“Capote” Interviews: Philip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener

Capote was the labor of love among three school friends, but after the buzz it got when it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, the buddies realize this may be a major career highpoint as well.

Director Bennett Miller has known screenwriter Dan Futterman for 25 years, since they were both 12. They befriended actor Philip Seymour Hoffman about 20 years ago at a summer theater program. Futterman has done his share of acting (Will and Grace, Birdcage, Sex and the City) but he became passionate about writing a script about In Cold Blood author Truman Capote, and he brought the idea to his two friends.

The movie focuses on the writer’s fascination with a brutal murder of a family in a farming community in Kansas. Two drifters were caught, and Capote became entranced with them and even offered to help them with their appeals when they were sentenced to hang. Hoffman–who is known for his quirky roles in films such as Boogie Nights and Cold Mountain–thought the idea of him playing the whiny, rotund, elfin author was insane. Nevertheless, he becomes Capote on screen–and is already being touted as a Best Actor Oscar nominee.

The film also attracted a top-notch supporting, including Catherine Keener as To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee; Chris Cooper as the police officer who finds the murderers; Bruce Greenwood as Capote‘s longtime lover Jack Dunphy; Bob Balaban as Capote‘s editor William Shawn and Clifton Collins Jr. and Mark Pellegrino as the murderers Perry Smith and Dick Hickock. Hollywood.com got to talk to Hoffman and Keener, about putting together a project that shows both the good and bad points of the famous writer and the historic fiction and new journalism that Capote created.

Philip Seymour Hoffman

What do you think of all this talk of Oscars so soon?
Hoffman: “I’m a bit overwhelmed right now, you know. Yeah, it’s very exciting, but there’s a bit of me wondering what’s happening a little bit. I mean, it’s the first time we’re showing it. It seems to me that people are enjoying it, and that’s a good thing. But the Oscar stuff, I mean, what do you do? How do you really talk about that?”

It seems absurd at first to think of you for this role, doesn’t it?

Hoffman: “Danny [Futterman] and Bennett [Miller], who I’ve known since I was in high school, came to my house and said that they wrote a script, and asked ‘So, do you want to play Truman Capote?’ I really, I thought first of all that’s absurd. My image of Truman Capote in my head didn’t really fit me.”

Why not?
Hoffman: “Oh, come on! I didn’t immediately jump to that image of Truman and me going together, it just didn’t–it wasn’t the first thing that made me go like, ‘Oh yeah, we’re like brothers!’ I was aware of the writer, that raconteur that entertained us, and made us unnerved. And so when I read the screenplay, and then I read the biography, I started to see what they were getting at.”

Was it hard to portray him?
Hoffman: “It does take a lot of work, to allow yourself to be that vulnerable, to allow yourself to be so wide open, and I don’t know, I hope that comes across, Capote was so open. There’s something about him, he is so adept at manipulating. It’s a good interviewing technique, it’s been done to me. I just know I’ve been in an interview and realized you just get lulled into this place, and like ‘Aw, we’re buddies,’ and you just blah, blah, blah. And I think he did that. He was a guy that taught himself how to memorize as much as possible, so he didn’t have to have a recorder or a notebook or anything, so anything to not make people think he was reporting on them. He was a clever guy.”

What do you think it would be like to talk to a murderer like Perry Smith in person like that?
Hoffman: “Oh God yeah. I don’t know. I mean, I thought about it. I thought a lot about it. I don’t think I would have the balls to keep going back. I don’t think I’d have the balls to push Perry the way he did. I don’t think I’d ever reach the point where I would feel that kind of fearlessness.”

Do you think Truman loved Perry Smith?
Hoffman: “Of course, I think he was obsessed, I think he was fascinated, I think it was the beginning of the end. He saw Perry Smith and he was like ‘Oh my God, who is that? I need that, I want that, I want to eat that.’ I think he wanted to eat him, if he could’ve just digested this guy, he would’ve.”

What about a Capote 2?
Hoffman:Capote 2 will never happen. [laughs] You heard it first. Never! I’d never do that again.”

Catherine Keener

Did you get to meet the real Harper Lee?
Keener: “No, no, I don’t think she meets people like me. [laughs] Or us, any of us here. She’s a very private person, and you know, I did as much as I could in terms of reading anything I could find on her, including re-reading her book and watching the film again. I did find some essays that she wrote for I believe like McCall’s and some other magazines, ladies’ magazines which illuminated some things, for me anyway, in terms of what things she cared about in her life.”

What was the basis of her friendship with Truman?
Keener: “They were Southerners living next door to each other.”

Did you do a lot of improvising?

Keener: “A lot of that stuff was improvised, but it was there, you know. It was just that we’d get into a rehearsal, and he would tape the rehearsal, and then the next day you’d get new pages, and basically it’d be the same things from rehearsal like you just were riffing on yesterday, but those guys are just so talented, all of them, and they’re all his friends, so I don’t know. I’m glad it’s doing so well.”

How important do you think Harper Lee was to getting Truman accepted in the small town?
Keener: “I think that she understood the people of that town, and he did too, but he kind of cut off his nose to spite his face sometimes, and she understood that. And he understood her I think, in a way other people didn’t as well, but I think that they knew that she put the better face on.” Capote opens limitedly Sept. 30.