It came as a surprise to read that Philip Seymour Hoffman was only 46 when he shuffled off his mortal coil, earlier this week. The ease with which he inhabited his various characters suggested he would look credible playing anywhere between the ages of 36 and 76. Actually I lie. He was short on ”ease”genes. Legend has it that he was one of those actors who immerse themselves totally in the role they are playing. Once he had been to wardrobe and make-up, Philip, apparently, stayed in character all day, even over lunch-break. It worked for him. His Truman Capote was an exquisitively nuanced performance that never toppled over into campness or impersonation.
There is a fascinating story about him that I find irresistible. In 2005, I went to see a Sam Shepherd play, “True West” at The Peacock Theatre, in the basement of the Abbey Theatre. The backbone of the script was an exhausting bout of bickering between two brothers. The dialogue was rapid-fire and frequently verbally violent.
Back in 1985, Hoffman won a Tony Award on Broadway for his part as one of the brothers in True West and you’d think that winning a Tony would be enough for any man, but not for Philip. Playing the other brother was pug-nosed John. C Reilly, who you would recognise instantly from his many appearances in countless movies as an “Oirish” cardinal, bishop or just plain priest. To avoid boredom setting in, Hoffman and Reilly would swap roles, for a night. Or two nights!
What an astonishing coup de theatre to pull that off. The acuity required for such an unlikely exercise, smacks of the picaresque rather than showing-off and this impishness tallies with many of the tributes from fellow actors attesting to Hoffman’s reputation as a “funny guy”off screen. How tragic that a man gifted with such mental agility, couldn’t act his way out of his predicament with addiction.
Then there’s the astounding Ronnie O’Sullivan, a man who can, at the highest level, play snooker with both hands,. His left hand doesn’t have quite the power of his right, but the ambidextrous brilliance which he brings to the snooker table, is a tour de force of geometry and mathematics.
He plays quickly, but he has an extraordinary ability to read angles, do instant computations on the value of the balls left on the board and when safety shots are called for, he is a master of pace as well. These talents are not available to the Joe Soaps and at this year’s Masters, O’Sullivan, hammered his opponents, into the ground, with a display of unparalleled snooker genius.
Ronnie first displayed his ambidexterity in a match against Alain Roubidoux in the 1996 World Championship. The Canadian accused O’Sullivan of disrespect and he responded that he played better with his left hand than Robidoux could with his right. There was a disciplinary hearing, in response to Robidoux’s formal complaint, where O’Sullivan had to prove that he could play to a high level with his left hand. He played three frames of snooker against former world championship runner-up, Rex Williams, winning all three. Case dismissed.
Whenever boxing fans sit down together to discuss the greatest fighters of all time, in the Middleweight division, a quartet of names pops up that is nothing short of enthralling. Marvellous Marvin Hagler, Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas “The Hitman” Hearns. They nearly all fought each other at some stage, but Hagler was the reigning world champion for a record six and half years. The ultimate fight between Hagler and Hearns happened on April 15th 1985, and it was aptly dubbed “The War.” The fight lasted just short of three rounds, brutal, furious rounds, with both boxers throwing punches, not in short flurries, but continuously.
And then, Hagler pulled off the move that changed the fight and gave him the critical advantage that allowed him end up the winner.
Hagler was naturally right-handed, but like O’Sullivan, he could fight southpaw, equally well. He switched his stance from orthodox to southpaw, which opened Hearns up more to Hagler’s menacing right hand. This move showed off the power of the psychology of the World Champion, Hagler. He put Hearns on the canvas towards the end of Round 3 and even though “The Hitman” managed to struggled to his feet, he was in no condition to continue.
These three stories are unrelated except they all offer tantalizing glimpses of what our brains can do The only common denominator is a kind of mental and physical ambidexterity and try as they might, scientists and their technology will never, in my opinion, achieve the ambition of creating an artificial brain equal to a human brain. How can any machine predict when Ronnie is going to play left-handed.
Until they come up with a southpaw-left-handed-citeog computer, they will never manage to subsume us into their cyberworld, a logarithmic nightmare, where wearing headphones is an incurable addiction and an app’ a day keeps the doctor and his fellow medical investors chomping at the bite to get in on the ground floor.
Article Written by Shay Healy First Published in The Irish Daily Mail, Saturday 8th February 2014 Shay Healy’s latest eBook ‘The Danny Boy Triangle’ is Out Now on Kindle 2.99 Free Kindle Reader – download app