Philip Seymour Hoffman was one of those people.
To me Philip was in the same category as a John Malkovich, a Tilda Swinton or a Forest Whitaker. At their best, these actors make the audience forget that they are playing a role. And yet, when you see them with the make-up off, or without the special effects, or the prosthetic limbs, they look so ordinary. They look as if they are about to pop down to the shops for a bit of washing up liquid, a couple of lemons and some garlic. I grew up on the same block a famous Cuban actor used to live on. He still does. I often wondered: how is it possible that this man made me cry last night at the theatre and now he is queuing in front of me to get the same milk I’ll get, using the same ration card I’ll use and talking to the people from the barrio without any airs and graces?
I first saw Hoffman in Happiness, a film so disturbing that I remember travelling on the Underground at the time trying to work out who was hiding a possible Allen inside. I then saw Boogie Nights and I knew that he had it. He had that knack of not just transforming himself into the role he was playing but also transforming the viewer’s notion of what acting was. A couple of years ago Film Four showed The Big Lebowski and would you believe it? There he was again, in a minor role, but you couldn’t miss it.
|Drugs: a complex issue|
All this made me think of drugs and why people take them. I don’t just mean the act or the context, but also our views on the whole process. Mention the word “drug” and many of us put our blinkers on. We become judgemental rather than logical. It was only after I became a parent that I began to think of drugs more seriously. What if? There’s always a “what if?” with parents. The more I read about the subject, the more in the dark I found myself. Also, the more afraid I was.
I used to be a firm believer in prohibition. Ban drugs and order will follow. Lock up drug dealers and society will improve. Notice the past tense. I used to believe that. But not anymore. Just like it happened with capital punishment – in which I also had great belief – I used to think that if you put more resources on the ground, i.e., more police, more coastguards, better border controls, you could eventually solve the drugs problem. But addiction is not straightforward. First of all it's the nature of it. Is it a mental or physical condition? We know that the body doesn’t demand heroin natural (it demands food and water), so therefore the need to shoot up comes from a social environment. This environment could be a learnt one (children exposed to drug addict parents), or one they have accessed through their peer network. What I have come to realise is that we lack strategies to deal with different scenarios.
When someone suggested to me many years ago, when my children were still very little, that the better way to deal with the perennial drugs and booze problem was let teenager have them in a safe environment, I confess that I gave my interlocutor a dirty look. To me that was to admit defeat. However, he was half-right.
Hoffman died on his own, shooting up. He wasn’t in a party indulging himself in a cocktail of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. That means that it can happen to anyone anywhere. I have no information on the quality of the drugs he was using at the time of his death, but I do know that many of the junkies looking to get high right now will most likely end up buying an unregulated product from someone who doesn’t give a damn about human life.
Do I agree with the consumption of drugs? No, I don’t, even though the title of this regular column has the name “coffee” in it. Caffeine is a drug. Do I agree with people dealing with drugs? No, I don’t. I admit that whenever I think of this topic part of me sometimes becomes a human version of The Daily Mail whilst on other occasions it is my liberal, progressive mindset that is in control. But I believe that there is something on which I am sure everyone will agree. We need to talk about drugs. We owe it to Philip and others. We also owe it to the next generation, unless we want to see more people ending up dead with a syringe by their side.
Next Post: “Let’s Talk About...”, to be published on Wednesday 12th February at 11:59pm (GMT)