Remembering Philip Seymour Hoffman

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The death of Philip Seymour Hoffman didn’t hit me hard but left me thinking instead about how the film industry and studios cope with the loss of an actor midway through shooting. Death or otherwise.

A well-loved character or even a first time appearance in a film can lift the whole thing if it is done right and Hoffman was fantastic at doing that, in films such as “Charlie Wilson’s War”, “The Master” and “Capote”. But for sequels and franchises recurring characters are especially important because they are a form of continuity. They show to the audience that these characters live and breathe in the same world and that they live out their lives on the screen.

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Hoffman’s death raises questions about what will happen without him in the next film in The Hunger Games franchise as did the deaths of many other actors in recent memory such as Heath Ledger in “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus”, (actor who played Dumbledore in Harry Potter) in the first of the Harry Potter films and Corey Monteith from “Glee” though none were as respected and celebrated as Philip Seymour Hoffman, even Heath Ledger who had never received an Oscar nomination, let alone a win before he died.

There are a few solutions as to what to do with Hoffman’s character in The Hunger Games. Usually the script is rewritten or the character is recast with a different actor. Sometimes, depending on how much of the film has been shot the final edit can be made using outtakes of the actor and so on but I doubt that will be the case with The Hunger Games since there will be at least another film after the one currently in production and it would also mean recasting Hoffman’s character at the beginning of the next one (I suspect that Hoffman’s character will be written off somehow as part of a new script and not much will be made of it which is a such a shame given that it was apparent that he was to be a major part of the upcoming films).

While recasting isn’t favoured it is often done even between films. Katie Holmes didn’t reprise her role as Rachel Dawes in the second part of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, “The Dark Knight” and instead Maggie Gyllenhal was cast. The problem with recasting is that unless it is done very early on in shooting such as the early replacement of Harvey Keitel with Martin Sheen in “Apocalypse Now” it is costs the studio a lot of time and money as well as being very difficult to edit hence why recasting usually takes place before the film is released and usually before shooting or between films in a franchise.

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It takes a certain eye for potential and talent such as Terry Gilliam to use the death of the lead actor to your advantage and instead cast the likes of Johnny Depp, Jude Law and others to all play the same character. We’ll never know what the original version of “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” was going to look like but for certain it wouldn’t have been the same had Heath Ledger not died when he did. Certainly no other films have ever employed a technique like this to replace an actor and character and in this particular case it was much more than a replacement, rather an evolution of the plot and several manifestations of one character.

Lucas has a BA in Film Production and currently runs a blog about film posters. He also writes and reads scripts and has had films screened at the British Film Institute. He is currently working in Latin America and is writing a 6 episode mini-series.