The stout, explosive Bob Hoskins had a British belly-fire that roared through four decades of film, television and theater.
Though the 5-foot-6 actor was short, he was impossible to miss in even brief supporting roles. The London-raised Hoskins, who died at age 71 Monday night after a bout of pneumonia, embodied a Cockney toughness, but had the range to be much more. He was a pit-bull capable of ferocity, swagger and timidity, alike, commanding the screen with a distinctly non-matinee idol appearance.
“My own mum wouldn’t call me pretty,” he once said.
Hoskins took on many figures of history, including Churchill (“World War II: When Lions Roared”), but usually played tiny dictators: Mussolini (”Mussolini and I”), J. Edgar Hoover (“Nixon”), Lavrentiy Beria (”The Inner Circle”), Nikita Khrushchev (“Enemy at the Gates”) and Manuel Noriega (”Noriega: God’s Favorite”).
But he will be best remembered for his more working-class characters: thugs with tenderness and sentimental ex-cons. The critic Pauline Kael once compared the bald, bullet-headed Hoskins to a “testicle on legs,” though she was a fan: “This short, chunky actor is a powerhouse.”
Here are five of Hoskins’ most memorable performances:
— “The Long Good Friday” (1980): In one of the very best British crime films, Hoskins plays Harold Shand, a London gangster whose big plans to develop London’s docklands unravel when a mysterious enemy begins shooting up his crew. Shand desperately tries to keep a deal with the American mafia together, but his dreams of becoming high-class are destroyed. John Mackenzie’s film (which also featured Helen Mirren and the screen debut of Pierce Brosnan) was Hoskins’ breakthrough and a widely considered crime classic, rich in the atmosphere of Margaret Thatcher’s Britain.
— “Mona Lisa” (1986): Hoskins plays a petty hood with a temper who is assigned by his mob boss (Michael Caine) to chauffeur a high-end prostitute (Cathy Tyson) in Neil Jordan’s romantic crime drama. A relationship grows between the two, and Hoskins alternates between the rage of an ex-con and the devoted sensitivity of an innately good-hearted man falling in love. His performance earned him an Academy Award nomination for best actor.
— “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” (1988): Possibly Hoskins’ most famous role was not one of his finest performances. Acting alongside both human and cartoon, he often (understandably) appears lost in Robert Zemeckis’ technical landmark. But playing a hard-boiled private eye prejudiced against “toons,” Hoskins, in his first leading role in Hollywood, holds the schizophrenic movie together.
— “Felicia’s Journey” (1999): In Atom Egoyan’s adaptation of William Trevor’s novel, Hoskins plays a lonely catering manager who befriends a traveling Irish girl (Elaine Cassidy). He turns out to be a predator of young girls, a creepy, villainous role that Hoskins nevertheless imbues with humanity.
— “Last Orders” (2001): It’s one of the six movies that starred both Hoskins and Caine, another regular to British noir. In it, Hoskins plays one of the mates to Caine’s gregarious London butcher, who dies and leaves wishes for his ashes to be scattered at sea. The film, adapted from Graham Swift’s novel, follows the friends’ memory-filled journey to carry out the orders.