By Colin Covert
Park City, Utah
Philip Seymour Hoffman, shown at right, stars in “Jack Goes Boating,” an offbeat working class love story that had its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival this week. It’s also his film directing debut, not that he considers that a step up.
“Acting is a much harder job than directing,” he said after the screening. Directing himself, however, was frustrating. “You’re inside yourself and you can’t watch yourself,” he said. “I would suck really bad and I would be like, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing.’”
Looking for feedback from his fellow actors and crew “I basically would drive everybody crazy. After a take I would walk back and say, ‘Anybody? Anything? Anybody?’ I’d look at a take and say, ‘That was f------ awful.” But I had to figure it out and I did it by relying on everybody.”
Hoffman plays the lead, a lonely limo driver who is strikes up a tentative romance with mortician’s assistant Amy Ryan. She handles clerical work, “no fluids,” explains John Ortiz, a fellow driver who plays Cupid but is troubled in his own relationship with Daphne Rubin-Vega. The cast had performed “Jack” as a play in Hoffman’s New York-based Labyrinth theater company before bringing it to the screen.
Making it function as a film meant reworking the material considerably, Hoffman explained. “We worked really hard to make it that,” he said, delving into Jack’s imagination of a better life to come. “What came out of that was the whole theme of visualization. If you can see it there’s a possibility you might be able to do it. He can see the life he wants and that’s a lot of what you see in the film, getting inside his imagination. There’s a lot of hope in imagination, imagining what’s possible, the happiness that’s not in Jack’s life. “
The trickiest scenes were the ones where Hoffman would have to switch from playing the part of a self-assured director to an emotionally vulnerable loner. “As a director you’re more in control, you’re trying to be the leader and be strong and to go from that to a state of powerlessness was kind of scary.”
In a blissful scene where the couples have a dinner party and smoke from a hookah, “you’re not witnessing a stoned atmosphere, but a moment where they’re all happy at the same time. And then the dinner burns, and isn’t that always the case?”
Happiness won’t last so long,” he grinned, “but misery is forever.”

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