“Five-foot-six-cubic” is how Bob Hoskins described his dense, brick-like physique, and in his career as one of Britain’s most familiar and reliable screen actors, Hoskins was compared to all sorts of non-human entities. A bulldog. A fireplug. A face like “a damaged potato,” in the words of critic Pauline Kael.
The actor was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2012, the year of his final film, “Snow White and the Huntsman.” Hoskins died at age 71 Tuesday, of pneumonia. Audiences took him for granted; for decades, he was always popping up in another film, always delivering, searching for the animating spark of a character.
I first noticed Hoskins in Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Cotton Club,” a 1984 folly with many, many points of interest. In a picture built on double acts – Richard Gere and Diane Lane; Maurice and Gregory Hines – the casting of Hoskins as gangster Owney Madden opposite Fred Gwynne’s Big Frenchy DeMange proved the highlight. Here were two glorious scene thieves, constructed as differently as two people can be and still share the same frame.
Hoskins played everything from Shakespeare to a Super Mario Brother. To most American audiences he’ll always be best known for anchoring the human component in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.” But it’s “Mona Lisa,” director Neil Jordan’s film noir, that earned Hoskins his sole Oscar nomination. He plays a low-level London hood hired as a chauffeur to squire around the tony prostitute played by Cathy Tyson. It’s a rich and rewarding portrait in improbable love and the anguish, conveyed brilliantly by Hoskins, of a man behind the eight ball in classic noir tradition.
Following Hoskins’ death “Mona Lisa” producer Stephen Woolley told the Guardian newspaper: “With his talent, Bob gate-crashed the world of celebrity, and made all of us ordinary people feel a little better about ourselves.” No actor should have to bear the burden of representing one type of person, or an entire social stratum. To the end, he was authentic, even when the projects weren’t. He never dogged an assignment. Rather, joyously, he brought so much to the party, Bob Hoskins became his own after-party – the on-screen character whose story you wanted to follow, even when the screenplay had other ideas.