'Twister' 20 Years Later: Remembering 'Sweet Guy' Philip Seymour Hoffman
Warner Bros.

Before he was a celebrated character actor, earning Oscar attention for roles in Capote, Charlie Wilson’s War, and Doubt, Philip Seymour Hoffman -- who died prematurely in 2014 -- was a working actor, playing the sidekick to the likes of Meg Ryan, Steve Martin, and a tornado.

On May 10, 1996, Hoffman appeared alongside Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton, Jami Gertz, Cary Elwes, and Alan Ruck in the hugely popular natural disaster film, Twister, which went on to earn $241.7 million in the U.S. alone. “Before he was Philip Seymour Hoffman,” Ruck recalls to ET.

While Hunt and Paxton -- and well, the many tornadoes -- were the stars, Hoffman had a memorable turn as Dusty, a hyperactive storm chaser whose favorite word was “extreme.” The role was small, but Ruck, who played a fellow storm chaser, says that Hoffman had “a big presence.”

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“Joey Slotnick was in that movie and Joey is a storyteller,” Ruck says, recalling a moment from the set. “He can spin some yarns. I remember being at dinner one time and Philip said, ‘I'll give you all my per diem if you can be quiet for an hour.’ So, we all watch Joey and he didn't make it five minutes. He said, ‘Why do you want to do that to me? Why do you want to mess with my nature?’”

“Phil was funny,” Ruck adds. “He was a funny guy, sweet guy.”

Of course, Hoffman would quickly go on to make a name for himself with a string of critically acclaimed films, including Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and Almost Famous.

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“Right after that movie, he just took off like a rocket,” Ruck says. “He did a movie [Flawless] in New York with De Niro and then he was just off to the races. No stopping him.”

Hard Eight, a 1996 neo-noir crime thriller, would mark Hoffman’s first collaboration with director Paul Thomas Anderson. The two would go on to work together in Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love, and The Master.

In his first interview with ET in 1999 for Magnolia, the late actor (who was far more serious than his zealous Twister character) discussed his on-going relationship with the director. “I’m not hanging out with Paul because he’s Paul,” he said, adding: “Paul’s not hanging out with me because he respects me as an actor.”

But at that point, Hoffman was well on his way to becoming “Philip Seymour Hoffman.”

While his legacy would include far more celebrated roles and an Oscar win for portraying Truman Capote, Twister still remains one of his most successful films, only topped by his final on-screen appearances in The Hunger Games franchise.