Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a man who wants to have sex with Lara Flynn Boyle in ”Happiness,” a man who wants to kiss Mark Wahlberg in ”Boogie Nights,” and a man who wants to stir up trouble for Matt Damon in the forthcoming ”The Talented Mr. Ripley.” But acting opposite Robert De Niro in ”Flawless,” Hoffman faces the particular challenge of playing a man who doesn’t want to be a man at all.
As Rusty, Hoffman is a flamboyant cross-dresser who gives singing lessons to an antagonistic stroke victim (De Niro) to earn money for a sex-change operation. This daring role has already earned Hoffman, 32, heaps of critical praise and even generated some Oscar buzz. But the NYU-trained actor admits that playing the ultrafeminine part and sustaining the character for the entire film was ”emotionally tiring.” He had to change everything about himself: his look, his voice, his mannerisms, his walk. ”It wore me out,” Hoffman says, ”I adore him/her more than most characters I’ve played, but I also needed to get away. I really wanted to leave Rusty in the film.”
With pivotal roles in three of the holiday season’s most anticipated releases (”Flawless,” ”Ripley,” and ”Magnolia” with Tom Cruise), Hoffman is on the verge of becoming a cineplex staple. But, surprisingly, he sometimes thinks about quitting the profession, because his trademark edgy roles take so much out of him. ”I think a lot about giving up acting now,” he says, ”because you want to leave stuff alone sometimes. At the end of the day, you’re like, ‘I just want to leave myself alone.’ And when you don’t act for awhile, you do feel better.”
It’s probably premature to expect Hoffman to pack his things, move to a private island, and gain 300 pounds like another great American actor. But he holds few illusions about his job. ”It’s the thrill and the challenge” that makes acting worthwhile, he says, ”but it’s not always a joy.”