A Most Wanted Man, the last film Philip Seymour Hoffman completed before dying of a heroin overdose on Feb. 2, hits theaters on July 25. It’s directed by the Dutch photographer-turned-music video director-turned-movie director Anton Corbijn, who’s known for distinctively quiet, dark movies like Control and The American.
Hoffman plays an anguished German intelligence operative in the movie, who’s trying to prevent further terrorist attacks without stomping on anyone’s human rights. While his character is both ruthless and tortured, the actor wasn’t like that on set, Corbijn tells TIME in a new feature. “He was fun to be with,” he says. “During editing when he was sitting next to me, I’d look at him and think, It’s not possible—this is absolutely not the guy onscreen.”
He does recall with regret that Hoffman didn’t look well, especially when the two promoted the film together at Sundance. “Only when I look back now I see that he was actually more disheveled than I realized. I just thought it was the way he operated.”
Hoffman, who appeared in this promotional video with co-stars Rachel McAdams and Willem Dafoe, apparently had equal respect for his director. “He’s an artist and he looks at everything in a very unique way,” says Hoffman. “And you just kinda trust he’s going to make something special.”
In his book about the movie (also called A Most Wanted Man), Corbijn writes of a disagreement he had with the actor about shooting a scene Hoffman didn’t feel he was ready to film. But after they argued, the two figured out how to work together. “He’ll let me do what I need to do to get where I need to go,” says Hoffman in the video. “He doesn’t get in your way. In fact, he lets you run with the ball.”
Corbijn had asked Hoffman to appear in a small role in his next film, a biopic about James Dean and a photographer who changed each other’s lives; he says Hoffman was trying to find a way to make it work. Hoffman, meanwhile, found a good working relationship with Corbijn; he says the director’s films work because “his trust of other people is complete.”
For his part, Corbijn feels an extra responsibility to get people to see A Most Wanted Man. During the interview, he needed a moment to compose himself after talking about the late actor: “I wish he were here to do these interviews with me,” he said.