Philip Baker Hall, of ‘Hard Eight,’ ‘Seinfeld,’ Dies at 90
NEW YORK — Philip Baker Hall, the prolific character actor of film and theater who starred in Paul Thomas Anderson’s first movies and who memorably hunted down a long-overdue library book in SeinfeldHe has passed away. He was ninety-nine.
Holly Wolfle Hall, the actor’s wife of nearly 40 years, on Monday said Hall died Sunday surrounded by loved ones in Glendale, Calif. She said Hall had been well until a few weeks earlier, and spent his final days in warm spirits, reflecting on his life.
“His voice at the end was still just as powerful,” said Wolfle Hall. She added that her husband never stopped acting.
Hall, who had been an actor for half a century was the epitome of character acting. A ubiquitous face that could be mistaken as a hangdog, Hall’s stoic appearance concealed a powerful intensity and modesty. Hall was versatile and could often be seen in lab coats, suits or trench coats.
“Men who are highly stressed, older men, who are at the limit of their tolerance for suffering and stress and pain,” Hall told the Washington PostIn 2017. “I had an affinity for playing those roles.”
Hall was born in Toledo, Ohio. He initially focused his efforts on theater and then moved to Los Angeles in 1975. After that, he switched to TV and movies. A few parts were shot in Hollywood, including an episode of Good TimesHall was his first job), Hall also worked for the L.A. Actor Theatre. Hall played Richard Nixon during the 1983 play Secret Honor, a role he reprised in Robert Altman’s film adaptation.
Hall made an impression in small roles in other films, like 1988’s Midnight Run. Hall was often seen in guest roles on television, but that wasn’t his main focus. This changed in 1992 when Hall was filming a PBS series. Hall met Paul Thomas Anderson, a young production assistant. They would often hang out together, sharing cigarettes and coffee during scenes. Anderson, believing Hall hadn’t gotten his due in film, asked him to look at a script he had written for a 20-minute short film titled Cigarettes & Coffee.
Continue reading: All of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Movies, Ranked
“I’m reading this script, and I truly had trouble believing that that kid wrote this script,” Hall told the AV Club in 2012. “I mean, it was just so brilliant, resonating with nuance all over the place, like a playwright. Certainly, as a film, I’d never really seen anything like it. It was staggering.”
After the $20,000 short made it into the Sundance Film Festival, Anderson expanded it into his feature debut, 1997’s Hard Eight, which catapulted Hall’s career. Hall was a kind and wise itinerate gambler called Sydney, who teaches John C. Reilly (a young drifter) the art of gambling. In one indelible scene, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s first with Anderson, a hot-shot gambler chides Hall as “old-timer.”
Anderson would cast Hall again as adult film theater magnate Floyd Gondolli who warns Burt Reynolds’ pornography producer about the industry’s future in Boogie Nights. In Anderson’s MagnoliaHall is the host for a children’s game show.
“I have a particular fascination with character actors, with wanting to turn them into lead actors,” Anderson told The Los Angeles Times1998. “I see Philip Baker Hall, he’s just . . . A great actor. There’s no one else with a face like that, or a voice like that.”
Hall’s powerfully comic appearance on The Simpsons was immediately recognizable by many. Seinfeld. Hall portrayed Lt. Joe Bookman (a library investigator) in the 22nd Episode of this sitcom, broadcasted in 1991. Tropic of Cancer. Hall played him like a hardboiled noir detective, telling Seinfeld: “Well, I got a flash for ya, Joy-boy: Party time is over.”
Hall was brought back to the Seinfeldfinal and Larry David Curb Your Enthusiasm. David once stated that Hall is the best actor he has ever seen.
Among Hall’s many other credits were Michael Mann’s The InsiderAs 60 minutes producer Don Hewitt, and Lars von Trier’s Dogville. Hall first appeared in The Truman Show, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Zodiac, ArgoAnd Rush Hour. Hall played Walt Kleezak, the neighbor on Modern Family. The 2020 Series was his last appearance. Messiah.
Hall, who had been married to Dianne for three-years in the 1970s, has survived by his wife and four daughters as well as four grandchildren.
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