Fr. James Martin S.J., a Jesuit priest, met Hoffman when he came in to consult on the Labyrinth Theater Company’s production of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, which Hoffman directed in 2003. Martin then joined the company as a member, and later advised Hoffman on 2008’s Doubt.
The two spent time together at New York City’s Saint Ignatius Church, where Martin taught Hoffman how a priest celebrates Mass. It was in that same church on Friday that Martin presided at Hoffman’s funeral Mass and delivered the homily.
Martin shares memories of his longtime friend – who died of an apparent drug overdose on Sunday – with PEOPLE.
“He was a lovely person, very down-to-earth,” Martin says. “I learned about humility from him. He never put on airs. Whenever he talked about being in a movie, he would just say, ‘Yeah, I got this job.’ He would never say, ‘I’m the lead.’ Or ‘I’m starring in Capote.’ Then I’d read about it in the papers and learn what it was.”
“He was really fun to be with. He was so intent on getting everything right. I remember he asked if a priest would have 3 x 5 cards during a homily. Small details. He listened to what I had to say, but he also knew his craft. When you watched him act, you got a sense of what the word ‘vocation’ really means. He was born to do this.”
Once as they were entering St. Ignatius together, a woman recognized Hoffman as the scheming son in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, which was out at the time. “She said, ‘I saw you in that movie last night and you were very, very bad!’ And he said, ‘Look, even before I step into church I’m getting guilt!’ ”
In his book, A Jesuit Off-Broadway: Behind the Scenes with Faith, Doubt, Forgiveness, and More, Martin says Hoffman was raised Catholic and attended confirmation classes near Rochester, NY.
“My parents were pretty liberal people who didn’t talk about God much in the house,” Martin quotes Hoffman as saying. “Those Masses really turned me off. Lots of rote repetition, pretty boring, and sometimes really brutal.”
Later one of Hoffman’s sisters became involved with an Evangelical Christian group, which appealed to him. Martin writes that Hoffman was attracted by “the palpable sense of community that he felt with his sister and her friends. Still, he held back from the sort of total commitment his sister had made. ‘It was a little too much for me,’ he said. ‘And by that time I was more into partying and acting.'” While he fell away from church practice, Hoffman described himself in the book as a believer who prayed from time to time.
This week on his public Facebook page, Martin shared a photo of Hoffman with the cast of Judas Iscariot. Everyone who worked on the production had been given a sweatshirt with a quote from the play in which a character explains his definition of Heaven. In the photo, Hoffman, grinning broadly, is seen wearing his. It reads: “Eat Fried Chicken and Mashed Potatoes and Feel the Sun on Your Face.”
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