Ellen Burstyn tells PEOPLE that the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, who directed her in a play, was “as talented a director as he was an actor”
“Philip directed me in Stephen Adly Guirgis's play, The Little Flower of East Orange, at the Public Theatre back in 2008,” Burstyn, 91, recalls to PEOPLE exclusively.
“We became friends, and he and his family used to spend holidays at my house; pool parties, picnics, and barbecues.”
While many of Hoffman's colleagues and friends have praised his acting abilities throughout the years, Burstyn tells PEOPLE “he was as talented a director” and overall a “monumental” talent.
“He was a wonderful and caring father to his three children, and I'm so sad that he got back into drugs after being drug-free for so many years,” the Exorcist star adds. “It's a terrible tragedy and a great loss, not only to his family but also to the theater and film worlds.”
Before that off-Broadway production of Guirgis’ drama, which costarred Michael Shannon, Liza Colón-Zayas and Gillian Jacobs, Burstyn and Hoffman had appeared together in two screen projects: the 1994 Meg Ryan and Andy García movie When a Man Loves a Woman and 2002’s Anthony Hopkins thriller Red Dragon.
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Burstyn was among the attendees of Hoffman’s funeral in New York City days after his death. Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Ethan Hawke, Julianne Moore, Spike Lee, Marisa Tomei, Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams also gathered to mourn their friend and colleague.
The Rochester, New York-born Hoffman, who began his career in theater, earned three Broadway credits onstage: True West in 2000, Long Day's Journey Into Night in 2003 and Death of a Salesman in 2012. He notched Tony Award nominations for all three.
The Capote Oscar winner’s directing work included the 2010 romantic drama Jack Goes Boating, in which he also starred opposite Amy Ryan.
Not long before his death, Hoffman revealed that 23 years of sobriety had ended when he fell into heroin addiction after first using prescription drugs. He spoke frankly about his struggles with addiction, telling The Guardian in 2011, “I had no interest in drinking in moderation. And I still don’t. Just because all that time’s passed doesn’t mean maybe it was just a phase. That’s who I am.”
In a 2017 essay for Vogue, O’Donnell reflected on her loss. “It happened so quickly. Phil came home from Atlanta, and I called a few people and said that we needed to keep an eye on him. Then he started using again, and three days later he was dead,” she wrote.
“The kids and I are still in a place where that fact is there every day. We talk about him constantly, only now we can talk about him without instantly crying... We can talk about him in a way that feels as though there’s a remembrance of what happened to him, but that also honors him.”
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