Thursday, May 1, 2014

In Character: Bob Hoskins

When Bob Hoskins retired from acting two years ago after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, the world lost a damn fine actor. When news broke that he passed away yesterday morning from pneumonia, we lost a damn fine man. Hoskins was a steady bruiser, often playing characters of thick head and heavy fist. But there was far more to him than just physical threat. Occasionally, in films like Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Hoskins deceived us by capitalizing on his tough guy persona, only to pleasantly evolve into a character of true sympathy.

According to CNN, Hoskins appeared in at least one film or television production from his first film, in 1972, to the year of his retirement. That’s astonishing. And while I certainly haven’t seen them all, below are a handful of my favorite Hoskins performances. As always, please feel free to share your favorite Hoskins roles as well. If anything, I’m hoping we can discover some of Hoskins’ work together.

Five Essential Roles
The Long Good Friday (1980)
Harold Shand
If you want to grasp the sheer command of Hoskins’ presence, look no further than his bookended scenes in The Long Good Friday. The introduction of Harold Shand is one of the best character introductions in film history. Francis Monkman’s impossibly catchy music blares away as the menacing, intimidating Harold struts through the airport. Once you catch sight of him, you know he’s a force to be reckoned with. The final scene of the film is even more accomplished, as it is nothing more than a few extended shots of Hoskins’ anguished, tortured, accepting face. Both scenes are fascinating displays of emotional expression, and they are only two moments from a film filled with several powerful sequences. Seriously, watch The Long Good Friday. Its influence (on filmmakers as varied as Michael Mann, Jonathan Glazer and Tony Gilroy, to name a few) is unquestionable.

Brazil (1985)
Hoskins’ role in Terry Gilliam’s colossal mindfuck of a film, Brazil, while brief, is one I’m endlessly drawn to. Spoor is a conniving little bastard who repairs people’s homes for Central Services. And in a film full of hilariously off-kilter scenes, few are as winning as Hoskins and Derrick O’Connor attempting to destroy Jonathan Pryce’s home by disguising themselves as air conditioning repairmen. Pryce asks for documentation that proves the need for the repair, O’Connor begins to convulse, Hoskins hits O’Connor in the head with a wrench, then blames Pryce for making him hit O’Connor. Sure, this doesn’t sound nearly as amusing in print as it is on screen, but Brazil, and Hoskins’ work in it, needs to be seen to be fully appreciated.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
Eddie Valiant
If you spent any of your formative years in America in the late ‘80s-early ‘90s, then Eddie Valiant was undoubtedly part of your life. As an irritable, alcoholic private eye who reluctantly takes a job investigating the adulterous affairs of Jessica Rabbit, Hoskins brought a much needed maturity to a genre that is consistently lacking it. Eddie Valiant is a lost man, hazed by drink and enraged by the murder of his brother. But his slow evolution from toon-hating barfly to gleefully dancing buffoon is some of the finest acting Hoskins has ever done. Genuinely, Eddie Valiant represents many of Hoskins’ best traits as an actor: foreboding, angry, sarcastic and sly, Eddie had it all, and Hoskins realized it beautifully.

Nixon (1995)
J. Edgar Hoover
There are many pleasing, controversial, and visually stimulating images within Oliver Stone’s Richard Nixon epic. But the only image that can be labeled as all of those things is the shocking sight of Bob Hoskins as J. Edgar Hoover. There he is, sitting poolside, eating fruit out of the mouth of his pool boy. What a risk it was for Hoover to be portrayed as such an out-and-out queen. Once you see it, you can’t forget it. And I can’t think of another actor who could pull it off so convincingly. 

Felicia’s Journey (1999)
Joseph Hilditch
At the center of Atom Egoyan’s little seen but no less remarkable, Felicia’s Journey, is an unassuming man named Hilditch. Hilditch works as a chef for a large factory, and at night, he returns to his large house, alone. One day, he runs into Felicia (Elaine Cassidy), who is desperately trying to find the young man she once loved. Hilditch elects to help Felicia in her quest, and all seems right in the world. But as the film progresses, a subtle role reversal takes hold, and Hilditch slowly reveals himself to be a complicated man, dangerous even. I won’t ruin where Felicia’s Journey goes, but as Hilditch, we were privy to another side of Hoskins. The slow brooding, calculating Hoskins whose threat was initially internal, yet eager to escape.

The Best of the Best
Mona Lisa (1986)
Hoskins received an Oscar nomination for playing the fiery and pissed off George in Neil Jordan’s masterful Mona Lisa. The plot of the film is now familiar – ex mobster recently released from prison demands monetary satisfaction from his former boss – but the film’s execution is far from conventional. Once released, George’s old boss, Mortwell (Michael Caine, also perfect) gives George a new, easy job: he is to drive around high class prostitute Simone (Cathy Tyson) and make sure no one messes with her. Needless to say, Simone’s discrete business practices don’t mesh well with George’s streetwise mentality. Initially, the two detest one another, before slowly developing a playful relationship based on mutual respect.

Mona Lisa wasn’t Bob Hoskins’ big breakout (that was The Long Good Friday) but it did show a new side of his now-infamous on-screen personality. Through Mona Lisa, Bob Hoskins became Bob Hoskins. A stout, intimidating, firecracker of a man no one in their right mind would mess with. But there was something else. A humility, a vulnerability; there was something about George that let us know that the man playing him was more than just a bruiser. He had fists that could hurt, a smile that could kill, and eyes that could pierce. He was Bob Hoskins, damnit, and no one dared question otherwise.

