Phil Hoffman Story

"No words for this.  He was too great and we’re too shattered."

Mike Nichols said that.

And it's true. No language will take away the pain. 

Yet people I know have Phil Hoffman stories to tell.

Maybe telling those stories will help us get through this?

This is mine:

I was supposed to be in Troilus & Cressida with Phil Hoffman and – get this: I turned down the role because the director/friend who offered me the role was directing me in another show at that time.

You read that right.

I had an offer to play Phil Hoffman’s boyfriend in Troilus and Cressida, and I said to the director/friend:

‘I think I need some space.’

I know.

When I wake up in the middle of the night to rank my worst mistakes, that one often tops the list. 

But I still did get to know Phil - just a little bit.

He organized the bachelor party for that same director/friend - at a Ribs & Gravvy-Fries, comfort-food kind of place.

At one point that night, when he went out front to smoke a cigarette with another mutual friend, I joined them. 

We chatted about this and that - nothing particularly intense.  Hoops, baseball. I didn't bring up that we almost worked together - there’s no cool way to say that.

A few people on the street noticed him, but nobody stopped until… 3 cute-not-fancy, maybe even-a-bit-nerdy girls, came up to him, giggly and shy.  He spoke to them - just him to them - low tones; I didn't hear a word, a few gentle chuckles. No numbers exchanged. Nothing untoward. Nice.

Then the girls walked away – blissed. 

He took a drag, looked out toward 7th avenue with that twinkly-eyed smile and:

'Well, those are MY groupies.'

He might have been the most regular guy who also happened to be the greatest actor of his time.

When he wasn't on-location, he was in New York.

Doing theatre. Lots of theatre.

Yes, sometimes the big revivals of O'Neill or Miller. And he worked with almost every star you can name. But he also worked with unknown quantities. Writers, directors and actors who aren't household names. With companies who develop stuff that likely will not have commercial legs. 

He didn't come to New York after he got big somewhere else to pick up his 'street cred.' He wasn't keeping it real.  He was real.

From Stanley Kunitz ‘The Layers’:

When I look behind,

as I am compelled to look

before I can gather strength

to proceed on my journey,

I see the milestones dwindling

toward the horizon

and the slow fires trailing

from the abandoned camp-sites,

over which scavenger angels

wheel on heavy wings.


The full poem:

Thank you Maria & Sean, Gary & Chuck.