One great pleasure of watching an old movie is spotting famous actors doing bit parts, back before anyone could have known what they’d become.
Philip Seymour Hoffman provided a litany of these, having paid his dues over many years as a working actor — making even small roles seem impressive. That’s how we eventually came to know his name.
After his death yesterday, EW began looking back through some of these early performances — his debut as a wise-ass street kid on a 1991 episode of Law & Order, and his supporting role as the morally ambiguous best friend of Chris O’Donnell’s character in 1992’s Scent of a Woman.
Looking up that particular part, we spotted something surprising in one of his early scenes. In the game of finding a future film star in a background role, this scene from Scent of a Woman turned out to be a double.
Hoffman is not just sharing the screen with O’Donnell, as they try to distract an older teacher from witnessing a prank being set up over the headmaster’s parking space. Hoffman is also acting opposite a current Oscar-nominee: Nebraska‘s June Squibb.
We reached out to her via her son, filmmaker Harry Kakatsakis, to see if she had any memories of Hoffman to share.
In the movie, Hoffman’s George Willis, Jr. is a kid of wealth, the son a major school donor, and he conducts himself with the reckless attitude of someone who will never truly face any consequences. O’Donnell comes from a humbler background, and knows he has to earn his place at this privileged table.
Squibb’s Mrs. Hunsaker just wants to get to her car and get home after a very long day, but Hoffman wryly distracts her so she doesn’t interfere with a bit of troublemaking being done by their friends.
The actress remembers it as Hoffman’s big-screen debut, though he appeared in two other projects that were perhaps shot later but came out before Scent of a Woman. In any case, this was his first major role.
Although she had nearly 40 years on him, she was sort of a screen novice, too. It was only Squibb’s second film, after a career spent mostly in theater.
Here’s what she had to say about working with the late, great Hoffman:
“I remember being with Philip and Chris in upstate New York on location for Scent of a Woman,” Squibb told EW. “I always thought of Philip as a teddy bear. He was a very sweet young man and making his first film. It was my second film but I had some age on him. They teased me about my character’s name, Mrs. Hunsaker, and did everything they could to make me laugh.”
Since then, she says she has been impressed to see that novice actor become, well, The Master — in more ways than one.
“I have been in awe of Philip’s film work,” Squibb said. “I know he also loved the stage and was privileged to see him on stage in New York in True West. I shall always treasure my time with him and his gift to film and stage.”
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