Why Philip Seymour Hoffman Was an LGBT Hero

Everyone on the internet is talking about Philip Seymour Hoffman following his dramatic and untimely death on Sunday. They're talking about his prowess as an actor. They're talking about his battle with heroin addiction. They're talking about the graceful way he kept out of the limelight. 

But why isn't anybody talking about the fact that Hoffman was a silent hero for LGBT people?

While he may not have marched in parades, waved rainbow flags or partnered with gay rights groups, Hoffman put homosexuality front and center by portraying gay characters as being more than just gay.

Hoffman brought nuance to LGBT roles throughout his career, elevating their status in popular cinema.

His seminal film, Capote, may very well be the best example. Rather than focusing on the fact that the title character was gay, Hoffman chose to portray author Truman Capote as nuanced well beyond his sexuality. Yeah, Capote was gay, but he was first and foremost a person. His homosexuality was only part of who he was, not a quality that defined who he was. That's the way Hoffman played him, anyway. 


Hoffman in 'Capote.' Image credit: MGM Studios Inc.

"You really see that it was a part of his life for sure, but it wasn't something he trumpeted," Hoffman said in an interview with Las Vegas Weekly, while speaking about Capote's sexuality. "It was a very interesting part of who he was. So we knew that if we emphasized it, we would be forcing something. We'd be actually saying, 'Well, he's gay, so we should probably show something about the fact that he's gay.'"

Hoffman revealed his approach to playing gay roles, like the lead in Capote, in an interview with Out magazine, saying "When I play somebody gay, I never think of it as 'I'm playing a gay character.' It's interesting to play all the different aspects of the character."

Whether it was the gay-curious, boom-mic operator Scotty in Boogie Nights, or the flamboyant drag queen Rusty in Flawless, Hoffman brought similar nuance to LGBT roles throughout his career, elevating their status in popular cinema.

And interestingly enough, the LGBT community recognizes Hoffman for introducing a certain element of sexual ambiguity to seemingly straight characters. His performances in The Master, Magnolia and The Talented Mr. Ripley have all been cited as examples.


Hoffman in 'The Master.' Image credit: Annapurna Pictures.

But with Hoffman's untimely passing, who's left to grab the torch?

Critics praised Matt Damon for his role as Liberace's 17-year-old lover in Behind the Candelabra, not to mention the fact that he played a gay lead in The Talented Mr. Ripley. But let's face it — Jason Bourne is never going to tackle LGBT roles as delicately as Hoffman did.

In that regard, he was one-of-a-kind.

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Brian Klonoski

Born in Krakow, Poland, Brian moved with his family to America when he was one year old and spent much of his childhood moving throughout the United States. He graduated from Colby College in Maine with a degree in English Literature and Government. After an especially brutal Maine winter, and compelled by a shocking deficiency of Vitamin D, Brian set off for the warm, sunny embrace of Los Angeles, where he currently lives.

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