"I had to get small to play Truman..."

Well, it worked for Oscar voters. Philip Seymour Hoffman on transforming himself into bitchy, helium-voiced author Truman Capote...

Biopics have really floated the Academy’s boat this year. How did you find it playing a real person?
It’s petrifying for a while. You’re in terror because you don’t want to just mimic him, you know? The story is what is important so I knew that if I served the story the character would come alive. If you’re moved by the story, then we’ve succeeded. Dan Futterman wrote a fabulous script.

You and Dan have been friends for a long time. Is that how you got involved?
Yeah, that was the special thing about shooting this film because I’d known Dan and director Bennett Miller since I was 16 and they’d known each other since they were 12 – so there’s a lot of respect in that area. Danny brought the script to Bennett and they thought of me to do it. Trust me, when they offered me the role, I was a bit shocked. I was like, “Are you sure? Did you think it through?”

Were you familiar with Truman Capote and his work before you signed up?
I had recollections of him from when I was a child and I knew why he was famous. I remember him on the couch on the Johnny Carson show when I was eight or nine years old. I think a lot of people in the US remember him post-In Cold Blood because of those talk show days and it was only when I started looking at his writing and learning more about him that I saw how diligent he was. This guy was a prolific writer – he would get up every morning and write, from his early twenties into his late thirties. He was a man in search of things and that’s what’s fascinating about the story, watching someone at the pinnacle of their creative powers.

How much work was it to look like him?
I’m 5’ 9”, 220lbs, but there was a resemblance I saw when I started seeing pictures of him in his personal environment. His hair, his complexion and things like that were very similar but I had to get small, I really did. I lost a lot of weight because when they offered me the role I was big. My girlfriend was pregnant and so we both got huge together.

How did you develop the character?
There’s a documentary called With Love From Truman that came out when In Cold Blood was first printed and it’s wonderful. It’s black and white and you see him in ’66, ’67 and he’s giving an interview at a restaurant. He’s got a drink in his hand and he’s talking and talking so it’s there to be looked at, there’s footage on him. Once I’d gotten that voice and the physicality then it all came together. It was really important to get a sense of how he sounded because that had a lot to do with his persona.

How do you manage to wind down after being in someone else’s head all day?
Disconnecting is really easy (laughs). After all that hard work, when you’re done you can just let go and move away from it. The shoot was at a time when it was 20 below zero or something, it was fucking cold and getting up at 6am can make everyone unhappy, you know? You get in your car and the heater takes forever and you have to somehow turn up and get into this character. So the connect is tough – the disconnect is not as tough. The way you deal with it is to stay in a certain place between shots, vocally and physically, so I wouldn’t have to try to bring it back. It’s all in the preparation but at the end of the day, it’s nice to go home and let my shoulders drop.

Things are going very well for you at the moment. Do you feel lucky?
Someone once told me having kids is like Christmas morning every day and I thought, “What the fuck are you talking about?” Then you have a child and it is. It’s the best. You see your kid everyday but still it’s, “Oh my god! I have a kid! I can’t believe it.” So right at this moment I feel pretty good but there’s a lesson in this story about needing to be accepted, about needing to know what you’ve done is worth it – and I don’t think those things are satiable. It’s tough living in this world and being in this business and there’s a part of what we do that makes us want more because we want to be accepted, admired and liked. But I am feeling good right now and I’m aware that this business is an ongoing thing – it’s a hole that never gets filled.