Educated at the University of Toledo.
He first drew attention in 1984 playing Richard Nixon in Secret Honor, a one-man show written by Donald Freed and Arnold M. Stone as a stage play, but taken up by Robert Altman and turned into a film. It was a startling piece of work, and Mr. Hall was wild and wonderful, without ever seeming like Richard Nixon. It was an effective debut that had no apparent buyers. It was another decade before Paul Thomas Anderson rediscovered Hall and let him be Hall. You may be of the opinion, still, that Mr. Hall should not be in pictures (or as many). So be it.
His record includes a great deal of television, most of it beyond recall, though he lias been a judge on The Practice and a cop in the finale of Seinfeld. Similarly, there are many films or TV movies listed under his name, yet only a few that have been seen. This seems an ideal case for a week of Charlie Rose (just as Dick Cavett once explored Jed Harris) in which Mr. Hall could recount the wretched, hopeless, but alluring life of the player of small parts.
So, be alert to what is a much reduced fist: The Man with Bogarts Face (80, Robert Day); Ghost- busters II (89, Ivan Reitman); Say Anything (89. Cameron Crowe); An Innocent Man (89, Peter Yates); How I Got into College (89, Savage Steve Holland); Live Wire (92, Christian Duguay); Cigarettes and Coffee (93, Anderson); Roswell (94, Jeremy Kagan); Kiss of Death (95, Barbet Schroeder); Eye for an Eye (96, John Sehlesinger).
His real breakthrough came in Hard Eight (96, Anderson), which was originally called “Sydney" after his character—a shabby casino resident, a lost father-figure, and a kind of exhausted angel; The Rock (96, Michael Bay); Buddy (97, Caroline Thompson); Air Force One (97, Wolfgang Petersen); Boogie Nights (97, Anderson); Sour Grapes (98, Larry David—the cocreator of Seinfeld); The Tnunan Show (98, Peter Weir); Rush Hour (98, Brett Ratner); Enemy of the State (98, Tony Scott); in the old John Mclntire part in Psycho (98, Gus Van Sant); The Cradle Will Rock (99, Tim Robbins); as Don Hewitt in The Insider (99, Michael Mann); “Jimmy Gator,” at his best, in Magnolia (99, Anderson); The Talented Mr. Ripley (99, Anthony Minghella); The Contender (00, Rod Lurie); as Aristotle Onassis in the TV miniseries Jackie Bouvier Kennedy Onassis (00, David Burton Morris); The Sum of All Fears (02, Alden Robinson); as Everett Dirksen in Path to War (02, John Frankenheimer).
His official record as an actor only begins around 1970—after a late graduation from the University of Toledo—so there may have been several other attempts on life along the way that could help account for the most squeezed, rueful, weary face in films. Which is to say that Philip Baker Hall is not what we are accustomed to beholding in the bright lights.
He looks like a guy on the subway, at the end of the diner counter, a face that knows its place is in the crowd—and several rows back. On the other hand, around 1999 it began to be difficult to find a movie for which lie hadn’t been hired—if only to listen to the silly talk of others.