Mimi O'Donnell, the mother to their three children, now finds comfort with her work in the New York theater world they both loved

By Kathy Ehrich Dowd
Updated May 14, 2015 02:15 PM
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By her own admission, Mimi O’Donnell’s world fell apart when her life partner, Philip Seymour Hoffman, died of a drug overdose in February of last year, leaving her to parent their three young children alone.

In deep mourning, she retreated from the theater world that had been central to the couple’s lives ever since they met on a set in 1999, taking forlorn family trips to the beach and immersing herself in books about grief penned by greats including Joan Didion and Joyce Carol Oates.

“I was pretty stubborn in my falling apart,” she told The New York Times in a new interview. “And my kids saw all of it, because they should. What, am I going to hide it from them? I don’t want them to hide it from me.”

But now, more than a year after his shocking death, O’Donnell has returned to the theater, serving as artistic director of the Labyrinth Theater Company – as Hoffman once did – and directing a new production titled Nice Girl.

She said she finds the creative work of the theater therapeutic, and a way to process the complex emotions that remain.

“I go in feeling whatever I’m feeling about grief, and all of a sudden there’s something onstage that’s happening – it cracks something open,” she said. “When they really, truly open up in front of you emotionally, there’s something about it that I find humbling as a human being.”

O’Donnell often attended the theater with Hoffman, long after he gained fame and an Academy Award for his role in Capote. She stayed away from shows in the months following his death, but she returned for the first time to see Cate BlanchettHoffman’s longtime friend – star in The Maids last summer.

“She did that thing you want every actress in theater to do: She left her heart on the stage,” O’Donnell said. “And I knew enough in that moment to go: ‘I love theater. I love it. I love what it can do.’ ”

O’Donnell, a onetime costume designer for Saturday Night Live, admits life is far from normal now – but the grief is a little less all-consuming.

“I would say that, after a year has passed, I’m able to function, if that’s the right word, or be in the world a little bit differently,” she said.