tell here--or that I can share in a public forum like this. I got to see the drug use on set, I saw the excess of a "Hollywood" production. I almost got fired when they put me in charge of the stand-ins and Helen Hunt's stand-in disappeared and I couldn't find her anywhere. But the more they trusted me, the more I got to do, and eventually got to be right on set. It was my first time being that close to real "celebrity" and it wasn't always a pretty sight. But Phillip Seymour Hoffman was the first one I spoke to, on the first day. In my state of terror, I stood by the craft service table at 6am and when I turned he was standing beside me and said "Good morning" as he squeezed oranges for juice. I nodded and turned away fast. I wasn't sure what to say, or what was wrong to say, or if I was even supposed to talk to him. I didn't want to get fired the first day, so I chose not to interact. Another day he stood behind me at the breakfast truck (there was a lot of food involved on this shoot). He was the ONLY actor who got his own food instead of having it brought to him. Although I had an internal battle going on about how he's just a person! I can talk to a person! And, he's a famous person and he probably doesn't want to talk! --I asked him how he was and we chatted for a bit. He was the most down to earth, the most gracious and the most real. I've learned a lot about actors since then, and I understand their process on set a lot better, but he deserved a million Academy Awards just for being such a decent human being.
Another time, in Kennebunk, we were filming at a hotel and he just sat on the stairs and talked to a couple of us and I remember him saying that people always asked why he wasn't married and how it bothered him. Another day, during our down time when there's nothing to do except to be quiet and yell "Rolling! Cut!" when you hear it in your ear piece, I sat on a stone wall just outside the scene they were filming inside. Phillip would come outside during cuts and smoke a cigarette and walk in a circle and talk to himself. I pretended to be deeply engrossed in the call sheet so I wouldn't bother him, but I was amazed at the intensity and the frame of mind he had to get himself into. I think if he hadn't been in this film, my views on production and set life would be even more cynical than they are now. I struggled at the time, with questioning whether or not you could still be a good person and do this kind of work, because there's a lot of shady shit that goes on. I still regret not telling him about my favorite scene of him ever. I didn't dare to at the time because I wasn't sure if he would see the humor in it or be offended. I laughed so hard when he yells at Adam Sandler "Shut up! Shut the fuck up!" over and over again in Punch Drunk Love. His acting is worth so much more than this scene, but no one else could bring the same hilarity to it. Anyway, I feel honored to have been able to see him work first-hand and that he was the first actor I met, my hands trembling as he made freshly squeezed orange juice at the craft service table, half awake at 6am, here in Maine. Truly honored and so saddened by this news. Thanks for being my first film experience, Phillip!