Cooper Hoffman on ‘Licorice Pizza’ and Following In His Father’s Footsteps

Growing up surrounded by film didn’t convince Cooper Hoffman, son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, that he wanted to be an actor. No, that happened when he had his first reading with Paul Thomas Anderson for Licorice Pizza. After that, a love for acting formed, but he had to prove to Anderson, a lifelong family friend who wasn’t handing out any favors, that he was right for the part. Luckily, he was able to make his case, and the Hoffman/Anderson legacy continued on with another generation. For W’s annual Best Performances issue, Hoffman discusses bonding with Alana Haim during Anderson’s thorough audition process, growing up surrounded by Anderson’s movies, and his love for tear-jerker Disney stories.

How did you first hear about Licorice Pizza?

I first heard about Licorice Pizza when Paul called me and told me to read a script. I thought it was weird, but I read it anyway and loved every second of it. I wanted to do it, and when he came to New York, I told him that. He led me on for a while. He came into town for auditions and told me, “I just want to hear what it sounds like out loud.” I read with him, and I fell in love with Paul even more, and I fell in love with the script and acting. From there, he was kind of just leading me on, and then he finally told me at dinner with the Haim sisters.

How did you and Alana become such good friends?

Paul had us do camera tests after camera tests, which I’m realizing now weren’t camera tests, but auditions to see if I could actually do it. So, we became close just through that process of having to be vulnerable. It was a great experience. We kind of had to have each other’s backs in that process.

Were you a theatrical child?

No, not at all. I was always trying to be in the stage crew whenever a play came up, and I actually remember a time when everybody, including the crew, had to go onstage, and I didn’t go onstage. My mom was like, “Why’d you do that? You’re making it all about yourself.” And I was like, “I was trying to not make it about myself.” But I was never a theatrical child. I actually always wanted to be a director when I was younger. I loved making movies with my friends, and even with Paul and his younger kid.

Hoffman wears his own clothing and sneakers.

When you were growing up, was there a film that made a huge impression on you?

Boogie Nights definitely made an impression on me. I love all of Paul’s films, but the first film I remember seeing and loving was Fantastic Mr. Fox, by Wes Anderson. I remember watching that and just falling in love with the idea of making a creative project. But the film of Paul’s that I adore so much is probably either The Master, which I know I’m biased about, or Punch-Drunk Love.

Is there a movie that makes you cry?

There are a lot of movies that make me cry. I just saw Luca, and the ending made me cry because I get the friendship and having to watch a friend leave and not knowing when you’re going to see them again. Sorry if I’m spoiling this for anyone who hasn’t watched it. I did enjoy that movie, and I cried. I’ve cried at every Disney movie.

What was your favorite Halloween costume you wore?

I was Spider-Man a lot. From 4 to 8 years old, I used to wear the costume and not take it off, ever. I would just live in it, because I loved it so much, but I was scared of the mask, so I would never wear the mask. I would hide it and tuck it under my pillow at night.

Produced by Wes Olson and Hannah Murphy at Connect the Dots; production Manager: Zack Higginbottom at Connect the Dots; photo assistants: Antonio Perricone, Jeff Gros, Morgan Pierre; digital technician: Michael Preman; lighting technician: Keith Coleman; key grip: Scott Froschauer; retouching: Graeme Bulcraig at Touch Digital; senior style editor: Allia Alliata di Montereale; senior fashion market editor: Jenna Wojciechowski; fashion assistants: Julia McClatchy, Antonio Soto, Nycole Sariol, Sage McKee, Josephine Chumley, Rosa Schorr; production assistants: Tchad Cousins, Juan Diego Calvo, Gina York, Brandon Fried, Nico Robledo, Kein Milledge; hair assistants: Tommy Stanton, Sol Rodriquez, Andi Ojeda; makeup assistants: Tami Elsombati, Bridgett O’Donnell; manicure assistant: Pilar Lafargue; set coordinator: Sarah Hein; set assistants: Olivia Giles, Seth Powsner, King Owusu; tailors: Suzi Bezik, Cardi Mooshool Alvaji; tailor assistant: Elma Click