Philip Baker Hall, Legendary Character Actor, Dead at 90

He memorably worked with Paul Thomas Anderson, Robert Altman and Jerry Seinfeld

Philip Baker Hall
Philip Baker Hall delivered a lot of great performances.
Sygma via Getty Images

Philip Baker Hall had an immediately recognizable voice, sonorous and flowing, which served him well over the course of his long career in film and television. Hall’s career found him playing presidents, detectives and gamblers with equal intensity, and you could see him use that voice as an aspect of his physical presence; he could be just as effective saying nothing as he could with a devastating verbal jab.

The Hollywood Reporter reported that Hall died on Sunday at the age of 90. His roles include supporting parts in films like Zodiac, The Insider, Argo and Midnight Run — as well as memorable guest stints on televisions shows such as Seinfeld and Modern Family.

The roles for which Hall will likely be best remembered came via his work with directors Robert Altman and Paul Thomas Anderson. For the former, he played Richard Nixon in the film Secret Honor, which Roger Ebert deemed “one of the most scathing, lacerating and brilliant movies of 1984.”

“Nixon is portrayed by Philip Baker Hall, an actor previously unknown to me, with such savage intensity, such passion, such venom, such scandal, that we cannot turn away,” Ebert continued. Hall also had supporting roles in Anderson’s Magnolia and Boogie Nights, but it’s his role as a jaded gambler in Hard Eight that continues to stand as a high point in a storied career.

Hall was always memorable when he appeared on screen, regardless of the size of the part. And in his best moments, he offered an understated kind of transcendence — the kind of subtle work that stays with you long after the credits have rolled.

The InsideHook Newsletter.

News, advice and insights for the most interesting person in the room.