Monday Night in Los Angeles, Paul Thomas Anderson moderated a Q&A with Philip Seymour Hoffman after a special screening of Hoffman’s directorial debut Jack Goes Boating. The film, which premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, is about a lonely limo driver named Jack (Hoffman) and a relationship he forms with a funeral saleswoman named Connie, played by Amy Ryan. The film is a very subtle and effective character study about relationships, love, friendship and much more. Hit the jump to read what these frequent collaborates had to say about the film, which opens in limited release September 23.
As the pair, who have worked together on three films not including their upcoming collaboration The Master (which was not brought up), sat down, Anderson remarked that he was having a hard time taking this seriously.
First, he asked Hoffman where the film came from. Jack Goes Boating is based on a play by Bob Glaudini and Hoffman starred in it along with his fellow film co-stars John Ortiz and Daphne Rubin-Vega on Broadway. Originally, Glaudini really wanted to write something mean but kept getting this image in his head of a swimming lesson and the character he saw in the lesson wouldn’t allow him to make the film mean. So the play came from that and then the three actors, Hoffman, Ortiz and Rubin-Vega, starred in the Broadway run (Amy Ryan is only in the movie). People kept coming in asking to make it into a film so eventually, Glaudini sat down with Hoffman and they began visualizing it as a movie. It was Ortiz who suggested Hoffman direct it. Because of that suggestion, Hoffman began to see images from a film version in his head.
This whole process took about 2-3 years because they performed the play in 2006. In adaptation a few things changed, mainly the ending because the story had evolved. You had to literally see things that were only hinted at in the play because the theme of “loving somebody is knowing they might hurt you badly” was so strong.
Anderson joked that Glaudini set out to make a movie about being mean and it turned into a love story. Hoffman agreed but said that the male friendship in the movie might be even more important.
We won’t spoil the ending of the film here, but the ending on film was only hinted on stage and Hoffman said that he always felt that it should physically happen. It wasn’t until he sat down to talk about the film version that he finally vocalized these wishes to Glaudini.
One of the things Anderson loved about the movie is that the characters are all truly New Yorkers, there are no fakers here, and he referenced several movies like Moonstruck and Five Corners as other examples. He said the were all in a minor key, which you rarely see in New York movies.
Hoffman hopes that audiences experience more than the heartache there is in the film. He says the movie is about connecting, friendship and romance. Connecting is the essential ingredient to everything.
Originally, when Hoffman agreed to directed, he decided he didn’t want to act in the film too so they held auditions for his role. He said many of the actors were intimidated that the director of the piece was the person who originated the role and knew it so intimately. Eventually they found someone though (he refused to say who, even though Anderson pleaded) but because the film is set in winter, it had to shoot in winter and the schedules didn’t match up. So, out of sheer need, Hoffman reprised his role as the title character.
When Sean Penn finished directing his first film, Anderson said, Penn famously called all of his previous directors he’d worked with and apologized. Did Hoffman do this? He didn’t, but not because he didn’t understand that directors can be controlling assholes though. He said, because he had already directed so many plays, he got a lot of that out of his system before this film.
An audience member asked what are the pitfalls of directing yourself as an actor. Hoffman said that film is about pitfalls, period. But specifically relating to that, he suggested that you never assume you are right. Have a strong vision but surround yourself with good people, keep yourself open and don’t shut off.
Anderson joked that Hoffman’s crew was so tight, he had children with some of them. Hoffman said they did keep him honest and there were times where he just wanted to take over, but he held back and walked away. That was a great thing for him to do.
Someone asked about a plot specific question dealing with a repeated line of dialogue. We won’t spoil it, but Hoffman really poured out knowledge about why the line was repeated when it was, and why another character reacted a certain way to it. It was blatantly obvious that he is beyond familiar and passionate about this material and it was infectious to watch.
Another audience member asked if he was ever forced to make the film more plot driven and less character driven. Hoffman said he wasn’t but in fact wanted to do more with the characters, so he tried to make the film feel dream like at parts so logic went away and emotion took over. Less is more, he said. He then remembered that it was suggested that something subtly major be changed in the climax and he flat out refused.
Many of the side characters in the film, basically anyone who isn’t one of the four leads, Hoffman saw as a parent in the Peanuts: They are there to represent something to his characters.
Hoffman talked about the differences between acting and directing. He said acting is way lonelier while directing is all about being collaborative and talking to people. Most of the time he could compartmentalize except in one scene with Ryan where he would do a take, walk off and look at the footage and not really see what he was doing wrong and no one would say anything to him. So he walked away, took off his director hat, got into character and eventually nailed the scene. Because of that, he really doesn’t want to direct himself again.
One scene in particular, featuring a handicapped gentleman, was Hoffman’s idea to show that in life you can make an assumption and it be totally wrong. He told the story of how it came to be, which is a little too spoilerish.
He felt that this material always wanted to be a film, even if they didn’t know it originally, but it can still be its own thing in any medium it wants to be. Personally, he only sees this as a film now because you can feel the cold and really get the camera close and look at the characters, something you can’t do on stage. On stage, the whole play is in a single room. He loves all the close ups he used in the film.
Anderson joked that while we might not be surprised it’s based on a play, we would be surprised if it was based on a video game. He and Hoffman then went back and forth coming up with levels in a Jack Goes Boating game, like the obvious boating level and the swimming level where you could drown Jack.
The performances in the film are way more nuanced than the original portrayals in the play, Hoffman felt.
Someone asked if Hoffman was influenced by the film Marty because he saw a lot of it in there. Hoffman said that he had heard that before but, alas, has never seen Marty.
The ending of the film, specifically the final two shots, are purposely left open for interpretation. Hoffman feels that while audience members can infer whatever they want onto those shots, for him, it’s more about showing that the story doesn’t end there, that’s just where the movie ends and, to him, the best kind of movies are like that.
After a very spoiler heavy plot question, someone else asked if Hoffman hadn’t directed the film himself, who he could see doing it? He answered that it’s too late in the process now and he doesn’t see anyone else who could do it.
While earlier Hoffman said he wouldn’t want to direct himself again that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t direct again at all. He just would want to find the right material, like Jack Goes Boating, was for him. He’s not out there actively seeking something out, he just hopes that one day he finds something that speaks to him.
Hoffman can’t watch the film anymore because he gets so OCD about it. He keeps seeing little things that he would change. He said that Anderson once told him that film is alive and each time you see it, it’s a different thing, and he said that applied to everything about movies – from the actual film stock to the situation in which you watch it to the people who make it. It’s always changing. The biggest thing he would change though, if he could, would be to do more preparation. He would have hired a DP sooner so he could concentrate more on the photography. Anderson then declared that Hoffman officially had the directing bug and the Q&A was over.