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    Hailing Hoskins

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    A unique looking and much beloved screen actor born 74 years ago today described himself in one interview as a “cube” and “not even my mum would call me pretty.” In that same conversation recounted by Nigel Farndale in The Guardian in a tribute piece that ran the day following his death, the great Bob Hoskins (1942-2014), best remembered for a few ferocious tough-guy turns but ever so memorable for the smorgasbord of marvelous character parts that flowed thereafter, filled in some blanks about his approach to acting. “I realized one day that men are emotional cripples. We can’t express ourselves emotionally, we can only do it with anger and humor. Emotional stability and expression comes from women. When they have babies they say ‘hello, you’re welcome’ and they mean it. It is an emotional honesty. I started my career by becoming a stalker, watching women in the street, the way they greet each other. I thought if I could capture some of that expression, that depth of emotion, it will make me interesting to watch as an actor.” His 40-year movie career started quietly, with a short part as a bemused hospital ward patient in The National Health (1973), but then clicked up a notch quickly with two more roles. There was a fleeting appearance as a police constable frustrated in his attempts to corner slippery rascal Harry Flashman (Malcolm McDowell) among the cream of British character actors assembled for director Richard Lester’s boisterous romp Royal Flash (1975), but the other part, seen in Europe before Royal Flash but in the U.S. afterward, had more meat on its bones – and more controversy in its reception. For writer/director John Byrum, he got third billing embodying his first cinematic sleaze, the odious, drug-peddling porno film producer Big Mac, shepherding Richard Dreyfuss’s burnt-out Boy Wonder director gone to seed in the X-rated, seriocomic fable Inserts (1975). Playing a pugnacious, short-fused bootlegger with cockeyed entrepreneurial ambitions who for now is the bankroller of a rather fraught film shoot at a decrepit Hollywood mansion in 1930, the intense, bespectacled Hoskins caught the eye of The New York Times’s Vincent Canby, who hailed him as an “immensely talented English actor…who suggests at least two real-life moguls I can think of.” It also strongly suggested his natural affinity for playing raw, ruthless and intermittently soulful tough guys, which led to acclaimed turns as kingpin Harold in The Long Good Friday (1980, directed by John Mackenzie), gangster Owney Madden in The Cotton Club (1984, directed by Francis Ford Coppola) and his Oscar®-nominated mob driver George in Mona Lisa (1986). He could also utilize that previously referenced anger/humor dynamic to flip toughness on its ear to delightful effect as dogged investigator Eddie Valiant in the magical live-action/animated treat Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988, directed by Robert Zemeckis) and scalawag pirate cohort Smee in Hook (1991, directed by Steven Spielberg). In the midst of this burgeoning activity, he also played in forceful fashion Rev. Michael Da Costa, an Irish man of the cloth not averse to using his fists and fighting attitude to reclaim the soul of guilt-ridden ex-IRA terrorist Mickey Rourke in the searing A Prayer for the Dying (1987, directed by Mike Hodges). In projects small and large across the decades, the immensely talented “cube” called Hoskins (who also counted J. Edgar Hoover, Winston Churchill, Sancho Panza, Nikita Khrushchev, Pope John XXIII and another mogul-like Hollywood luminary, Eddie Mannix, among his rich gallery of portrayals) was a welcome and endearing asset, and Twilight Time’s hi-def Blu-rays of Inserts, A Prayer for the Dying and Royal Flash are all the better for it.