Hoffman's 'Capote' True to the Man

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The film Capote is based on Gerald Clarke's biography. Clarke was on the set as Truman Capote played a "Capote type" in Murder by Death. He says Philip Seymour Hoffman is a much better Capote on screen.


The movie "Capote" takes place during the late 1950s and early '60s, when Truman Capote was working on his groundbreaking non-fiction novel, "In Cold Blood." He interviewed and then befriended a man who brutally murdered a family in a small town in Kansas.

(Soundbite of "Capote")

Mr. PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN: (As Truman Capote) If I'm going to write about you, if I'm going to determine how to write about you, we need to talk about why you're here and the murders and that night at the Clutter house.

BLOCK: As Bob Mondello mentioned, that's Philip Seymour Hoffman playing Truman Capote. The film was based on a biography written by Gerald Clarke. But Clarke says this is not the first time Truman Capote has been in a movie.


When he was writing the screenplay for his 1976 comedy "Murder by Death," Neil Simon wanted an unusual villain, a short, pudgy man with a high-pitched voice and a tongue as sharp as a stiletto, `someone just like Truman Capote,' Simon said, to which a friend responded, `Instead of getting someone like Truman Capote, why not get Truman Capote?' And they did. Truman was thrilled. Every American wants to be a movie star. `Gore Vidal must being dying,' he said. He and Vidal had been trading insults for years. But when I visited him on the set in Burbank, it was Truman who was miserable. Acting is hard work that requires getting up at dawn and sweating through take after take, and it requires acting talent, which Truman did not possess.

When he sat down with paper and pencil, Capote could write sentences that could make you laugh or could pierce you to the heart. No one of his generation had as good an ear for the music of the English language, its cadences and its rhythms. `The most perfect writer of my generation,' Norman Mailer called Capote after reading "Breakfast at Tiffany's."

In real life, Truman's personality was so buoyant and expansive that it defied the laws of human gravity. He could be outrageous. He could be witty. `Jack Kerouac's writing was not writing,' he said, `it was typewriting.' Truman could also be generous. To me, his biographer, he gave acres of time and mountains of confidence. And when he was not drinking--the last decade of his life was wrecked by alcoholism--he was more fun than anyone else I've ever met.

On screen, however, in Neil Simon's movie, Truman Capote was not a very good Truman Capote. In "Capote," a film that is reaching theaters today, Philip Seymour Hoffman is a very good Truman Capote. Many people can imitate Capote's odd, childish voice. It was so high, Gore Vidal once said, that only a dog could hear it. But Hoffman has done something different. Through the alchemy a very few gifted actors possess, he has done more than impersonate Truman. For the length of the movie, he has resurrected him.

In the last week of June 1984--he died in August--I had lunch with Truman every day. `There's the one and only T.C.,' he said at one point. `There was nobody like me before, and there ain't gonna be anybody like me after I'm gone.' That's true; who could dispute it? For a couple of hours, however, Philip Seymour Hoffman comes close.

BLOCK: Gerald Clarke. He's the author of Truman Capote's biography and the editor of "Too Brief a Treat," a collection of Capote's letters.

MICHELE NORRIS (Host): This is NPR, National Public Radio.

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