As part of its cover story on Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rolling Stone interviewed Cameron Crowe about the late actor’s role in Almost Famous. In the film, Hoffman played Lester Bangs, a character based on the real-life music journalist (who wrote frequently for Rolling Stone) . “You could see a glint in his eye,” Crowe says of Hoffman when the actor came to L.A. to rehearse. “He already knew this character.”
Crowe initially thought rehearsals would take two days, but Hoffman told him, “You may only need a couple of hours.” The director recalls watching video interviews of Bangs with Hoffman as the actor tried to emulate the writer’s mannerisms and wit. Afterwards, they were going over one of the scenes from Almost Famous when Crowe realized Hoffman was ready for the film: “I looked at the clock and it was two hours exactly. And [Hoffman] laughed and said, ‘Told ya.’”
Hoffman wasn’t a part of the film from the beginning, though — Crowe says “some really good actors” actually auditioned for the role of Bangs. Though they “put all their heart in it,” he knew that Hoffman was the guy for the role. “I knew Phil from Twister and Boogie Nights, where he was amazing,” Crowe says. “You saw him melt into this compassionate figure you just ached for. And that was part of Lester.”
Crowe last saw Hoffman when he was in New York finishing up the editing for Almost Famous. Crowe showed Hoffman scenes from the movie, and later went to one of the actor’s on-stage performances. After the show, the director went backstage. “He pulls me back into the dressing room and says, ‘Hey, you made a really good movie!’ He looked me right in the eye. It was no longer Lester,” Crowe remembers. “It was Phil.”
Check out Rolling Stone for more of Crowe on Hoffman.