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Philip Seymour goes in

When it comes to acclaimed actors stepping behind the camera for the first time, the general rule is, hey, go dark. Go very, very dark.

Philip Seymour Hoffman's directorial debut, Jack Goes Boating, is a little lighter. Not quite as light as Robert De Niro's A Bronx Tale, or Edward Norton's sloppy slapstick Keeping The Faith. Thankfully.

"When you think about it, there's quite a range out there," offers Hoffman.

"So, I don't know if you can really say, well, the actor always goes dark. I think there's a need to make something honest and true, and a film that will stick around for more than the opening weekend.

"I definitely felt comfortable making Jack Goes Boating, but then, I have been preparing myself for this gig for quite some time now ... "

Indeed he has. Since 1991, to be precise, when Hoffman made his screen debut on TV's Law & Order.

His film breakthrough came the year after, with the Oscar-winning Scent Of A Woman -- the film that meant the native New Yorker could finally give up his regular job stacking shelves in a grocery store.

Since then, Hoffman has starred in more than 50 films, and there are quite a few perfect performances among them including The lovelorn porn-star-wannabe Scotty J in Boogie Nights (1997), the sweaty-palmed Father Brendan Flynn in Doubt (2008), and his Oscar-winning title turn in Capote (2006). I could go on and on.

"Please do," smiles Hoffman, as I list some of my favourites.

"I think you're always learning, whether you realise it or not.

"Your instincts get better the more experience you have, and all the little victories and the little defeats, they each teach you something. So, yeah, I certainly felt comfortable with the idea of directing my first film.

"Having said that, you also feel a degree of nervousness about any film, whether you're directing it or starring in it, or you're the cinematographer, the writer, the producer, whatever.

"You never know going in that it's necessarily going to work, and that anxiety is important. It keeps you on your toes, constantly questioning, and forever rethinking the material."



promise

In Jack Goes Boating, Hoffman plays the shy and awkward Jack, invited by his best friend, and fellow limo driver, Clyde (John Oritz), to a dinner date along with Clyde's wife, Lucy (Daphne Rubin-Vega), so he can meet the latter's new co-worker, Connie (Amy Ryan).

Connie also isn't all that great around people, especially when it comes to getting close, but a promise by Jack over dinner to take her boating when the winter passes, soon gives both of them something to look forward to.

The days pass too slowly for Jack though, even with all those swimming lessons for the big day, and he soon decides that they should hook up sooner, for dinner. And he's going to cook. Even though he has no idea, as yet, how to.

Based on the eponymous play by Robert Glaudini, Jack Goes Boating has proven a hit with the critics, but such a melancholy character study was never going to cause a crush at the multiplex.

Its box-office take in the US -- where it was released in September of last year -- struggled just past the half-million dollar mark.

"We wouldn't have ever seen this as one of those big breakout indie hits, no," nods Hoffman.

"There isn't that feelgood factor so important for little films that go on to do big box-office.

"I'm not entirely sure I would want to make one of those films, as I might just feel like I'm faking it."Hoffman lets out a laugh.

"I love comedy, don't get me wrong, but I'm naturally drawn to the way everyday people tick, especially when they're under pressure.

"And aren't we all generally under pressure, most of the time?

"Even if you take yourself away from the rat race, and end up living in a cottage in the wilds of Ireland, there's a pressure there.

"That's what fascinates me, those moments of quiet desperation that we all share."



script

It's a fascination that obviously runs in the family -- Hoffman took the lead in 2002's Love Liza, playing a website designer who becomes addicted to gasoline fuels after the suicide of his wife. The script was written by Hoffman's brother, Gordy.

"Yeah, maybe we should all go into therapy together?" he smiles. "Get some kind of family rate. I think the real drama is in the shadows, in the moments where we feel most vulnerable.

"I guess weakness is something that mainstream audiences just don't like having to face, but it's such a big part of life. Hey, someone's got to do it."

Not that Philip Seymour Hoffman is one of life's eternal loners, hiding away in his windowless basement flat, with only his poetry and his porn to protect him.

He and his girlfriend, costume designer Mimi O'Donnell, have three children -- eight-year old Cooper Alexander, five-year old Tallulah and three-year old Willa.

"Yeah, sorry to disappoint everyone, but I'm a pretty happy guy," he says.

"I think I get all my anxieties and neuroses exorcised in my films."

Then again, tragedy and comedy are two sides of the same coin. Hoffman is hilarious in the likes of The Invention Of Lying, Along Came Polly and Charlie Wilson's War.

"Look at me," he nods, "I have a face, and a build, for comedy. I coulda been the new Fatty Arbuckle, if I'd played my cards right ... "



laugh

Currently on our screens in Moneyball, with Brad Pitt, and George Clooney's The Ides Of March, upcoming for Hoffman is A Late Quartet, alongside Christopher Walken and Catherine Keener, and his buddy Paul Thomas Anderson's latest offering, The Master, alongside Amy Adams and Joaquin Phoenix.

"I'm thinking now, I really should have played some of these films for laughs," finishes Hoffman, tongue firmly in cheek, "just, you know, to show my range.

"I'll work on something for the next dark, deep drama I'm involved in.

"Just a wry smirk and a widening of the eyes, a look I can throw to camera, to let the audience know that it's all just made-up anyway.

" It could become my trademark move ... "

Jack Goes Boating hits cinemas on Friday