Other Notable Roles
as Nikita Khrushchev in Enemy at the Gates
Pennies from Heaven (1978)
Pink Floyd The Wall (1982)
The Cotton Club (1984)
Mussolini and I (1985)
A Prayer for the Dying (1987)
Mermaids (1990)
Shattered (1991)
Hook (1991)
Passed Away (1992)
Super Mario Bros. (1993)
Michael (1996)
Spice World (1997)
Enemy at the Gates (2001)
Vanity Fair (2004)
Beyond the Sea (2004)
Unleashed (2005)
Mrs Henderson Presents (2005)
Hollywoodland (2006)
Paris, je t’aime (2006)
Made in Dagenham (2010)
Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)


  1. Beautiful post, as always. He was such a tremendous talent. I was sad when he retired, but this is devastating.

    1. Thanks buddy. Hoskins was one of the greats, genuinely. His loss is a very, very sad one indeed. Do you have a favorite Hoskins role?

    2. For me, it was The Long Good Friday. He was just so centered, so focused. He presented this man with the right kind of restraint to make him a real man, and then unleashed with that unbridled savagery in the final frames and completely took us there. Incredible.

    3. Great way to encapsulate his performance in that film. Very well said.

  2. Man, we're losing too many good actors this year. I don't like it.

  3. What? He died? How did I miss this? Sad news indeed. He's been great in lots of films. Whenever I think of him the first thing that comes to mind is Roger Rabbit. What a wonderful performance in a great film. Then I shudder because I next automatically visualize his full monty moment from Mrs Henderson Presents. Some things just can't be unseen. My silliness aside, I hate that we lost another great actor.

    1. Isn't that awful? I'll always instinctually associate him with Eddie Valiant. God, I just love that movie to death. And he's so damn good in it. Sadly, I have yet to see Mrs Henderson Presents, but now I know what I'm in for. Ha. But really, another loss far too soon.

  4. I'm really bummed by his passing. The guy for me is the quintessential British actor after Michael Caine. Not only for his street/working class background in being a tough badass but infuse with a sensitivity and humor that makes it far more engaging. With the exception of Felicia's Journey which I haven't seen, the performances you mentioned are essential. Mona Lisa is his best performance while I also grew up with Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. I heard that Bill Murray and Harrison Ford were originally supposed to take the part but Ford wanted more money and Murray passed on it. Hoskins auditioned for the part where Zemeckis immediately hired him because he was very natural in the way he would interact with cartoons.

    I think his last great performance was in Made in Dagenham he really helped make Sally Hawkins equal as this sensitive man who supported women in their right for fair pay. It's just one of those small performances that stood out.

    The man will be missed as he already made a lifetime of work that will be remembered.

    1. He was definitely a quintessential British actor. One of the all time greats. I haven't seen Made in Dagenham, but your praise has motivated me to seek it out ASAP.

      As much as I love Bill Murray, I'm glad he passed on Eddie Valiant. Hoskins really brought something special to that performance.

      His work will surely be remembered, for years and years to come.

  5. He was such a terrific actor and his performance in "Mona Lisa" was without a hint of doubt his absolute best. This is just so sad, man. He certainly will be missed. May he rest in peace.

    1. Indeed. So glad you're a fan of his performance in Mona Lisa. He owns that role.

  6. I didn't know about this! Really sad sad news, man. He'll always be part of my childhood 'cause I loved Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988). I think it worked as my introduction to noir stories and that's why I've always loved them. I also loved him in Mona Lisa. Neil Jordan is one of my favorite directors so this combination of the two was superb. And his work in A Prayer for the Dying (1987) with Rourke was also remarkable.

    I haven't seen Felicia’s Journey, and I'm really intrigued by it 'cause I have to catch up on Egoyan. I've seen some of his films and liked them a lot. Same with The Long Good Friday. I'd definitely watch them as soon as possible.

    Well, RIP Hoskins. He truly will be missed.

    1. So very sad. You know, I actually haven't seen A Prayer for the Dying, but the combination of Hoskins and Rourke has me very interested. I need to find that one right away. I think you'll really like The Long Good Friday. It is fantastic.

    2. I would definitely watch it! A Prayer is not specially amazing, but it's entertaining, with all the IRA story, and the performances are the best thing of it. Liam Neeson has a little role, but the awesome thing is the Alan Bates vs Hoskins-Rourke part. The three of them did a great job, as always.

    3. Cool, definitely going to seek it out. Thanks for the heads up, I've been meaning to look at that one for a while now!

  7. We lost one of the greats here. Who Framed Roger Rabbit is definitely my favorite film of his. I loved it as a child and it still holds up today. And as awful as it is, i still have a place in my heart for the Super Mario movie. It's one of my favorite so-bad-it's.good movies. R.I.P. Mr. Hoskins.

    1. I'm right there with you man, Super Mario Bros. will always be special to me. Love that film as a kid - one of my favorite So Bad It's Good flicks ever.

  8. Just visited Dennis' grave yesterday to change arrangements and couldn't help but thinking of the growing company he is in in the great hereafter. They must be having a blast!

    Bob was "The Long Good Friday" but I can't think of anything I didn't enjoy him in. I love that my little girl is already familiar with him because of "Hook". Perhaps that's one of the best parts of being in the movies--getting to live on past one's own lifetime.

    1. I remember watching Tom Hanks on Inside the Actors Studio, and he got really choked up talking about Philadelphia, and he said, "They last forever, these movies." So, so true. Hoskins will always live on, captivating young minds through Hook and Roger Rabbit, and adult minds with Long Good Friday, Mona Lisa and many more.

      I bet Dennis is having a blast too :)

  9. Hoskins gave one of my all-time favorite performances in Mona Lisa, which is also one of my favorite films. It's devastating that he's gone. I need to dig into more of his work, especially The Long Good Friday and Felicia's Journey.

    1. So glad to hear you're a Mona Lisa fan. The Long Good Friday, yes, definitely check that one out. A great film.