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Philip Seymour Hoffman is finally breaking his “where-have-I-seen-him-before?” presence in American cinema. It seems he has given one too many stellar performances to be invisible any longer. He is now starring in writer David Mamet’s new movie State and Main in his first crack at a romantic lead role.

He plays Joe White, an idealistic playwright thrown into conflict with the trappings of filmmaking and the heart of an engaged woman. Like all of Hoffman’s characters, Joe struggles with expressing his manhood, reflecting a planetary relationship in Hoffman’s chart that compels him to explore this particular theme in his work.

Sun Square Mars

Astrology Horoscope: Philip Seymour HoffmanHoffman was born with his Leo Sun in a square aspect to his Mars in Scorpio. When two planets are square, or 90 degrees from each other, there is a lot of tension and friction between them. The powerful planetary combination of Leo Sun square Scorpio Mars describes an inner drive so rigorous that it could be termed a perpetual personal boot camp.

The strength of both the Sun and Mars in Hoffman’s chart is intensified by the fact that they are placed in signs they traditionally are associated with, or “rule.” Leo, as the Sun-ruled sign, is drawn to find meaning in the self and to explore the special world of an individual. Scorpio, as one of two traditional Mars-ruled signs (the other is Aries), applies the ancient Martian function of dissociation* (separation) to the zodiac.

Happiness and Manhood

The dissociating character of Mars corresponds to physical and social avenues typically experienced by men, or that are linked to masculinity in some way. Hard Sun-Mars aspects, like the square, describe challenging associations with men or “male” values.

Hoffman’s Mars is on the receiving end of the square from the Sun, indicating his personal drive (Sun) to define masculinity (Mars) on his own terms. Portraying manhood at its most fragile, Hoffman explores themes of emasculation and the brutality of manhood.

There is Scotty in Boogie Nights, whose weakly closeted attraction to Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg) left him neutered in self-disgrace. In The Talented Mr. Ripley, he played Freddie Miles, the degenerate expatriate with subtle insecurities who callously taunted Ripley like a shower-room towel snapper. Most blatantly, we see these themes in Allen, the lonely bachelor in Happiness, who could talk up a good, threatening obscene phone call, but was a complete failure as an actual rapist. 

Flawless

Hoffman’s (until now) facelessness has been a key factor in his amazing mastery of physical transformation. Director Joel Schumacher, who worked with Hoffman on the movie Flawless said, “We bandy the term ‘chameleonic’ around all the time about actors, but he really has that quality. In spades.”

In the movie, he was matched against a true master and fellow Leo, Robert DeNiro. Hoffman played Rusty Zimmerman, a female impersonator who gave DeNiro’s homophobic ex-cop Walter Koontz singing lessons to help him recover from a stroke. Rusty, who risked the wrath of dangerous gangsters to acquire enough money to afford a sex-change operation, presented Hoffman with another perfect vehicle to act out concerns of his Sun-Mars square.

You Talkin’ to Me?

Astrology Horoscope: Robert DeNiroInterestingly, DeNiro was also born with a Sun-Mars square, but with a very distinct difference from Hoffman. In his chart, Mars is in Taurus. DeNiro’s Sun-Mars square draws him to portray men who are defined by their gender, as opposed to Hoffman who prefers to play men who somehow undermine their own masculinity.

The mutual, but contentious, Sun-Mars relationship shared between Hoffman and DeNiro set the perfect tone for the film’s main conflict. Both Rusty and Walter fought to overcome their wounded manhood. Despite their polarity, they shared a sense of separation from the standards set for their given gender.

Mars’ dissociating function plays a huge part in how both actors generally approach their craft. They are both known to completely lose their true selves in their characters. Hoffman made a strong impression on Hollywood’s master of disguise. His work was so thorough that DeNiro didn’t recognize him when they met up again at the Flawless wrap party.

True Grit

Hoffman, a high school wrestler, applies an athletic thrust for excellence to his craft, the kind necessary for great achievements. It’s a reflection, again, of the dissociating nature of Mars to always be in action. Recently he said, “I think what separates some of the great actors I’ve witnessed over time from some of the average actors is hard work.”

His Sun-Mars square describes his willingness to perform daring acts of performance courage. Last year he starred in a stage version of True West with his friend and frequent co-star, John C. Reilly. The actors, in a stunning test of ability, traded the play’s only two roles every three nights.

At the time, Reilly described Hoffman as “An actor's actor, really fearless. He's not afraid to explore all sides of the character, including the ugly, creepy things that go on inside of all our heads.” They delivered highly acclaimed performances in what seemed like a theatrical parallel of an afternoon squash game between good buddies.

Almost Famous

Hoffman recently appeared in Cameron Crowe’s movie memoir of rock journalism in the 70s, Almost Famous. He played the legendary outspoken rock critic Lester Bangs, who died in 1982. Bangs was a mentor to the young Crowe, a teenage reporter for Rolling Stone magazine during that era. A notorious figure in his time, Bangs was a charging commando in the war for artistic integrity and a vocal defender of creative outsiders.

Hoffman’s Sun-Mars square reveals how well he understands universal themes in the lives of ordinary men. He has faced issues that would make most people squirm and given them dignity, in a way that relates his characters’ suffering to anyone. Through his portrayal of Bangs, Hoffman summarized his own appeal: “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you're uncool.”

*Classical definition of Mars quoted from Robert Schmidt, Whether and Whence, Cassette Two, an introduction to his translations of Hellenistic astrological texts for Project Hindsight.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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For more information about Nick Dagan Best, click here.

Other StarIQ articles by Nick Dagan Best:

  • Seth Green Makes It Look Easy   5/14/2001
  • Ray Liotta: An Open Mind For Something Wild   4/24/2001
  • Ridley Scott Unleashes Hell   3/19/2001
  • Joaquin Phoenix: Good People Doing Bad Things   3/16/2001
  • Beck's Musical Lunaverse   2/18/2001
  • Fiona Apple: When Your Mind Is Your Might   2/16/2001
  • Julianne Moore Breaks the Silence   2/9/2001
  • Christina Ricci: Is Madness Too Glamorous?   12/28/2000
  • Frida Kahlo and Salma Hayek: Peas in a Pod or Saturn in Pisces?   11/30/2000

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