Brow Beat

From the Very Beginning, You Could Tell Hoffman Was Special

Philip Seymour Hoffman (left, with Gil Bellows) got his first screen credit, like so many New York actors, on Law & Order.

NBC

For all his great movie roles and Hollywood accolades, Philip Seymour Hoffman was in many ways a quintessential New York actor. He was a resident of the West Village; his stage work spanned Tony-winning performances on Broadway and downtown projects with the Labyrinth Theater Company; and like all New York thespians worth their salt, his résumé included an appearance on Law & Order. In fact, his first listed credit on IMDb is from an episode of the long-running procedural.

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In Season 1’s “The Violence of Summer,” which first aired on Feb. 5, 1991, a youthful Philip Seymour Hoffman (or Philip Hoffman, as he then was credited) plays a young thug charged with gang rape. The part is small, but Hoffman makes the most of it. (As is often the case with early episodes of Law & Order, Hoffman wasn’t the only future star to put in an appearance. Samuel L. Jackson chews some scenery as a defense attorney.)

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When he first appears, at arraignment, he taunts a co-defendant with the sort of red-faced, finger-wagging burst of anger that is guaranteed to drive the judge to distraction. Around the 20-minute mark, during another court appearance, his sandy hair—already finding its trademark tousle—and large hands do most of the acting.

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Finally, toward the end of the episode, he and a fellow criminal are tricked by Detectives Max Greevey and Mike Logan into implicating the fellow he had antagonized earlier in the episode. In this scene, Hoffman’s fine display of open-mouthed confusion shows that he already knew how quickly a goofy smirk could turn into a grimace of defeat.

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