Mother Brain’s Bob Hoskins Tribute
By Mother Brain
I was saddened to hear about the recent passing of the Oscar nominated actor, Bob Hoskins. Two years ago, Hoskins had announced his retirement from acting after revealing his Parkinson’s Disease diagnosis. I had plans to write about him for the Underrated Actors Blog because of his popularity in cinema during the 80s and early 90s. Instead of writing about his life and career as I usually do for the blog, I’m going to discuss the way I was raised on his work.
My first exposure to Bob Hoskins was in the summer of 1988 when my parents took me to see Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The appeal of the film as a child was the cartoon characters of course. Icons of Disney and Looney Tunes among others all clustered together in this Chinatown-esque tale of murder and intrigue with a silly rabbit and a hard-nosed detective at the center of it. As tough as he was on Roger, Hoskins’ Eddie Valiant was instantly likable. As the movie goes on, I witnessed the man’s heart crack through his hardened exterior and his prejudice against cartoons cease to exist. I didn’t realized the racial context of the story until later years and I found more appreciation for Hoskins’ performance in the way he was able to act around thin air. This was long before actors had to act painfully in front of cardboard cutouts to later be replaced by CGI. Hoskins made himself a living cartoon with the help of playing with his daughter in preparation for the role. No other actor has done it better ever since.
After Roger Rabbit, I saw Hoskins pop up in several other childhood flicks of my youth. The next was 1991’s Hook where he played Smee. He wasn’t all that recognizable in comparison to Eddie Valiant; yet, he was perhaps even more likable despite playing Captain Hook’s right hand man. Ironically, Phil Collins had a cameo in the movie and I always thought that he and Hoskins would work great together as brothers. I once heard Robert Zemeckis had plans of adapting the Three Bears tale with them alongside Danny DeVito but it never happened.
A more infamous movie starring Hoskins was the Super Mario Bros. film adaptation. It’s no secret how bad it is and sadly my mother took me to see it just one week before Jurassic Park opened. The production was so troubled that Hoskins and John Leguizamo spent most of the shoot drunk. Despite this horrible idea for a movie, Hoskins was the only real shining light of it. Once he strapped on the red overalls and hat, he looked dead on like Mario in ways Capt. Lou Albano did not on the TV show. I don’t fault him for taking a paycheck. He did it for his kids who were fans of the game and it was his kids who influenced most of his career choices.
Hoskins’ career spanned throughout the 90s and 2000s playing supporting roles in Shattered with Tom Berenger, Mermaids with Cher, Heart Condition with Denzel Washington, Unleashed with Jet Li, Nixon, Hollywoodland, Maid in Manhattan, etc. There were also the bad roles done for paychecks like Son of the Mask. But when I was in college, I started to discover the pre-Roger Rabbit movies that made him a highly in-demand actor during the 80s.
First there was 1980’s The Long Good Friday. This was Hoskins’ breakout role as a London gangster struggling to go straight while dealing with dirty cops and the IRA. For its time, the film was gripping and shocking in violence. Hoskins’ performance was so memorizing you could feel the tense pain he has when he’s ambushed by a young Pierce Brosnan in the film’s ambiguous final scene.
I also looked back at other gripping Hoskins performances in The Cotton Club and A Prayer for the Dying during this period in college. I have yet to have seen his work in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil but I plan to in the very near future. Of all the work he has done outside of Roger Rabbit, my favorite film with Hoskins was 1986’s Mona Lisa which earned him an Oscar nomination. Directed by Neil Jordan, Hoskins played an ex-con who gets involved with a high-end hooker who works for Michael Caine only to help her find an abused friend. It showed a much softer and more compassionate side of Hoskins that contrasted with the tough guy image he exerted in The Long Good Friday. You can feel his dilemma and pain during a montage around London with “In Too Deep” by Genesis playing over the images. I love this movie and highly recommend it to anybody who loves film.
Having grown up with Harrison Ford and Bill Murray as my screen idols, Bob Hoskins was the first movie star I saw who was not the conventional movie star that I was used to. He was a tough guy with an everyman look. But deep down, he had heart and compassion. No matter how big or small the role was, Hoskins gave his all for the audience and his family. He was a great influence for many British actors of today and his loss is a serious blow to the acting world. May you rest in peace Robert Williams Hoskins, Jr.