Claudia Leisinger


June 28 – July 4 2004

He’s played Churchill, Super Mario and numerous dodgy geezers, but BOB HOSKINS was first inspired by a bit of French film noir. He tells Leigh Singer about Scorsese, Spacey and why acting’s just a job.

As those infamous phone adverts once implied, it’s good to talk with Bob Hoskins. This warm, late spring evening, a glass of chilled white wine in his hand, he’s lively, expansive and full of good, if hardly PG-rated humour. To most people, this wouldn’t be a surprise. Throughout his long, lucrative career, Hoskins ‘chirpy geezer’ public persona has remained constant. Affable, avuncular, approachable. One Of Us, innit?

And yet various journalists have testified to less amicable encounters over the years. A Sunday Times profiler famously called him 'the rudest, most disagreeable person I've interviewed' and other hacks have made similar, if less extreme, judgments. Maybe the menace behind some of his most famous roles – the vicious mob boss in The Long Good Friday or Mona Lisa’s bruiser – isn’t merely good acting.

Tonight, though, Hoskins, 61, looks to be enjoying himself. He’s here to plug a movie, but not one of his own. We’re talking before a screening of the gripping 50’s French film noir thriller Rififi. It’s part of the bi-monthly Golden Classics series wherein a movie luminary highlights a film that inspired them. Pioneered in New York in 2002 before crossing the Atlantic, Hoskins joins a list that recently includes director Anthony Minghella (who chose Fellini’s I Vitelloni), Kevin Costner (Cool Hand Luke) and Samantha Morton (Ken Loach’s Ladybird, Ladybird). It’s clear Rififi is genuinely special to him.

‘I only saw it once. I was about 15 and we used to go in and see all the X films. I was with a couple of mates who thought it was a sex film,’ he chuckles. ‘They left but I stayed, I was absolutely fascinated with it. It stayed with me over the years. People would talk to me about gangster films; I’d always say, “You ever see Rififi?” “Who?” “Fackin’ Rififi. The film.”’

Hoskins verbally manhandles the title, stressing each syllable, Ree-fee-fee, like it’s Rin-Tin-Tin, but clearly relishes standing up for something of a lost classic. Despite its innovative central robbery – a wordless twenty-odd minute sequence - Jules Dassin’s film was until recently often overlooked, despite its obvious influence on the legion of modern heist movies.

‘When I came into the game and went to Hollywood I worked with Coppola and I said, “You ever see Rififi?” He said, “Are you fackin’ kidding? I based my career on that film.” Him, Scorsese, all of ‘em. They brought it out recently on DVD and I got it and was like, “Oooh…”’ He mimes nervously putting the disc in. ‘But I was over the moon. It’s still there. Know what I mean?’

For all this enthusiasm, when pressed on which of his own films he’d select for such an event, Hoskins is far more circumspect. ‘Thing is, in this game you’ve got no control at all,’ he expounds. ‘I remember I made a film, Heart Condition with Denzel Washington, which was supposed to be a sweet ghost / love story. Then the producers decided it was an action movie. Me and Denzel went to see it, and it was like ‘what the fack happened?” It was absolute rubbish! And we’d made a pretty good film.’ He sits back, case closed. ‘So now I just leave it and flush. My experience of it is making it.’

All well and good, but with over 60 film and TV credits since his 1980 big-screen breakthrough in The Long Good Friday, there are obvious peaks and troughs in the Hoskins filmography. It’s implicit in the way he refers affectionately to his Oscar-nominated ‘mug with an enormous heart’ in Mona Lisa or how he bonded with the young cast of Shane Meadows’ underrated 24/7 (‘when you’re my age and realise you’ve still got a bit of street cred, that’ll do!’). Likewise in the way we don’t touch upon, say, Super Mario Bros.

Still, it’s an impressive resume for someone with no formal acting training and who describes themselves as ‘five foot six and cubic’. Only Hoskins has starred opposite Roger Rabbit, romanced Cher in Mermaids and impersonated World War II leaders Mussolini, Khrushchev and Churchill. ‘Yeah, all the short, fat assholes, I get ‘em!’ he laughs. He may have been less visible of late, but it’s not because he’s been putting his feet up.

‘I’ve never stopped,’ maintains Hoskins. ‘I’ve slowed down in Hollywood with the big blockbusters and stuff, but I’ve made a lot of films that have been personally interesting to me, you know what I mean? Presumably that applies to the mixed bag of upcoming projects, including Vanity Fair with Reese Witherspoon, Son of the Mask without Jim Carrey and playing Kevin Spacey’s stepfather in his Bobby Darin biopic Beyond the Sea.

‘[Spacey] invited me out to dinner and he said “I’ve written the script, I’m gonna direct it, play it and I’m singing all the songs. Would you do it?”’ he recounts. ‘I went down to the khazi thinking he’s fackin’ bonkers and I’m having a pee and said to the guy standing next to me, “You know Bobby Darin?” He said, “Yeah, he was my dad’s favourite, I got all his records.” I said, “Can you see Kevin Spacey playing Bobby Darin?” He said, “Who’s Kevin Spacey?” So I went upstairs and said to Kevin, “You’re on, I’ll do it.” Know what I mean?’ He chuckles away into his wine glass.

‘Thing is, it’s not my life, it’s my job. People say, “Yeah but you don’t just do it for money?” What do you mean? It’s how I earn my fackin’ living, course I do it for money! Recently [his wife] Linda booked up a holiday for the kids in the Seychelles and this script came through from Scorsese. I’d love to work with Scorsese – but it came up right in the middle of me holiday. A lot of mates said, “What the fack are you doing? You could cancel the holiday.” But the job’s there to serve your life; your fackin’ life’s not there to serve the job. Know what I mean?’

'© The Big Isue 2004. No material may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.'