Bob Hoskins: the go-to gangster

The British actor and lovable thug in The Long Good Friday and Who Framed Roger Rabbit has died of pneumonia aged 71

Arts+Culture News
Who Framed Roger Rabbit
Still from "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" via whoathisisheavy.blogspot.co.uk

The husky-voiced British actor Bob Hoskins – best known for his roles as a plutocratic gangster in The Long Good Friday and as detective Eddie Valiant in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? – has died of pneumonia aged 71. Hoskins was actually descended from a long line of gypsies, and, apart from lending his acting chops to a spate of heavy hitters like Terry Gilliam's Brazil and Spielberg's Hook, he stepped behind the camera for a few flicks, including The Raggedy Rawney – a WWII film based on a gypsy legend. With over 100 acting credits to his name, the late actor/director/writer and go-to gangster retired in 2012 due to Parkinson's disease. Here, we look back at some of the career highlights of the unlikely Hollywood star who once described himself as an "uneducated, dyslexic, 5ft 6in, cubic (actor) with a face like a squashed cabbage."

WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT

In probably his most humourous role, Hoskins plays detective Eddie Valiant in this wacky caper featuring a landslide of WB and Disney cartoon weirdos (from Mickey Mouse to a lusty Jessica Rabbit). He must defend Roger Rabbit after the latter is convicted of murder. Post-release, Bob Hoskins said that, for two weeks after seeing the movie, his young son wouldn't talk to him. When finally asked why, his son said he couldn't believe his father would work with cartoon characters such as Bugs Bunny and not let him meet them.

THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY

His most well-known role was as crafty thug Harold Shand, a seedy underworld gangster who strikes up a partnership with shady Americans to fund a docklands development. Although this introduced Hoskins to the mainstream, it was a bit of a tricky film. When the original producers made a move to dub Bob Hoskins's voice by a Wolverhampton actor for fear Americans wouldn't understand his cockney accent, Hoskins threatened to sue and the dubbing was quashed.

HOOK

Hoskins dazzles as the bumbling drunk sidekick of Captain Hook in the live action version of Hook, directed by Steven Spielberg. His performance was so enjoyable, in fact, that he later reprised his role of Smee in 2011's TV series Neverland. An adaptation of the classic J.M. Barrie novel, this was something new for Bob – working with Spielberg and a laundry list of super celebs, they got into some pretty silly discussions during filming. Hoskins said: "We had Dustin (Hoffman) on the set apologising for making Ishtar. And (Steven) Spielberg apologising for 1941 and Robin Williams jumping in and saying: 'I apologise for Cadillac Man.' I was sitting there and shouted, 'Well, I apologise for fucking nothing!'"

BRAZIL

Terry Gilliam's dystopian saga about a bureaucrat who finds himself on the run from an oppressive state is about as bizarro as Hoskins gets. Despite joining an all-star cast of Robert De Niro, Michael Palin and Ian Holm, Hoskins hardly appears in the film. Hoskins plays Spoor, a government-employed heating engineer who resents Harry Tuttle (Robert De Niro). He does have some choice lines in the film, though, such as: "Where'd you get this from, eh? Out yer nostril?" and "All you've got to do is blow your nose and it's fixed, in't it?"

MERMAIDS

This is more of a 'laugh at' than a 'laugh with', but Hoskins proves his versatility as Cher's love interest. There's also an angsty, bible-thumping Winona Ryder. Not to mention the onscreen debut of Christina Ricci. Hoskins plays Lou Landsky – the caring man who sidles into Cher's life when she least expects it. It's an endearing performance in a classic dramedy that is worth shouting about in a 140-character @Cher tweet.

MONA LISA

At the start of almost-film-noir Mona Lisa, Hoskins's character George has just finished serving a seven-year prison term. He's tough and bullish and knows how to handle himself, but underneath he's a marshmallow. For his role, Hoskins won Best Actor at Cannes in 1986. He also bumped into an old friend on set: Michael Caine. They had worked together previously on Sweet Liberty. Caine said he was offered the part but turned it down because it was too small for him. Then he turned up on set anyway and punk'd Hoskins. Cheeky!

SUPER MARIO BROS.

As the rotund IRL incarnation of the virtual hero Mario in Super Mario Bros., Hoskins laid it all on the line for the role opposite John Leguizamo as Luigi. "I didn't get hurt as much as Bob did!" laughs John Leguizamo in an interview. Hoskins fell foul of the on-set injuries, claiming, "I got stabbed four times, electrocuted, broke a finger, nearly got drowned – that's just what happened to me." Unfortunately, all the bumps and bruises for $42 million blockbuster didn't pay off. It bombed at the box office, only earning back half of its budget, and remains as a cool 4/10 on IMDb. While it's probably due for a remake, this cult sleeper was at least beloved by the hardcore fans.

NIXON

The closest he ever got to the Oval Office and quite a U-turn from his usual gangster tricks, Hoskins went presidential in his first gay role as J. Edgar Hoover opposite Anthony Hopkins's President Nixon. Hoover was said to have been an in-the-closet gay, which is how Hoskins portrayed the character. "What's wrong with a gay role?" he told the Advocate. "I'm an actor. I play roles." Apparently he became so convincing in the role of a gay couple (together with Brian Bedford), that director "Oliver (Stone) wasn't quite sure how to take us. We kept going and giving him kisses on the cheek, and we'd say, 'No, no, it's necessary for the part. Give us another kiss.'"

BT ADVERTS

The year is 1994. "It's good to talk," announces the familiar husky voice of a shadowy Bob Hoskins in an advertisement for British Telecom. In retrospect, it's almost laughable that BT had to get a masculine paragon to urge men to get on the phone. Dubbed as a campaign aimed to promote positive change and articulate men's stunted emotions, the adverts were a fortune-altering success for BT. They were "about changing the attitudes of the (male) bill-paying gatekeeper", and successfully turned the company from ‘Britain’s Most Hated Company’ to money-raking conglomerate. Back in the good books. Thanks Bob!

MADE IN DAGENHAM

Nigel Cole's Made in Dagenham follows irascible union rep Albert Passingham (played by Hoskins) during the 1968 strike at a Ford auto factory – one of the largest single private employers in the United Kingdom at the time. His character fought for equal pay for women, 187 of which were under the employ of Ford at that factory. There is a great moment in the film when Hoskins comes to the aid of these women, explaining why he is so invested in equality: "I got brought up by my mum. She worked all her life. And it was hard, especially as she was getting less than half than what the blokes at the factory was getting, for doing the same work. And there was never any question that it could be any different. Not for her. Someone has got stop these exploiting bastards getting away with what they've been doing for years. And you can, you can, Rita, believe me."

More Arts+Culture