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.
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.)
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.
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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