As if playing Truman Capote weren’t intimidating enough, Philip Seymour Hoffman stumbled across an old TV appearance of the infamous gadfly chastising Hoffman’s entire profession. “He was calling all actors stupid,” Hoffman remembers. “He was saying, ‘Olivier is one of the dumbest men I’ve ever met.’ That Brando is dumb as a post! In the seventies! After Godfather! Jesus Christ!”
But researching the author, the actor found something meatier than the “flashy raconteur on the talk-show circuit,” says Hoffman. “It wasn’t his flamboyance, it was the way he captivated people with nothing else but his intelligence and his wit. He just had this ability to size up a room: Within ten minutes, he’d immediately seem like a long-lost friend and completely disarm you.”
Even if you were a murderer. Bennett Miller’s film Capote concerns the author’s most ambitious act of charm: the difficult reporting he performed while researching his “nonfiction novel” In Cold Blood, the landmark story of the brutal murder of a midwestern family. There is a more lurid Capote biopic in the works, by director Douglas McGrath, that entertains tabloid rumors that Capote slept with murderer Perry Smith. For Hoffman, such speculation is a red herring. “Sex on death row?” Hoffman asks. “How do you do that?”
Instead, he argues that the real story is Capote’s mastery of the art of psychological seduction. His Capote is manipulative, brilliant, and brutally ambitious, exploiting his subjects to push forward his career—even rooting for their deaths, since execution would provide a perfect ending for his book. “I was adamant that we couldn’t let Truman off the hook, and it’s not a pretty picture,” says Hoffman. “He divulges all these personal intimacies, he shows Perry a picture of himself as a child, then looks him in the eye and lies. That’s awful—way more awful than a blow job in the corner.”
Directed by Bennett Miller
Sony Pictures Classics
opens September 30 (R).