Philip Baker Hall, best known for his roles in Paul Thomas Anderson’s films, is dead at 90. Hall died on Sunday in Glendale, California surrounded by loved ones, according to his wife of nearly 40 years, Holly Wolfe Hall. She said Hall was not feeling well a few weeks earlier, but spent his final days in a good mood and reflected on his life. “His voice at the end was still just as powerful,” said Wolfe Hall.
Hall was a gifted actor who had a wide range, but stuck with mostly playing men in suits and lab or trench coats. “Men who are highly stressed, older men, who are at the limit of their tolerance for suffering and stress and pain,” Hall told The Washington Post in 2017. “I had an affinity for playing those roles.”
Hall was born in Toledo, Ohio, and dedicated himself to theatre in Los Angeles in 1975, then transitioned to TV and movies. One of his first gigs was on an episode of Good Times, but Hall still focused on stage acting with the L.A. Actor Theatre. He played Richard Nixon in the one act play Secret Honor, which he reprised in Robert Altman’s 1984 film adaptation. Pauline Kael said in her review that Hall “draws on his lack of a star presence and on an actor’s fears of his own mediocrity in a way that seems to parallel Nixon’s feelings.”
While shooting a PBS program in 1992, Hall met Paul Thomas Anderson, who at the time was working as a Production Assistant. The two became close and Anderson had Hall look at a script he had written. It was for a short film called Cigarettes & Coffee.
“I’m reading this script, and I truly had trouble believing that that kid wrote this script,” Hall told the AV Club in 2012. “I mean, it was just so brilliant, resonating with nuance all over the place, like a playwright. Certainly, as a film, I’d never really seen anything like it. It was staggering.”
Hall’s other credits include The Insider, Dogville, Say Anything, The Truman Show, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Argo and Rush Hour. His last role was in the 2020 film Messiah.
Hall is survived by his wife, four daughters, four grandchildren and his brother.