Hoffman at the opening night party for "The Little Flower of East Orange," at B Bar on April 6, 2008.  (Photo by Will Ragozzino/Getty Images)

Hoffman at the opening night party for “The Little Flower of East Orange,” at B Bar on April 6, 2008. (Photo by Will Ragozzino/Getty Images)

Philip Seymour Hoffman, found dead in his West Village apartment yesterday, was a Villager through and through: he battled his alma mater, NYU, in the fight for Greenwich Village, and he often ventured east to stage shows at The Public. There, as artistic director of LAByrinth Theater Company, he helmed “The Little Flower of East Orange” and taught East Villager Ajay Naidu — who played a doctor alongside Ellen Burstyn — some lasting lessons about theater. Over the phone yesterday, Naidu, best known for his roles in “Office Space” and “Bad Santa,” told us what it was like to get his first break as a solo artist from one of the most talented and admired actors of our time.

In 2001 I was making my first venture into solo work, with an esoteric piece that combined breakdance, clowning, rhyming, mask work, ancient gestures from the Natya Shastra, Sanskrit drama, and characters from the streets of New York City. I had no I idea where it fit. My manager, who was also Phil’s, told me I should show it to him in the LAByrinth and do it in front of them after one of their company meetings.
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