Robert William Hoskins
It has been a little over a week since the United Kingdom lost one of its finest screen actors and for me - a personal fan of so much of his work - it feels like cinema is all the poorer for it. Hoskins typifies everything that we should celebrate when looking for a role model in the film community. Born into an honest working class family, leaving school with just one O - Level (that is the school certification system that preceded the GCSE, for all us young-ins) and having worked as a lorry driver, a book-keeper and a porter... Hoskins is a self-made star. Having trod the boards and broken through in 1978 in Dennis Potter's phenomenal TV hit Pennies From Heaven (no room for Steve Martin here), it was in 1980, at the ripe age of 37, that he truly hit the big cinematic jackpot.
It has taken me a bit of time to reflect on an actor that I respected and admired from the seats of my local multiplex. His work ethic and bonhomie are characteristics that I strive for myself and it had always been a dream to write a role for him - a dream that must now wait until the next life. But as a tribute, I have selected my personal three favorite performances from the "five-foot-six and cubic" cinema icon. Many of you will agree, others may say my choices are obvious... But there is no denying that the man's back-catalogue of work provides much wealth for discussion. And so in the order of the films' release, here are my Top 3 Bob Hoskins roles:-
"It's Good Friday. Have a Bloody Mary." Harold Shand (The Long Good Friday)
Harold Shand, the bullet-headed gangland boss of The Long Good Friday, was the big screen breakthrough role for Hoskins. As Harold's Docklands business deal with some big American types starts going South, Hoskins blends anger, fear and desperation as he violently goes after anyone who is threatening his interests. John Mackenzie's powerful British gangster film was a natural fit for an actor of power, charisma and skill such as Hoskins, and he acts everyone off the screen - even the fabulous Helen Mirren as his main squeeze. Whether stringing up local gang rivals on meat hooks for questioning, or bottling underlings in fits of rage, Hoskins shows a masterclass of screen acting (the final sequence features a devastating single shot on Harold as his undoing is complete, with Hoskins expressing every internal emotion without uttering a single word) - subtle yet explosive and totally captivating whenever on screen. This was a signal of what was to come from this fine actor.
"Told ya I was cheap, didn't I?" George (Mona Lisa)
George, the good-hearted but naïve ex-con of Mona Lisa is in my humble opinion Hoskins' finest performance on screen. Neil Jordan's romantic thriller is more often than not criminally underrated when compared to the explosive punches of The Long Good Friday, but I have always found it the more satisfying film. And it is very clear just how much Hoskins has evolved his craft since 1980 with a performance of incredible warmth and compassion, blended with that fiery violence that bubbles beneath his skin. Given a low rung job as a chauffeur to spiky call girl Simone (a fabulous debut from Cathy Tyson), George comes to fall for his charge and delves into London's seedy Soho underbelly in a quest to find Simone's young charge. It could have been easy to slip back into Harold Shand mode, but Hoskins finds a vein of vulnerability in the hard outer shell of George, presenting the audience with a man who is just trying to get by in a dark and dangerous world that he never really belonged to. Hoskins received his only Oscar nomination for his performance (losing to Paul Newman for The Color of Money) - a criminal offence in my opinion. Thankfully, BAFTA, Cannes and the Golden Globes are among the host of awards that Hoskins won for the role - and act as a damning example of how the Academy Awards can get it so, so wrong.
"She's married to Roger Rabbit?!" Eddie Valiant (Who Framed Roger Rabbit)
Eddie Valiant, the cynical private eye in Robert Zemeckis' Who Framed Roger Rabbit is the role that cemented Hoskins as a bone fide box office star. Opening up a whole new generation to his talents, Hoskins manages to hold his own against his animated co-stars and keeps the audiences rooted to his cause as he investigates the murder of Toontown's beloved owner, player by Stubby Kaye - possibly at the hands of Toontown's own Roger Rabbit. Hoskins gets a chance to display his comedy skills to great effect this time round - a face-off against the villainous weasels near the end involves some masterly slapstick pratfalls that Charlie Chaplin would have been proud of. However he would later state how it was difficult to shake off the methods he utilized when "interacting" with the Toon characters that would be added in in post-production - he had observed his 3-year old daughter playing with imaginary friends for inspiration, but suffered from hallucinations for several months after production. However the cinema going public adored him for it - and showcased yet another excellent cinematic role for Hoskins.
There are so many performances that can be singled out for praise - the inner-city boxing club proprietor Alan Darcy in Shane Meadows' touching drama TwentyFourSeven, the disturbed catering manager Joe Hilditch in AtomEgoyan's haunting Felicia's Journey, Captain Hook's trusty batman Smee in Steven Spielberg's family adventure Hook (a role he would return to on TV in Neverland) - hey, some would even mention the BT adverts that featured Bob telling us that, "It's good to talk". But for me, it was these three iconic roles that established the multi-faceted qualities that Bob Hoskins possessed. Despite his announcement that he was retiring in 2012 due to early signs of Parkinson's, it was pneumonia that was to rob the film-going world of this great actor. RIP Bob - you will be missed.
Bob Hoskins (Oct. 26, 1942 - Apr. 29, 2014)