Capote: Perfect Roast Turkey Recipe

Year Released: 2005
Directed by: Bennett Miller
Starring: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Clifton Collins Jr., Chris Cooper, Bruce Greenwood, Mark Pellegrino
(R, 98 min.)

Academy Awards (2005)
Actor in a Leading Role: Philip Seymour Hoffman

"When the gods would punish man, they give him what he wants." Anonymous

Venture with Truman Capote into the prison cell of convicted killer Perry Lee Smith, who along with Richard Hickock, slaughtered a Kansas farm family of four In Cold Blood on November 15, 1959. But beware. Like looking upon Medusa, gazing at the face of evil can turn the beholder into stone. 

Phillip Seymour Hoffman does not just portray the eccentric Capote, but for 98 minutes on screen, he becomes him. It’s not solely because he does such an Oscar worthy job of capturing the man those of us a certain age came to know as a professional celebrity via late night television. It’s the complexity of the character with its mixed bag of motives that is so compelling. Hoffman’s Capote is at once mercurial, maudlin, and manipulative, but also empathetic and at some points, well meaning. 

Hearing about an unsolved horrific crime, Capote talks the editor of The New Yorker into letting him do an article about it, mostly from the prospective of its effect on the townspeople of Holcomb, Kansas. When the two killers are captured during his stay there, he visits one housed in the sheriff’s residence. A stranger scene cannot be imagined -- the cell is right in the middle of the sheriff’s kitchen, next to the white cabinets, sink, and refrigerator. Usually used to hold female prisoners, this one now holds Perry Lee Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.) because the authorities wish to keep him separate from fellow killer Dick Hickock (Mark Pellegrino).

Despite the housekeeper’s exhortations that he join her in the living room, Capote is immediately drawn to the scene in the kitchen. Perhaps it is the bizarre element that first attracts this Manhattan sophisticate and famous author to the scene, but he is intrigued enough to go to court where both defendants relinquish their rights to a hearing. 

When a prompt guilty verdict and death sentence are brought in, Capote decides to interview the killers and write a book about them. On the one hand, Capote sees it purely as a writing opportunity and boldly predicts that this “nonfiction novel” will forever change the face of writing. But to do so, he must win the confidence of Perry, his preferred interlocutor, and he does so by securing the defendants a better lawyer who presses for an appeal. Without his book, Capote warns, the two will only be remembered as monsters; he will tell their side of the story. 

An envelope filled with cash earns him unprecedented access to Perry, with whom he spends endless hours in conversation. Posturing himself as Perry’s friend, Capote persuades the young man to let him have his diaries and sketches, which portray an intelligent and artistic nature. Capote goes off to Spain to write, and in the mean time, the appeal is granted. Though his novel, entitled In Cold Blood is three quarters finished when he returns to visit Smith, Capote maintains he has hardly written anything yet and that the book has no title. Obviously Smith would hardly approve of the lurid one Capote has seized upon.

In another sense, a part of Capote is drawn to Smith for entirely other reasons. The handsome, masculine killer is outwardly very different from Capote, with his high-pitched voice and affected mannerisms, but underneath their skins a disquieting similarity unites them. Both were abandoned by alcoholic mothers. Capote tells Smith that his mother would lock him in their hotel room at night while she went out on the town. “It’s like Perry and I grew up in the same house, and one day he went out the back door and I went out the front,” he confides to his childhood friend Harper Lee (Catherine Keener).

Capote’s lover, novelist Jack Dunphy (Bruce Greenwood) sees other motives. Capote is using Perry, but he is also in love with him. Capote refutes this, saying both could not be true simultaneously. It is the beauty of the film that we see both possibilities as valid.

The novel bogs down with the endless appeals, occupying a full five years in Capote’s life. The strain is beginning to show in the form on omnipresent cocktails and scotches, and long lethargic periods in bed. In a way, Capote is as boxed in as Perry, waiting for two different shoes to drop. First of all, he has yet, after almost five years, to get Perry to talk about the night of the murders, and secondly, without the pair’s execution, ironically postponed by the lawyer Capote first secured for them, there is no end to his book. To listen to Capote, one might think he was the one in the cell living a day-to-day existence as he moans to a friend about the miserable state of his life. 

It is here that Capote is the least sympathetic, neither writing nor visiting Perry and turning down his request to find another lawyer. When he does finally visit, it is only on the condition that Perry tell him about that night in the farm house. We are informed but not enlightened by Perry’s description of the father, Herb Cutter. “ I thought he was a very nice, gentle man. I thought so right up until I slit his throat.” 

Ultimately, the killers meet their maker with a reluctant Capote witnessing the hanging, and In Cold Blood is every bit the lucrative bestseller and artistic breakthrough Capote had wished for. But beware what you wish for, as the saying goes, for from then on Capote lived his life in an alcoholic haze of late night appearances where he became a caricature of himself, never to publish another word until his debauched life ended in 1984.

—Kathy Borich

Film-Loving Foodie

When Capote goes to Kansas to research the notorious farm murders, he takes along his childhood friend, Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird. She provides a sense of balance and smoothes the rough edges of her exotic companion, who perches in the living room of his Kansas hosts like a rare bird observing a foreign landscape. Over the course of cocktails and a turkey dinner, he entertains them with tales of Hollywood and the glitterati with whom he mingles.

While his tastes are more likely to run to Peking Duck or Smothered Pheasant, Capote sits down to the turkey dinner like a traveler partaking the native delicacy of a somewhat primitive tribe on the edge of humanity. 

Follow the directions below to create your own version of this delicacy, which if you think about it, was once quite exotic. Its name was originally D’Inde (“of India") and then “Turkey” because certain Frenchman believed it came from the mysterious East. Brillat-Savarin pronounced it “one of the prettiest presents which the Old World had received from New.”

Perfect Roast Turkey

Recipe: For a scrumptious stuffing to go with this bird, check out my own creation, North-South Stuffing, which combines the best ingredients from both sides of the Mason Dixie line

  • 1 (18 pound) whole turkey
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 1/2 quarts turkey stock
  • 8 cups prepared stuffing


  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Place rack in the lowest position of the oven.
  2. Remove the turkey neck and giblets, rinse the turkey, and pat dry with paper towels. Place the turkey, breast side up, on a rack in the roasting pan. Loosely fill the body cavity with stuffing. Rub the skin with the softened butter, and season with salt and pepper. Position an aluminum foil tent over the turkey.
  3. Place turkey in the oven, and pour 2 cups turkey stock into the bottom of the roasting pan. Baste all over every 30 minutes with the juices on the bottom of the pan. Whenever the drippings evaporate, add stock to moisten them, about 1 to 2 cups at a time. Remove aluminum foil after 2 1/2 hours. Roast until a meat thermometer inserted in the meaty part of the thigh reads 180 degrees F (80 degrees C), about 4 hours.
  4. Transfer the turkey to a large serving platter, and let it stand for at least 20 to 30 minutes before carving.

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