SHEENA BARNETT: Finding inspiration in Hoffman’s work



It’s easy to forget why we do things.

When I was editor of The Daily Mississippian at the University of Mississippi, it was easy to forget why I majored in journalism.

Between getting maybe two hours of sleep a night, putting out a newspaper each day, dealing with the occasional angry reader or petty drama and, oh yeah, earning a degree, it was easy for me to forget that I had a sincere passion for the art and science of journalism.

In my fall semester as editor, the movie “Capote” came to theaters. Of course, the only time I had to see the movie was on the weekends, which spelled trouble for me.

I spent most of my weekends sleeping because I got so little sleep between the paper and school. I was afraid I’d fall asleep in the theater.

But the focus of the movie was Truman Capote and his nonfiction novel “In Cold Blood,” a favorite of mine. I’d always been fascinated with the murders that inspired the book, the way the book was written and how the story swept the reader away while it unfolded.

The movie and its star kept me enthralled.

Philip Seymour Hoffman was a revelation. He brought one of my favorite authors to life.

Hoffman’s character struggled to tell a complex, difficult story, one that became increasingly personal to him, and that re-energized my passion for my major.

One of my favorite scenes in the film was when Capote gave a reading of his work.

That one little scene touched on something I’ve always wanted to do: read my own words before an audience.

That sounds narcissistic, I know, but hear me out – I wanted my words to mean something to others. I think that’s why a lot of us do what we do. We want to mean something to others.

Maybe we matter because we wrote something that someone else could relate to, and therefore they felt a little less lonesome; maybe we built that bridge that thousands of drivers use each day; maybe we put out a stove fire before it spread to the rest of the house.

Hoffman made a difference. He was the rare kind of actor who could disappear into roles and make you forget you were watching an actor.

His work in “Capote,” for which he won an Academy Award, inspired me and reminded me of my dreams.

You could argue that it was Capote himself who inspired me, and that’s true. But Hoffman reminded me of my love for that writer, and his wonderful performance inspired me to be that great in my own work. He made me think I could do and maybe even succeed in this line of work.

It’s easy to let little things turn into big deals.

It’s simple to fall victim to the daily grind, to the poisonous words of nay-sayers and especially to the lure of whatever concoction that you believe can take you away from your problems, even for a moment.

There are plenty of days, most of them actually, that I think I’m not good enough or smart enough to be a writer or a journalist. But the one thing that brings me back to the keyboard is that scene in “Capote.” Few days go by that I don’t think about it.

Thanks, Mr. Hoffman.

Contact Daily Journal entertainment writer and reporter Sheena Barnett at

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