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Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Bay Area Cameo: the A’s, Art Howe and ‘Moneyball’

| February 2, 2014
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Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died Sunday at the age of 46, is shown at Oakland's Paramount Theatre in September 2011 for the premiere of the film "Moneyball." Hoffman portrayed former Oakland A's Manager Art Howe in the film. (Michael Buckner/Getty Images)

Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died Sunday at the age of 46, is shown at Oakland’s Paramount Theatre in September 2011 for the premiere of the film “Moneyball.” Hoffman portrayed former Oakland A’s Manager Art Howe in the film. (Michael Buckner/Getty Images)

Since I don’t see nearly as many movies as a modern human being is expected to, I can’t say I know the Philip Seymour Hoffman canon too well. But given what I saw him in — “The Big Lebowski,” “Almost Famous,” “State and Main,” “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and especially “Capote” — I think my opinion comported with what I perceive to be the general view: The guy could act. On that basis, and considering his age, 46, hearing about his death earlier today was, and is, stunning.

Hoffman had one role in recent years with a prominent Bay Area tie, playing former Oakland A’s Manager Art Howe in “Moneyball.” I don’t think it rated as one of Hoffman’s career highlights.

For as much as I like the A’s and the “Moneyball” story — both the Michael Lewis book about the non-traditional views of A’s General Manager Billy Beane and the way those views have so often come to entertaining life on the field — the Art Howe in the movie felt more than a little off. Hoffman’s portrayal was competent enough. But we were seeing the depiction of someone who we, as followers of the local nine, felt we had sort of gotten to know. The guy we had watched on the dugout steps, heard on the radio and read about in the paper year after year in the late Nineties and early Oughts didn’t seem like the humorless, narrow-minded, shackled-to-baseball-tradition jerk we were seeing on screen.

Howe complained bitterly about the portrayal. (See “Art Howe Rips ‘Moneyball’ and Billy Beane,” a post colleague Jon Brooks wrote soon after the movie came out in 2011.) But among those Howe didn’t blame was the actor who played him.

Howe is still talking about the movie — but now to express shock at Hoffman’s sudden passing. He told TMZ today that he never held the portrayal against Hoffman:

Howe says he was “in shock” when he learned PSH had passed away Sunday … explaining, “We never got to meet. I remember reading an article where he said he wanted to meet me and apologize for how he portrayed me. Now we’re never going to have that chance.”

Howe says he was very unhappy with the way he was portrayed in the flick — but says he points the finger at the producers and the writers … not PSH.

“Even though I didn’t agree with the way I was portrayed, I didn’t blame him — he was just playing the part he was given,” Howe says.

KQED News colleague Nina Thorsen was one of thousands of people who volunteered to be an extra when “Moneyball” filmed its climactic scene — the A’s winning their 20th straight game in 2002 — during a series of late-night shoots at the Coliseum in 2010.

When the news about Hoffman’s passing broke this morning, Nina wrote:

I think every one of the thousands of us who were “Moneyball” extras got at least a smile and a wave, and some of my friends who had slightly bigger extra roles said he’d make a point of coming over to sit down and talk with them.

Here’s Hoffman as Howe in “Moneyball,” followed by the latest version of the Associated Press obituary on Philip Seymour Hoffman:

Jake Coyle and Tom Hays

Associated Press

NEW YORK — Philip Seymour Hoffman, who won the Oscar for best actor in 2006 for his portrayal of writer Truman Capote and created a gallery of other vivid characters, many of them slovenly and somewhat dissipated, was found dead Sunday in his apartment with what officials said was a needle in his arm. He was 46.

Two law enforcement officials, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk about the evidence, said the actor apparently died of a drug overdose. Glassine envelopes containing what was believed to be heroin were found with him, they said.

Hoffman — no matinee idol, with his lumpy build and limp blond hair — made his career mostly as a character actor, and was one of the most prolific in the business, plying his craft with a rumpled naturalism that also made him one of the most admired performers of his generation.

The stage-trained actor was nominated for Academy Awards four times in all: for “Capote,” ”The Master,” ”Doubt” and “Charlie Wilson’s War.” He also received three Tony nominations for his work on Broadway, which included an acclaimed turn as the weary and defeated Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman.”

