Bob Hoskins reinvents himself as a slightly crazed man with a social mission in Shane Meadows' TwentyFourSeven. In this award winning British film, Hoskins plays a Midlands local obsessed with inspiring disaffected street youth by starting a boxing club. One of the most amazing things about TwentyFour Seven is that these young nonactors really are the tough kids the movie is all about, and Hoskins had some pretty surprising comments about his unusually raw ensemble experience.
Now, to fully savor this off screen dialogue I had with Hoskins, you'll have to close your eyes and imagine the actor's warm, hearty and never less than theatrical cockney cadence. Also, don't miss Hoskins' recipe for selecting on target scripts, which he puts to his special 'cold bun test.'
PRAIRIE MILLER: Your role in TwentyFourSeven is a pretty big change for you.
BOB HOSKINS: It was extraordinary. Let me explain. The housing project where the movie was shot, that's where Shane Meadows comes from. And most of the cast are his friends. He just took a video camera out in the streets, and started making movies with his friends. And these movies are starting to win prizes around the world.
I was sent one of these videos and I was asked, well what do you think? I said, it's extraordinary, this kid should be encouraged. And I was told, we're going to back him for a full length movie, but the thing is, he's written it for you...And I thought, thanks, I walked into that one!
But then he sent me the script, and I couldn't believe it. He was just twenty one when he wrote it, and he left school at fifteen. He's had no training. He just makes movies, and nobody's told him how not to make them.
When I got the script, I was just astonished at the compassion, the insight and the poetry coming out of this boy. And then I met him. He had a shaved head and I thought, hello!
PM: What was Shane like to work with?
BH: TwentyFourSeven was shot in just five weeks, and Shane creates this extraordinary feeling. He knows exactly what he wants, and he gets it.
PM: What connected you to this character?
BH: What attracted me about the part in the first place, is that it's a brilliant study in loneliness. This man is a social cripple. He respects these boys and he wants to get them off the street. His loneliness drives him on, but it also holds him back. I don't know, that's what attracted me really...
PM: Has there been anybody like Darcy in your own life?
BH: I suppose. Yeah, it was a teacher...I always hated school. The teachers didn't go for me much. But there was one teacher, Mr. Jones. He was a big ex-rugby player with cauliflower ears. And he said to me, why do you always make out like you're such a bad penny? You're fine, you're all right! And he turned me on to literature.
I still see him now every now and again...There's a pub in north London that I go to, and he's always in there with his rugby mates. So I suppose that I know who Darcy is through Mr. Jones.
PM: What was it like working with this cast of tough, streetwise nonactors?
BH: Oh, it was terrifying! Absolutely terrifying. I thought, they're really going to see me as this old fogy. But they didn't. They didn't try to impress me, and they weren't impressed by me. I was just one of the chaps, and it was wonderful. I tell you, I was, yeah! It was great for my ego.
PM: Did you learn a lot?
BH: Oh yeah. With that lot, there's no chance of any fancy footwork, or of me being a clever actor. No one was listening. That's what Shane creates, and that's why I'm so proud of it. So that's what it was like working with them.
PM: Are you anything like your character in TwentyFourSeven?
BH: Well, I'll come back to this loneliness thing. I've got a phobia about loneliness...I'll never forget the first time I went to L.A., and this stretch limo picked me up. It was like, the man was a mile away! I felt like I was sitting in this tunnel, and I was like, can I come up and sit there with you? He said no, oh no. And I go, ugh, I'm sitting on me own in the back of this limo...
But I suppose with that kind of background, seeing the kids on the streets and knowing there's more to them than what they're showing, and what people think of them. Yeah...I have a lot of respect for these kids, because I was one of them. I was probably one of the worst of them!
PM: Tell me a little more about your own coming of age.
BH: Well, I came out of the war years. I was born during the war in 1942. And when I grew up, the whole lot of London was flattened, so we were playing in piles of bricks. There weren't drugs around, but the deprivation was the same. And when I was a kid, we won the war. We had hope.
Before I became an actor when I was twenty five years old, I was in the Norwegian merchant navy, I was a Covent Garden Market porter, and a window cleaner. You want 'em all?
PM: That's okay! What's your secret formula for choosing a script?
BH: I give them the cold bun test! Like, a script turns up in the morning, and I take it to the bathroom. Usually within three pages, I'm out of the loo. But when I say, gee I've got a cold bun, then this must be a script worth reading! That's basically the secret of my career...
PM: Well, now that we know how you get excited about a script, what excites you about being an actor?
BH: I love it! I really do. And I love the people in it...When I was a kid, I used to paint and write, and stuff like that, but that's all on your own. You should know, you sit by your typewriter, and you're on your own....You know, you get to the point where you think, there's nobody here, I'll talk to the dog a bit...Now, what was I talking about?
PM: About being an actor.
BH: Oh yeah, being on your own...But you're suddenly an actor, and then there's all these other people to play with, you know? It's a playground!
PM: Is it really true that other actors on the set are like a family away from home?
BH: Well, they're insane! They're all mad. I'm serious. I just thought that people like me eventually got put away. You know, you couldn't have someone like me walking around the streets, he's crazy. And then I came into this business, and I discovered where they put them all! They're all completely nuts. But I like them. It is an instant family.
PM: Was that also how you felt about The Cotton Club?
BH: Well, I had Fred Gwinn, and that was my buddy there. He's like seven foot tall, and there's me..We were like a bat and ball! No, Fred Gwinn was my family. But there were two thousand people there every day, including the mafia.
PM: Now for a trick question. What do you think has made Bob Hoskins so fan-friendly?
BH: Well, I discovered that most of my success is my shape. And the secret of my success in Hollywood is plastic surgery. You walk in, and there's all these guys, they've all been to the same plastic surgeon. Then the director looks around and says, who's that?! This cube over there. With a bald head. Great! Bring him in...That's probably why I work so much in Hollywood...What was the question? Oh yeah...But I imagine myself as Fred Astaire.
PM: What was it like being in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and acting with characters who weren't real people?
BH: I love cartoons! My agent said, you don't want to do this. And I said, are you kidding me? With Bugs Bunny in there? What are you saying? And for the first time in my career, I made a film that my children could see.
My son Jack was three at the time, and I took him to the premiere. When we came out, he wouldn't talk to me. He wouldn't have anything to do with me. And it took me about two weeks to get out of him what the problem was. Well, he thought that any father who had friends like Yosemite Sam, Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny and people like that, and who didn't bring them home to meet his son, was a jerk. He's thirteen now, and I don't think he's forgiven me yet!
PM: Do you think your kids will become actors like you?
BH: Well, Jack would be an actor if he could play Spiderman. But other than that, I don't know. I wouldn't stop them. Though, I wouldn't stop anybody going into this business. I love it!
Copyright 1997 by Prairie Miller