There is one moment in the recent history of the Academy Awards that has haunted me. In 2006 Heath Ledger did NOT win Best Actor for Brokeback Mountain. He absolutely should have won. It is one of the finest pieces of acting I have ever seen, in a film I consider to be a masterpiece. It haunted me even more so after Ledger’s untimely, tragic death. I feared that this work would not be remembered and celebrated enough. Had he won, it would be an “Oscar winning” performance that would be sought out by movie enthusiasts for generations to come.
As crazy as it may sound, Heath Ledger not getting that Oscar has actually made my heart ache.
But now my heart aches more deeply. My heart has been flipped upside down. The actor who won in 2006 instead of Heath Ledger was Philip Seymour Hoffman. He won for Capote. It was a worthy portrayal, of course. His work was always, always magnificent.
Now in the microcosm of my World, a place where film and acting and art occupy a large, important space, this perceived Oscar injustice becomes thoroughly justified. It feels right that Hoffman won and had that moment, I am hopeful that he truly felt the respect he rightfully earned from his peers.
Of course none of this matters. Who cares about Oscars? What matters is that two exceptional actors are gone. It matters most that their loved ones have lost someone so dear and are suffering. I didn’t know these men. But I knew their work. They shared their vulnerability, their craft. They were courageous artists. They made the World better in some way and that is why we feel it so personally when they are gone.
Philip Seymour Hoffman leaves behind a tremendous body of work. He always made such interesting choices, not only in the characters he played but also in how he played them. He was captivating every time. The instant he appeared on screen (or stage) you knew you were in for something unique. But as quirky or big as some of his characters were, he was always honest. Never once did he stray into caricature. He is quoted as saying:
“Actors are responsible to the people we play. I don’t label or judge. I just play them as honestly and expressively and creatively as I can, in the hope that people who ordinarily turn their heads in disgust instead think, ‘What I thought I’d feel about that guy, I don’t totally feel right now'”
If you go on IMDB, you will see just how many films he made and in each of those you will see him being 100% responsible to the characters he created. In particular check out Capote, Flawless, Boogie Nights, Doubt and Almost Famous.
Heath Ledger died so young, we were only just beginning to witness what he was capable of. His acting was so good you couldn’t see it. Seamless and truthful. Quiet and intense.
Daniel Day Lewis, when winning a SAG award shortly after Ledger’s death, paid tribute to him beautifully. Watch that here, it is eloquent and precisely true.
Philip Seymour Hoffman and Heath Ledger will always be linked in my mind because of the 2006 Oscars, and now, sadly because of their tragic early departures. But what truly links them is stellar, inspirational work. I am forever grateful to them for sharing themselves so generously with us. I am ever so sorry for the great loss their families and friends have endured.
Photo courtesy of www.ciudad.com.ar