Hoffman spoke candidly over the years about past struggles with drug addiction. After 23 years sober, he admitted in interviews last year to falling off the wagon and developing a heroin problem that led to a stint in rehab.

Tributes poured in from other Hollywood figures.

“One of the greatest actors of a generation and a sweet, funny & humble man,” actor Ricky Gervais tweeted. Director Spike Lee said on Twitter: “Damn, We Lost Another Great Artist.”

And Kevin Costner said in an AP interview: “Philip was a very important actor and really takes his place among the real great actors. It’s a shame. Who knows what he would have been able to do? But we’re left with the legacy of the work he’s done and it all speaks for itself.”

“No words for this. He was too great and we’re too shattered,” said Mike Nichols, who directed Hoffman in “Charlie Wilson’s War” and “Death of a Salesman.”

The law enforcement officials said Hoffman’s body was discovered in a bathroom at his Greenwich Village apartment by a friend who made the 911 call and his assistant.

Late Sunday, a police crime-scene van was parked out front, and technicians carrying brown paper bags went in and out. Police kept a growing crowd of onlookers back. A single red daisy had been placed in front of the lobby door.

Hoffman’s family called the news “tragic and sudden.” Hoffman is survived by his partner of 15 years, Mimi O’Donnell, and their three children.

“We are devastated by the loss of our beloved Phil and appreciate the outpouring of love and support we have received from everyone,” the family said in a statement.

In one of his earliest screen roles, he played a spoiled prep school student in “Scent of a Woman” in 1992. One of his breakthroughs came as a gay member of a porno film crew in “Boogie Nights,” one of several movies directed by Paul Thomas Anderson that he would eventually appear in.

He often played comic, slightly off-kilter characters in movies like “Along Came Polly,” ”The Big Lebowski” and “Almost Famous.”

More recently, he was Plutarch Heavensbee in “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” and was reprising that role in the two-part sequel, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay,” which is in the works. And in “Moneyball,” he played Art Howe, the grumpy manager of the Oakland Athletics who resisted new thinking about baseball talent.

Just weeks ago, Showtime announced Hoffman would star in “Happyish,” a new comedy series about a middle-aged man’s pursuit of happiness.

He was nominated for the 2013 Academy Award for best supporting actor for his role in “The Master” as the charismatic leader of a religious movement. The film, inspired in part by the life of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, reunited the actor with Anderson.

He also received a 2009 best-supporting nomination for “Doubt,” as a priest who comes under suspicion because of his relationship with a boy, and another best-supporting nomination as a CIA officer in “Charlie Wilson’s War.”

Born in 1967 in Fairport, N.Y., Hoffman was interested in acting from an early age, mesmerized at 12 by a local production of Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons.” He studied theater as a teenager with the New York State Summer School of the Arts and the Circle in the Square Theatre. He then majored in drama at New York University.

In his Oscar acceptance speech for “Capote,” he thanked his mother for raising him and his three siblings alone, and for taking him to his first play. Hoffman’s parents divorced when he was 9.

He could seemingly take on any role, large or small, loathsome or sympathetic, and appeared to be utterly lacking in vanity.

On Broadway, in addition to starring as Willy Loman, he played Jamie in “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” and both leads in “True West.” All three performances were Tony-nominated.

His 2012 performance in “Death of a Salesman” was praised as “heartbreaking” by AP theater critic Mark Kennedy.

“Hoffman is only 44, but he nevertheless sags in his brokenness like a man closer to retirement age, lugging about his sample cases filled with his self-denial and disillusionment,” Kennedy wrote. “His fraying connection to reality is pronounced in this production, with Hoffman quick to anger and a hard edge emerging from his babbling.”

Two films starring Hoffman premiered last month at the Sundance Film Festival: the espionage thriller “A Most Wanted Man” and “God’s Pocket.”

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About the Author ()

Dan Brekke has worked in media ever since Nixon's first term, when newspapers were still using hot type. He had moved on to online news by the time Bill Clinton met Monica Lewinsky. He's been at KQED since 2007, is an enthusiastic practitioner of radio and online journalism and will talk to you about absolutely anything. Reach Dan Brekke at dbrekke@kqed.org.

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