R.I.P. Philip Baker Hall, beloved character actor of TV and film
He was in everything from M*A*S*H to Seinfeld and frequently collaborated with filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson.
There are recognizable character actors with a long list of credits to their name and then there is Philip Baker Hall. It might be easier to name the projects he hasn’t been a part of the last 50 years than the ones he has. Whether you recognize him as the hard-boiled cop obsessed with tracking down a library book in Seinfeld, a crime boss in Monk, a sergeant who visits the 4077th in M*A*S*H, a city councilman in Cheers, or one of his many movie roles, chances are you know his face and unique voice.
Born September 10, 1931 in Toledo, Ohio, Hall didn’t break into the entertainment business until he was in his forties. His career started with guest spots on Seventies sitcoms like Good Times and M*A*S*H. He also appeared twice in Emergency! and once in The Waltons.
Hall continued his TV acting into the Eighties. He was in one episode of James Arness’s short-lived police drama McLain’s Law as well as William Shatner’s T.J. Hooker. Hall also had roles in Cagney & Lacey, Miami Vice and Family Ties. He appeared in 13 episodes of the Earl Hamner Jr. drama Falcon Crest.
One of the first film roles that showed Hall’s remarkable abilities as an actor was Robert Altman’s 1984 movie Secret Honor, in which Hall played the one and only character — a rambling Richard Nixon. He also had small roles in Eighties classics like Midnight Run and Say Anything.
In the Nineties, Hall made his memorable appearance in season three of Seinfeld (and came back for the finale) and acted in Matlock, Cheers and Chicago Hope. But a chance meeting in 1992 would give Hall a late-career boost into meatier roles.
According to the Associated Press, Hall got to know a production assistant on a PBS program who had dreams of becoming a filmmaker. The assistant showed Hall a script for a short called “Cigarettes & Coffee” and when Hall read it, he knew this kid Paul Anderson had talent. The short was accepted at the Sundance Film Festival in 1993 and eventually became the feature film Hard Eight, with its director now credited as Paul Thomas Anderson.
Hall also appeared in Anderson’s next two films Boogie Nights and Magnolia. Hall also played the Attorney General in Air Force One and appeared in Nineties films Sour Grapes, The Truman Show, Rush Hour, The Insider and The Talented Mr. Ripley.
In the 2000s, Hall played mob boss Salvatore Lucarelli in Monk, Senator Matt Hunt in The West Wing along with roles in movies like In Good Company and the independent drama Duck. Hall was also in The Zodiac, a 2005 film about the Zodiac Killer that was quickly eclipsed by David Fincher’s acclaimed 2007 film Zodiac, which Hall also appeared in.
Philip Baker Hall never retired from the profession he spent five decades perfecting, appearing in his last project in 2020. He died Sunday at the age of 90.