Philip Seymour Hoffman On Happiness

Learning how to die is therefore learning how to live

Simon Critchley

Interview by

December 17, 2012
Recorded live at the Rubin Museum of Art

Hear the full conversation


Philip Seymour Hoffman:

Born on July 23, 1967 in Fairport, New York, a suburb of Rochester. His parents divorced when he was young.

In accepting the Academy Award for Best Actor in 2006, Hoffman said: “My mom’s name is Marilyn O’Connor and she’s here tonight, and I’d like if you see her tonight to congratulate her, because she brought up four kids alone and she deserves a congratulations for that.”

Hoffman turned to acting in high school after he suffered a wrestling injury.

He made is film debut in 1992 in Scent of a Woman with Al Pacino.

“If you’re a human being walking the earth, you’re weird, you’re strange, you’re psychologically challenged…. You probably don’t think you’re as attractive as you are.’” – Hoffman in 2006.

New York City coroner’s report: Hoffman died on February 2, 2014 of acute mixed drug intoxication, including heroin, cocaine, benzodiazepines and amphetamine.

Hoffman is survived by his two daughters and a son.

Animated Transcript

[Music: Scappare di Casa “Never Ending Story”]

Philip Seymour Hoffman: I would definitely say pleasure is not happiness. Because I think I kill pleasure. Like I take too much of it in, and therefore make it un-pleasurable, like too much coffee, and you’re miserable. I do that to pleasure often. So I don’t… There is no pleasure that I haven’t actually made myself sick on.

[Music: Scappare di Casa “Never Ending Story”]

Philip Seymour Hoffman: I have thought a lot about this actually in my life lately to be honest, and have gotten nowhere with it, in a way that… meaning that there’s a period of time in your life where I kind of look back and I think, “Was I happy? Or was I just not aware?” It seems like a very basic question, but I really do think you reach a time where you go, “I don’t know. It really does up-end a lot of things in your own life and in your own mind. But In my life now I think… I have three children and I think I’m happy when I’m with them and they’re okay. When I see them enjoying each other in front of me, and then they let me enjoy them in turn. That brings a feeling which I would say is happiness. Now I don’t know why. I mean I do know why, obviously, on the surface because they’re my kids, but it is a certain thing that happens, and I’m like, right now. Right now. This is it.

[Music: Eet “Lungfish”]

Philip Seymour Hoffman: But there are moments when something else creeps in there. And I’m not conscious of the love. I’m conscious of something else, which happens to be my own childhood. So all of a sudden, they start to reflect something other than what I hoped my childhood to be. Being with a kid always takes you to being a kid somehow, and they really are showing me a childhood I might not have had in some way. But if something else creeps in, it becomes a different kind of reflection. It’s of your shortcomings, your inadequacies, your incapabilities, your powerlessness, and on and on and on, which wakens up a whole other thing. That’s what I mean about happiness. Does it mean it ends, it ended? That gets so discouraging to me, about well, “What is this thing?”

[Music: Eet “Lungfish”]

Philip Seymour Hoffman: You know how people always say life is short. That’s kind of the phrase. Life is short. Time is short. And it does. As we get older, time does quicken. It’s long, and it’s long pertaining to that thought, that the past is not done with you because you can’t rid of it. And so therefore, it just starts to drag. You get a glimpse of what you might have wanted, or what it could’ve been, and you can start to have it right here in your life now, but then the past does creep in pretty quickly. And that is a very difficult one, on how to keep it there and not have it kind of ruin it.

[Music: Jahzzar “Railroad’s Whiskey Co”]

Simon Critchley: If we’re so keen on being happy, why do we spend so much time in the dark watching actors as brilliant as you portraying miserable creatures? What’s going on there?

Philip Seymour Hoffman: Any great novel that I can think of is actually drawing a character or narrative in such a way that is so brutally honest, in a way that you’ve thought, “oh, god, I never would have put it that way, but that’s it.” All of the sudden you come across it in a book, in such a way that you’re relieved that somebody actually got it down on paper. And you’re grateful because it is that awful or that brutal. And therefore, that memorable. And that’s why I’m talking to you about it, because if I don’t allow people to somehow identify with the worst inside themselves, they never have a chance at actually walking out with that person in their heart, or in their minds. They’re too easy to dismiss. It’s like it might not be the thing they’ll admit to a friend, you know what I mean. But if you’re honest, you kind of probably do. I do, and I know I can’t be that wildly different from everyone in this room. You know what I mean. I identify with a lot of things that I’ve done in the movies. It doesn’t mean I’ve literally done them. It’s identify with them. I identify with their source.

[Music: Noi “Everything is Changing”]

Philip Seymour Hoffman: That’s the thing with meditation too, right? If you meditate, every day, and you really get into meditation, meditation is actually coming right up to the lip of death and saying, “I’m here. I’m scared. I’m here.” That that’s life. If you can actually live in that place, that’s what happens. Right? It’s the same kind of thing that learning how to die, is therefore learning how to live.

[Music: Noi “Everything is Changing”]

Simon Critchley: Okay. So, happy?

Philip: Oh, god. When I am sitting out there I’m like, “I am the stupidest man in the room and I am about to step up on that stage.” That is what I think at that time and I go, Tthat has a lot to do with what we are about to talk about.” You know that I would think that. You know that I am going to talk about something that anyone would ever have to take seriously enough to incorporate into their own thoughts. But… so don’t listen.

The Full Conversation

Photo Credits:

Music Credits:

Never ending story (Scappare di Casa) / CC BY-NC 3.0
Lungfish (Eet) / CC BY-NC-SA 3.0
Railroad’s Whiskey Co (Jahzzar) / CC BY-SA 3.0
Everything Is Changing (Noi) / CC BY 3.0