Hoffman takes on the role of Jack, playing him with an understated innocence and a tangible vulnerability that emanates warmth even within the movie's snowy New York landscape. Jack's a limo driver, who deals with genuinely falling in love for the first time with Amy Ryan's Connie. Meanwhile, Jack's best friend's [John Ortiz] relationship crumbles around him.
Jack Goes Boating is often funny, sometimes heartbreaking but always honest, and that's what makes Hoffman's debut behind the camera a true gem and one of the most poetic films of 2010.
You'll definitely feel something watching this one…
Philip Seymour Hoffman sat down with ARTISTdirect.com for an exclusive interview about the existential tale at the heart of Jack Goes Boating, the dangers of finding love, hearing Fleet Foxes and Grizzly Bear for the film and so much more in this exclusive interview.
Jack Goes Boating [Overture] hits theaters in New York and L.A. this Friday September 17 and extends wide Friday September 24.
Do directing and acting come from the same creative place for you? Or, are they two distinct mindsets?
They really are two different mindsets. They're not from the same place. Things that I'm drawn to direct aren't things that I necessarily want to act in. A different part of the brain is being tickled. Here, it was a situation where I thought I was just going to direct, but it was hard to find an actor. I had played the part before in a play. To have an actor come in knowing that I'd played it and I was going to direct is tough. I just had to say, "Okay, I'll act in it too." If I ever do it again, I hope I don't have to act so I can really experience the full breadth of the directing job—which is a pretty great gig.
It seems like hopping in the director's chair was quite natural for you.
I've been working in the business for over twenty years, and I've been directing in the theater for 13 years. I've spent a lot of time working in projects not as actor, so the idea of directing a film has always been in the back of my mind as something I'd do one day. That's how I think about things when I read them. This is that case! An opportunity presented itself to me. I thought this is probably the story and the environment I want to do it in the first time.
Would you say the film is really about Jack growing up?
Yeah, it's about growing up. I think there are a lot of people who are "grown-ups," but they've never really taken the risk to allow themselves to be in love. Being in love means that you basically put your heart in someone else's hands. You really do. If I love someone as much as I can, that means I'll probably be hurt by that person and disappointed eventually. You need to take the risk of being hurt or disappointed in order to be really close to someone. It's probably inevitable that will happen. To take that risk is a great risk for anybody—no matter how adult they are in other aspects of their lives or not. One relationship in this film is suffering severely, and it's been going for a long time. The other relationship is just starting late in life for these people. I really think the film looks at the classic story of two people meeting each other and falling in love in a way that hasn't been seen or, at least, felt before.
Jack is a very existential character in the classic sense.
That's actually a good point. The film is meant to be projected upon. The film lives in a bit of a mystery. You eventually learn what's going on and you see the story unfold, but there's a real emotional logic that the story takes on. It's not analytical at all. It's more about how you feel. What happened to you when you watch this story? A lot of people come out of this story, and they're elated. There's a real catharsis in a very positive way. Some people walk out of this story and they're very upset [Laughs]. It's very disturbing to them. They can't put their finger on it, and they don't even want to talk about it. That's the existential quality to the story and Jack. Jack's not going to answer a lot of things for you; Jack's simply going to experience the story. Hopefully, you're going to have a lot of your own history that you can bounce of this movie while you watch it.
The scene where Connie's all bloody really juxtaposes the sweet and visceral very well.
I love that because you wonder what happened. In wondering what happened, you ask, "Well, is she saying what really happened? Or, is she somebody living a life of instigating and she's fearful that everybody wants to hurt her? Have her interactions become that difficult?" You see somebody who's gone through something violent, yet it's not going to deter her from the fact that she knows she wants to become a different person. That's what's funny about the scene. You see somebody striving not to give up, even if it's just this job. I think that tells you a lot about where everybody in this film is. They're all in that place. Something has to give. Something has to change for all four of these people. That scene exemplifies the nature of everybody's dilemma in the film. No matter what happens, they're going to strive to this ultimate place.
Do you ever listen to music to get into character?
Sometimes, you listen to music to simply feel. It doesn't always help you act because acting is something that involves "doing." Music can help create a meditative emotional place that you can be creative in though.
Was Jack's reggae fascination always part of the story?
Yeah, that song "Rivers of Babylon" is in the play. "Rivers of Babylon" is an old religious song that's been adapted into many styles. Jack's trying to give himself dreadlocks and he's listening to the song. The guy's really trying to see if something will unmoor him. He needs to get out of his situation, which is psychological and emotional. This song gives him a meditative kind of mantra about getting over yourself. The song starts off as this positive mantra, and it ends up being part of one of the most awful moments of the movie.
Does the movie remind you of any other songs? How did you choose the soundtrack?
As we were shooting it, I started hearing certain bands, sounds and songs in my head. I definitely was hearing Fleet Foxes. Their music has such an emotional range and scope that I think this film needed. Sometimes, I realized I would need certain music to really bring the audience into the breadth of the emotional landscape of the movie. I knew that Fleet Foxes' sound was what I was hearing. Susan Jacobs the music supervisor threw Grizzly Bear my way. She was like, "You should really listen to them!" I heard their album and I was like, "Definitely!" There was a bunch of music from Grizzly Bear that I used, which fit so nicely. Goldfrapp's "Eat Yourself" was banging in my head while we were working on Jack Goes Boating. Stuff started coming to me, and I trusted it. I listen to a lot of different things. It depends on what I'm in the mood for and if I even think of it. Sometimes, I forget to listen to music for long periods of time [Laughs]. I usually start to listen to something new. I was in this café a few years ago, and that's when I heard The Fleet Foxes. Then I began listening to them. When Sue sent me Grizzly Bear, I listened to it over and over for a week. That's what happens.
The music adds an ethereal element to the movie.
There's a dreamy aspect to the film. There's a real, gut id level the movie. It's really emotional; it's not analytical. These people are being pulled by their emotional life. Whether it's a psychic pain or a true desire and hope for something else, I think they're all looking to be relieved of whatever burden they've been carrying for a long time. They find that relief, but it's not pretty. That's the journey we take with them.
Will you be seeing Jack Goes Boating?