02/10/2014 05:15 pm ET Updated Apr 12, 2014

Philip Seymour Hoffman: An Encounter

I interviewed Philip Seymour Hoffman a few years ago.

As soon as he stepped into the office, I was taken aback by his charisma and strength.

"Excuse me for being frank," I said to him, as he sat down at the roundtable. "But I am a bit shocked. You strike me as being powerful, strong, extremely competent. And yet you play losers in some of your films. How...." I stared at him, in awe and respect. "How do you manage to connect with their vulnerability? How can you even relate to their weakness?"

He turned to me with violence.

"How can you say that?" he said with impatience in his voice. "What do you know about me? So you see me now, in an instant, and you make this judgment that I am this way all the time. What do you know? I too can make a quick judgment about you. I can also tell you what I see in you."

I swallowed, shocked. No interviewee had ever turned the tables on me.

"What I see," he turned to me with passion, as if the other journalists at our table did not exist, "is a determined woman. That's what I see. That's who you are now. But who knows what you will be like in three hours? How the hell do you know who I will be in three hours?"

Three hours later, I was sitting in a bar on the Croisette, with my friend Robert, bored.

Suddenly Philip Seymour Hoffman passed. He looked not as he did before, charismatic and in charge, but lonely and a little lost, despite the pretty Asian woman trailing behind him, perhaps a paid publicist to keep him company at the festival.

"Hey!" I said. "Could I ask you for a cigarette?"

He looked over.

"It's me." I explained as he offered me a Camel. "The determined woman."

"But..." I winked. "I am not determined now."

He laughed.

I did not know that he had been telling me the truth. That he too was no longer who he was three hours ago.

He was the most intense man I ever interviewed.