Little did Philip Seymour Hoffman know that when he met Bennett Miller and Dan Futterman at a summer drama camp at 17, that 20 years later they would offer him a role of a lifetime. It took Futterman six years to complete the Capote screenplay, which he adapted from the Gerald Clarke biography and focuses on the years Truman spent researching and writing In Cold Blood. When he handed the script over to director, Bennett Miller, they agreed that their old friend, Philip Seymour Hoffman, was the only actor who could do the part justice.
By 2005, Hoffman’s body of work included, Flawless, Magnolia, The Big Lebowski, Boogie Nights, and Almost Famous, and had established himself as the actor of his generation by critics. However, he did need some convincing to take on this role. Not only was he wary of portraying a real life character, but it also involved a five-month commitment to transform himself by losing up to 40 pounds while perfecting Truman’s infamous high-pitched Southern drawl. The pay-off was well worth it, as he delivered one of, if not the greatest performance of his career, and went on to win the Oscar, Golden Globe Award, SAG Award, Critic’s Choice Award, BAFTA Award, and Independent Spirit Award for his portrayal of Truman Capote.
With In Cold Blood, Truman created a new literary genre, the non-fiction novel. He was able to take himself out of the narrative while stitching together the events that led to the Clutter Family murders in Holcomb, Kansas in 1959. Capote reveals more about Truman through his relationships, particularly with one of the killers, Perry Smith. The two form a bond over their abandonment as children and a shared love of the arts, yet the ethical lines between a journalist and the subject quickly become blurred. While Truman genuinely cares for these men, in order to finish his book he needs Perry to tell him what happened the night of the murders.
Sensing In Cold Blood will be his literary masterpiece and provide him with the love, fame, and wealth he so craves, it also means facing abandonment once again when Perry and Dick are sentenced to death. Ultimately, Truman’s greatest work leads to his professional and personal downfall. After the book was published in 1965, it brought Truman tremendous success and adulation, yet he was never able to complete another novel. He died at the age of 59 from liver disease and a drug overdose in 1984.
In Cold Blood is a classic and one of my all-time favorite books. With the popularity of the true crime genre at an all-time high, this is definitely required reading. Capote paints a vivid portrait of this small Kansas town and its community and has an uncanny ability to convey human emotion that is like no other. You can purchase a copy here, or reserve one at your local library. If you are interested in learning more about Truman’s life, I recommend reading Gerald Clarke’s, Capote: A Biography.
Capote is now playing on EPIX and EPIX.com