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Philip Seymour Hoffman Shared a Career-Defining Tip from ‘The Master’ with Jeremy Strong

Hoffman always believed playing a real person on screen was more about the actor than the subject.

THE MASTER, Philip Seymour Hoffman, 2012. ph: Phil Bray/©Weinstein Company/courtesy Everett Collection

“The Master”

©Weinstein Company/Courtesy Everett Collection

Fresh off his Emmy win for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series thanks to HBO’s “Succession,” Jeremy Strong is now officially part of the Oscar race with the release of Aaron Sorkin’s new Netflix political drama “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” Strong is featured in Sorkin’s heavy-hitting ensemble as Jerry Rubin, the anti-war social activist and co-founder of the Youth International Party. Whatever challenges that came with playing a real-life person were made easier by a career-defining tip the late Philip Seymour Hoffman shared with Strong before his passing.

“I remember having a conversation with Phil Hoffman when he was getting ready to do ‘The Master,’” Strong told The Playlist this week in an interview. “And I started going on and on about L. Ron Hubbard. And eventually [Hoffman] was like, ‘No. You’re doing work as an actor to find an essence in yourself. You’re not trying to play, you’re not doing an impersonation.'”

Hoffman was something of an expert of playing real-life people by the time he was prepping for his role as religious cult leader Lancaster Dodd in “The Master,” as he had won the Oscar for Best Actor with his performance as author Truman Capote in Bennett Miller’s 2005 drama “Capote.” For Hoffman, tackling a real person was less about capturing the essence of the subject and more about finding that same essence within yourself.

It’s not surprising Hoffman shut Strong down over questions about L. Ron Hubbard in regards to “The Master.” While Paul Thomas Anderson used elements of Scientology and its founder L. Ron Hubbard while scripting the drama, Hoffman often rejected the idea in interviews that he was playing a film version of Hubbard.

“Paul used elements of L Ron Hubbard to fill in the story and the character, but I didn’t really because I wasn’t really playing him,” Hoffman told The Independent in 2014. “He’s a fictitious character. So I tried to think of a lot of other things in myself. I was very literal about it. I wasn’t interested in playing L. Ron Hubbard, because, ultimately, it wasn’t his story, so I didn’t want it to be confusing.”

Strong and Hoffman were friends from the New York City theater scene, but they never got to star in a major feature together. Strong’s work in Sorkin’s “Chicago 7” is now streaming on Netflix.

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