In Doubt, the play-turned-movie, Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Father Flynn, a priest trying to bring change to a parish and school. He quickly becomes embattled on several fronts with Sister Aloysius, played by Meryl Streep. ReelzChannel sat down recently with Hoffman to talk about his role in this movie about the consequences of blind justice.
RC: What drew you to this role?
Hoffman: Well, John [Patrick] Shanley called me. I don't remember where I was. I was somewhere and then I called him back, left messages, and he eventually told me that he wanted me to play the father figure in the movie. That was a surprise. I was really flattered. To see if I could fit it in, and I could, and I wanted to do it, and I heard Meryl was gonna do it. I called her. "Meryl, are you gonna do this?" She said, yeah, and so one thing lead to another and we ended up doing it. And it's just a great play, ya know. It's really about so many things. And it's a great piece for actors.
RC: What did you think of the transfer to film?
Hoffman: You're always skeptical of that kind of thing 'cause it's not always done that well. It blatantly loses its power, but I think Shanley did an amazing job. I think his screen adaptation and then, ultimately, the producers and the editor, the cinematographer, and everybody did -- [it's as] important as seeing it live. So, you can see it live. You can see the film and I think you're gonna get an impact. It's an equivalent, and that's a rare thing.
RC: What did you think of working with Shanley, knowing that material was so close to him?
Hoffman: I knew that he had been with the project for a while by that point in the play, so I was wondering how he was gonna approach something he had been with for so long. But he was…only with fresh eyes, ya know. And we really approached it as if it was the first time -- he made us feel that way. The best of him showed up every day. That's all you want from your director, someone who shows up with depth and passion and is helpful. That's what he did.
RC: Talk about working with Doubt's women.
Hoffman: I was very blessed to be in that company. I've worked, I knew Viola [Davis]. I met Viola in my mid-twenties, and I've known Meryl for like nine years. And I have done two films with Amy [Adams] now, and so it was like working with friends, in a way, which is always help -- sometimes not helpful, but this time was. I could have a great rapport with all of them, and I loved working with Meryl. I really had a great time working with her, and I hope we work together many times in the future. Or not -- it doesn't matter because I just adore her, period, anyway. So at least we'll get to hang out and have coffee or something, which would be just as good, and that's how I feel about her. And Amy is, ya know, I like Amy.
RC: You had seen the play Doubt. Was that helpful or did it make it harder?
Hoffman: I tried to think about it as if I hadn't seen it. I had seen the play a couple times, and so I started thinking about him as, like, a drifter. He's a bit of a drifter. He's been in a few parishes -- where they were, I don't know. Northeast somewhere. So I didn't think about him as someone from the city, which is kind of important to me. I definitely thought about him as somebody who was definitely of the future, definitely somebody who wanted to revitalize, not revitalize, to vitalize the church, wanted to turn the church into a place where people wanted to hang out, actually wanted to be. He wanted to make it the hot spot. And I remember thinking, that's him, and I'd been thinking about it from that standpoint. I think that part of him was genuine -- [wanting that] the people would go to the church with all their thoughts and feelings, not just the ones they weren't ashamed of. But the ones they were also ashamed of, that they would be embraced with warmth and passion. That was a big deal to him.
RC: What should people think when they walk away from this film?
Hoffman: I think they should walk away with, hopefully, a head full of a lot of conflicting emotions and thoughts and ideas...there's a lot there to get open arms around.... The film does a great job and the actors did a great job, and Meryl in that movie, in that last scene, such a way where you really are caught going, "Oh, well, what am I supposed to think now?" with such beautiful, moving passion.