Bob Hoskins’ career began as the result of an honest mistake.
After dropping out of school studying accounting, Hoskins worked as a porter, livery driver, and window cleaner. While waiting in a bar for his friend, an actor named Roger Frost to finish an audition, Hoskins was given a script and told, “You’re next.”
He nailed the audition, nabbed the part, and his pal wound up becoming his understudy.
That was how Bob Hoskins got his start, and he never looked back — regarded as having one of England’s best acting careers in the past forty years.
Hoskins made a career of playing Cockneys, rough-around-the-edge types, and gangsters. What separated him from others who played these roles was the subtext he gave his characters — and the natural charisma he possessed. He made you care for the ruffians he portrayed; there was an underlying hurt to go along with his great comedic timing. He made audiences believe his characters were real people; never black-and-white, or good-versus-evil — with him there were always layers and multiple shades of grey.
Hoskins burst onto the scene in 1978 with his portrayal of an adulterous salesman stuck in an incompatible marriage in the Dennis Potter serial, Pennies From Heaven. This BBC-produced series is considered one of the best, and with its daring mixture of genres it combined reality-based drama, dark fantasy and musical numbers.
This lead to his breakout role, Harold Shand, in The Long Good Friday. The film focused on one day in the life of Harold, a gangster, who struggled to become a legitimate businessman as his empire collapsed around him. This film incorporated the IRA, free-market economics, government corruption, the plan to develop the London Docklands as a venue for the Olympics, and how property development usurped traditional British industry as a means for acquiring wealth during the late ’70s.
While Shand wiped out all of his adversaries during his reign as the ruling underworld emperor, a series of bombings and murders threatened his deal of a lifetime just when he was about to become a legitimate businessman. Hoskins brought a ferociousness to Shand which makes Joe Pesci’s film outbursts seem like Acting-101. No matter how ruthless, psychopathic, and evil Shand was portrayed, the audience could not help but feel empathetic toward him. Because Hoskins brought an “Everyman Quality” to the role, the audience rooted as Shand fought, scratched and crawled his way to the top.
Hoskins came to the attention of American audiences as a result of a role which was written for Sean Connery. Seemingly overnight, Neil Jordan’s Mona Lisa catapulted Hoskins onto the A-List for his most critically-acclaimed role, George.
A former enforcer for the British mob, George took the fall for his boss, Denny, played by Michael Caine. While doing his stint in prison Denny became legitimate; and George lost all but one of his friends, his family, and his daughter — even though he tried to maintain a connection. Denny avoided George after his release from prison, but as a last nod to George’s loyalty, Denny worked through a middleman to obtain a chauffeur-type job for him.
He became the driver for a high-priced prostitute, Simone, played by Cathy Tyson. Filling the void in his life, George grew to love and respect Simone, oddly seeing himself in her — she, too, was a tough Londoner who dealt with hardship.
Hoskins brought real pain to the role of George. A pain which enabled the audience to quickly forget George was a low-level heavy; rather they related to the broken man who could no longer trust anyone or anything. Hoskins earned his sole Academy Award nomination for the role. Although he did not win the coveted Oscar, he did win every other prestigious acting award — and Hollywood came knocking on his door.
For young adults of a certain age, Hoskins is remembered for the role of Eddie Valiant in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and Smee in Steven Spielberg’s Hook.
Valiant, a broke, alcoholic private investigator, is hired by a cartoon producer to spy on Roger Rabbit’s wife, Jessica. This lead to Eddie uncovering a conspiracy to wipe out the residents of Toontown in favor of the construction of a freeway. Valiant, a boozer, openly displayed his disdain for the toons. Why would a man who went out of his way for the toons, and who was so trusted by the toons despise them? Hoskins skillfully peeled away the layers of Valiant’s hate and sadness — a good man resided within Eddie Valiant.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit? was a technical marvel and is now a classic. It was a story about the framing of a cartoon star, Roger, and Eddie Valiant’s redemption. Roger was the hook, but Valiant was the film’s heart and soul.
Hoskins later played the role of a loyal and doting first mate, Pirate Smee, in Hook; easily a role which could have become a caricature under a lesser actor. At first glance, Smee is a bumbling servant for the evil Captain Hook, but Hoskins explored Smee’s intelligence. He deftly unveiled a conscience which showed itself little-by-little as Smee helped Peter Pan’s son, Jack. And, just as Eddie Valiant was a good man, the audience delighted in the good guy which resided within Pirate Smee.
Hoskins was a rare character actor who made his living as a supporting actor, but was occasionally asked to play the lead. His career was peppered with great turns in Mrs. Henderson Presents, Made in Dagenham, Unleashed, Mermaids, Nixon, and Brazil. His soft touch gave warmth and dimension to otherwise cold characters, and imbedded a sense of humor into many of the brutal characters he portrayed.
On April 29, 2014 Bob Hoskins passed away, he was 71; a tremendous loss for all of us who grew up watching and enjoying Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and Hook. Thanks to the beauty of Hollywood, he will continue to live on for future young generations, and when each younger generation reaches adulthood they, too, will quickly learn what we already know — Bob Hoskins was a true master of his craft.