Acclaimed character actor Philip Baker Hall, whose prolific career has spanned from working with director Paul Thomas Anderson on credits including “Magnolia” and “Boogie Nights,” to a scene-stealing turn as hardened library cop Lt. Bookman in Seinfeld died Sunday at 90.
Hall’s death was announced on Twitter on Monday by Times sportswriter Sam Farmer, who wrote: “My neighbor, friend and one of the smartest, most talented and kindest people I have ever met, Philip Baker Hall, was peaceful last night died. He was surrounded by loved ones. The world has an empty space within it.”
No cause of death was given, but Hall has had emphysema for the past several years.
With his perpetual hangdog face and often sullen, world-weary demeanor, Hall proved equally adept at drama and comedy, appearing in nearly 200 film and television projects and more than 100 roles in theater during his six-decade career. He continued to work late in life, though health conditions sometimes required an oxygen tank, and he has appeared in films such as Argo and Bad Words, and as cranky neighbor Walt Kleezak on the ABC sitcom Modern. Family.”
Hall, who only started acting in his mid-30s, proved to be a late bloomer. Born on September 30, 1931 in Toledo, Ohio, he served as a translator for the US Army in Germany and worked as a high school teacher before trying his hand at acting. After building a career on the New York stage, he moved to Los Angeles and made his screen debut in an uncredited role in Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1970 film Zabriskie Point.
After years of guest-starring on shows like The Good Times and M*A*S*H, Hall first garnered attention for his role as the disgraced former President Nixon in the 1983 one-man play Secret Honor the Los Angeles Actors Theatre. He reprized the role onstage in Boston, Washington and Off-Broadway, where he received a Drama Desk nomination, and on the big screen in Robert Altman’s 1984 feature film adaptation.
“Hall is a marvel even before he speaks,” wrote Times theater critic Don Shirley in a review of the play. “Although Hall never resorts to cliche imitation, his suggestion of Nixon’s physiognomy is often uncanny, especially in profile.”
Throughout the 1980s, Hall continued to work steadily, having supporting roles in Ghostbusters II, Say Anything, and Midnight Run among other films, and making frequent appearances in television series such as Miami Vice, Benson, and Family Ties. ”
In the early 1990s, Hall made two memorable appearances as a hardened detective pursuing a 20-year overdue library book on Seinfeld and gaining new fans for his work. “What’s my problem? Punks like you — that’s my problem,” Hall said as bookman in an often-cited scene. “And you better not screw it up again, Seinfeld, because if you do, I’m going to pounce on you like a pit bull on a poodle.” Hall’s impression was so strong that Bookman made an encore appearance at the finale of the series came back in 1998.
In 1993, Hall was cast by Anderson in the writer-director’s short film Cigarettes & Coffee, forming a relationship that would further boost his career. The two had met on a PBS film on which Anderson served as production assistant. “He was a fan of my work, so how could I not like him?” Hall said of Anderson in a 2017 interview with The Washington Post. “We talked and drank cigarettes and coffee.”
Hall later starred as the grizzled gamer mentoring a younger protégé in Anderson’s debut feature film Hard Eight (1997) and proved he could mesmerize an audience in a starring role, appearing in Anderson’s “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia.”
“I have a particular fascination with character actors because I want to make them the leads,” Anderson told The Times in 1998. “I see Philip Baker Hall, he’s just… an actor that I love. There is no one else with a face like that or a voice like that.”
Hollywood took notice again, casting Hall in key supporting roles in films like The Insider and The Talented Mr. Ripley. But Hall himself has been wary of the newfound attention he’s been receiving.
“When you’re asked, it doesn’t matter if you’re fit for the role,” Hall told The Times in 1998. “It has nothing to do with getting the keys to the kingdom. ”
Hall – who would go on to work non-stop in film and television for another two decades – seemed bewildered by the idea that he was becoming something of a star in his late 60s, at a time when some actors are starting to contemplate retirement.
“I can honestly say I’ve been offered more work than I can handle,” he said. “By the standards of a struggling stage actor, I did well.”
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2022-06-13/philip-baker-hall-dies-at-90 Philip Baker Hall dies at 90. ‘Seinfeld,’ ‘Magnolia’ star