Philip Seymour Hoffman,
and Tom Noonan in Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche,
The Interview with Philip Seymour Hoffman
Hoffman is a fascinating actor;
very craft conscious and not really interested in
speaking about interpretations of the film, which
too much of the roundtable was devoted to. Here
are the most interesting excerpts.
Question: What were the unique
challenges of doing this film?
Seymour Hoffman: It covers a large expanse
of a person’s life. I was hitting all the
peaks and valleys of a persons life in nine or ten
weeks…to try to go through that many break-ups
and losing people and failing…with the small
successes and small joys that were mixed in--but
not many days go by where you’d have to tackle
Question: What is your take on
Seymour Hoffman: It’s really a film
about a man’s life--a man who makes his work
his life and is in the pursuit of doing something
great, something important…finding out something
special, because he really wants his wife and child
back. He’s heartbroken and that’s really
what you’re watching.
Question: You’ve worked
with John Patrick Shanley (on the upcoming Doubt),
another writer directing his own work. How different
was the process with him versus with Charlie.
Seymour Hoffman: Not a lot different. We
rehearsed with Shanley…we had a smaller cast.
They’re both very different people about what
they’re writing about and what they want to
do and what they’re creating--but actually
they’re both writers who don’t direct.
But they both behave and did the job as if they’d
been doing it forever…they’re both actor’s
Question: Does it help the process
when you’re working with a director who is
an actor as well and/or has a background in theatre.
Seymour Hoffman:I think it does help. I think
it helps that if you’re a director that has
an affinity for acting and you understand how the
actor’s mind works, then that’s a huge
deal. If you don’t know what the hell that
is, it’s a bit disconcerting. I’ve worked
with directors that really don’t understand
what an actor does or how they prepare…and
they just wish you’d do it and not bother
Question: How do you split your
time between theatre and film?
Seymour Hoffman: It’s pretty much half
and half. I was just in London directing a play.
I spend maybe even more time in the theatre than
I do in film.
Catherine Keener in Synecdoche,
Philip Seymour Hoffman and
The Interview with Charlie Kaufman
& Catherine Keener
In a twist that Charlie Kaufman
could appreciate, speaking with Kaufman & Catherine
Keener, at first, reminded me of the interview with
Lily Tomlin and Meryl Streep when they were promoting
Robert Altman’s last film A Prairie Home
Companion. They got along smashingly, finishing
each other’s sentences and it was obvious
they had a lot of respect for one another.
There was press babble that Keener
would be doing all the gabbing because the shy Kaufman
doesn’t enjoy the media spotlight, but as
the interview progressed it became apparent that
Kaufman was happy and willing to speak about his
film, rather effusively.
Question: How was it working together?
Keener: It was great. It was perfect.
Kaufman: …With Phil and Catherine we
did a lot of improvisation beforehand and even during
the shoot to try and establish the history of this
couple which was very important.
Keener: And we just hung out.
Kaufman: And we hung out.
Kaufman: And they already knew each other.
Keener: We were friends.
Kaufman: In terms of working with the actors
and the crew…there’s not a blanket way
to deal with people. You figure out who it is you’re
talking to and what it is they need from you and
you give that to them. And different people need
Keener: Everybody wanted to do his or her
best work for Charlie within this too-small budget.
Everyone worked so much harder with not as-much
money to make it perfect…fantastic.
Kaufman: Everybody did seem to be there--crew
member and cast member--because they wanted to be
there. And there was a lot of enthusiasm for the
Question: How did you feel about
Kaufman: I cast the best actors in the world.
Not only are they the best actors but they’re
also the nicest people. I was really nervous about
having, like, a troubled person. I had too much
to do and was worried about having to deal with
a personality issue. Some of the people I knew.
I knew Catherine and some of the others I had directed
Keener: We’d be in the makeup trailer
and look down and—oh my God—there are
four other amazing women you never get in a movie.
Usually they’re all guys and one chick. Here
I’m working with these heavyweights and they’re
all women, it’s just great…it’s
Question: Speak about Catherine’s
great impression on the film even when her scenes
are over (after the first quarter).
Kaufman: They (Philip and Catherine) knew
each other and they love each other. We worked a
lot on the history of that couple. We shot Catherine’s
stuff first so it did set the roots for everything
that happens to Phil afterwards. And because the
production was so dense in what we had to do and
it was a forty-five day shoot and she was gone after
two weeks, it became really clear, after a few days,
that she had been gone forever. We both love her
and we both missed her. And she was gone and she
doesn’t ever come back, and it was really
felt. And it helped inform a lot of the loneliness.
It was kind of serendipitous choice that we did
Keener: It’s interesting, though, because
in my world I felt the same way.
Question: Do you want to direct
Question: Is it harder than writing?
No. It’s harder in terms
of getting up in the morning…but they’re
different jobs and they’re different things
that are different about them. In some ways directing
is simpler because your day is scheduled…
There’s a lot of self-motivating required
in writing which is enormously difficult. And it’s
lonely. It’s very different. Directing is
a managerial thing and it’s an interpretational
thing. And writing is a creation type of thing,
starting with nothing and figuring out how to form
something. I like them both and I like the idea
of one serving the other…
Question: How long did this take
Kaufman: This took about two years to write.
That’s what Eternal Sunshine took.
I never know where I’m going. But that’s
part of the process to allow for discovery in the
Question: Would you encourage
Kaufman: I hope that people do want to see
Keener: I have to say it’s worth seeing
again and I don’t usually like to see things
I’m in. I do it because I feel responsible,
but this movie I’ve seen more than once and
I love it.
Kaufman: It’s designed to reward repeat
viewing. It’s pretty densely layered.