“I’m a cartoon nut! I love cartoons," says Bob Hoskins. "All of them. I find the whole art of cartooning – toons - fascinating. I think they're wonderful.”
This was a useful attribute when director Bob (Back to the Future) Zemeckis was casting the lead role of private eye Eddie Valiant in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? But Hoskins, the 45-Year-old star of Mona Lisa, The Long Good Friday and The Cotton Club, was also chosen for other reasons. "At one point, they realized they had to have someone who was a bit cartoonish," he says, "Who looked as if he could bounce off the walls the same as the cartoons. Little did I realize that that's actually what they intended - to bounce me off the walls. I think they came to the conclusion that I was the most cartoonish person they could think of.”
The live actors in Roger Rabbit (STARLOG #132) were filmed before any of the animation. "This was tough because I saw Mary Poppins, Song of the South, Anchors Away, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, all of them," Hoskins explains, "and they never worked. They just looked like animation and real life, and basically there's no relationship. And I thought, 'Oh hell, what have I done? I've got myself into a terrible state here, and taken on an impossible job, and it can't be done.'
"And then I watched my daughter, Rosa, she was three at the time, and she has all these invisible friends whom she talks to - Geoffrey and Elliott. And I realized that, as we get older, our imagination goes further and further to the back of our head. When we're a kid, we can actually take it out and look at it. I mean, we can see it. As we get older [still], senility comes in, and the imagination comes to the forefront again, and takes over.
"So, I just concentrated on an immature imagination - forcing it back to the front so I could actually take it out and look at it. And I managed to actually see them, which was all right, but you do it for 16 hours a day for five months... ! I started to lose control and hallucinate in all kinds of embarrassing places. Some of it's quite rude, but there's not much you can talk about. At one point, it was quite frightening, weasels and all sorts of things turning up."
On the set, in the absence of the real cartoon characters which were to be added later, Hoskins' imagination was aided by temporary stand-ins. "We would have models and people for Jessica Rabbit [Roger's wife], and things like that," he explains. "I would fix where the eyeline was, the actual shape, and then I would do it without them there. Sometimes, it was very difficult to keep my hallucinations correct for size and perspective."
The hardest scenes to film, the actor says, were "all of them. It's the toughest film I've ever done! To maintain that kind of level of work, for as long as we maintained it, and to keep up the technical perfection that we had to keep up! It wasn't just me, it was a whole team of us, there were 30 puppeteers. On each shot, we all had to get it exactly right. And after a while, that gets really wearing. We were exhausted. We would just stagger out of there.
"There was one day I'll never forget. One of the grips was having an egg and bacon sandwich in the morning, and he said, 'What time is it?' I said, 'It's breakfast time.' He asked, 'Have I been home? Did I go home?' I said, 'Yeah.' 'Are you sure?' He had to phone his wife, to find out if he went home last night."
Nonetheless, "making Roger Rabbit was also great fun," Hoskins notes. "It was a knockout, the crew and everybody were wonderful. It was a really good group of people, we had a great time, but we were all totally exhausted by the end."
The actor terms director Zemeckis "fantastic. He is great, absolutely wonderful. I fell in love. Bob's like a cartoon. He knows about this kind of thing. He has good ideas, and he doesn't get in the way of a performance, he encourages a performance. If he sees anything, he'll go, 'Ah, you can do that, can you?' 'Oh shit, what have I done?!?'
"Like, early on, when we were in Los Angeles, Benny [the animated car] has a smash-up. We come out of Toontown and I had to get thrown out, and we had a stuntman who goes flying out of the tunnel and lands on his back. I said, 'I can do that,' flipped over and landed on my back - I used to be an acrobat. So, Bob said, 'Ah! Great, great. . . ' [I said,] 'Oh shit. . . ' " Subsequently, Hoskins performed "quite a lot" of his own stunts.
Recovering from Roger Rabbit's exertions and hallucinations required a holiday. "I went to Antigua for two weeks," Hoskins relates, "and Linda [Hoskins' wife] had to ask me to put my shirt on, because I was so bruised that everybody thought that she had been beating me up! She was really getting embarrassed about it. Also, because of the green dip that we had spent days wading around in, I had bright green feet. So, I was not a pretty sight."
Raised in London, England, Hoskins took on a variety of jobs before becoming an actor: window cleaner, truck driver, merchant seaman, fire-eater in a circus, road-digger, trainee commercial artist, Covent Garden market porter, and trainee accountant. He spent two years in Syria living amongst Bedouin tribes, and six months on a kibbutz in Israel. When he finally discovered acting in his mid-20s, it was by accident.
"One night, I was in a pub waiting for a friend of mine," he says. "They were holding auditions for amateur actors upstairs, and they must have thought I was one of the guys turning up for the audition. This fellow came down and said, 'Right, you're next.' I went upstairs and there were all these people sitting very intensely around this table, I read this part, and I got it."
A diverse stage and TV career in Britain followed (including the lead role in the original BBC-TV version of Pennies from Heaven), and eventually, Hoskins began appearing in movies. In Inserts, he played an ex-bootlegger turned producer who takes advantage of a down-on-his-luck movie director (Richard Dreyfuss); a policeman in Richard (Superman III) Lester's comedy Royal Flash; the rock and roll manager in Pink Floyd-The Wall, and a South American army colonel in Beyond the Limit. For Zulu Dawn, he spent weeks living among Zulus in a mud hut in the bush.
But Hoskins' most successful early film role was in The Long Good Friday, in which he portrayed Harold Shand, a London gangster immersed in the violent chaos created by the mob and the IRA. To research his role, Hoskins went to a London bar frequented by villains. "I said, 'I'm doing a gangster movie, would you teach me how to be a gangster?' And they did. They were really flattered, and all charming fellows.
"I had been trying to be believable by shouting and waving my arms around, but one underworld guy told me, 'Look, don't shout. They know who you are.' It was amazing how much violence was lurking in them. There's a bit of violence in us all, but these guys are incredible. They all speak in whispers, then boom! They just explode.
"But we all got on OK. They even gave me a watch as a present when I left them."
Hoskins' relationship with The Long Good Friday's original distribution company wasn't quite so amicable. They wanted to dub over his distinctive accent with posher tones before releasing the film. Hoskins threatened to take them to court, and eventually the dispute was resolved when Handmade Films bought The Long Good Friday and released it unaffected.
He portrayed another gangster, Owney Madden, in The Cotton Club, directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Their relationship began rather inauspiciously when Hoskins' phone rang one evening at midnight. "A voice said, 'Hi, this is Francis Ford Coppola. ' 'Yeah!? And this is Henry the Eighth, and you've just woken up my kid!' " Hoskins replied, slamming the phone down. However, Coppola called back, convinced the actor of his identity, and a deal was struck. Hoskins' (largely improvised) performance was one of the few elements to emerge favorably from the resulting overbudget, over-schedule production.
Hoskins' other recent movies include Alan Alda's Sweet Liberty, in which he played a sycophantic screenwriter; Mona Lisa, for which he received an Oscar nomination and Best Actor awards at the Cannes Film Festival, from the LA Critics, and a Golden Globe; and A Prayer for the Dying, based on the bestseller by Jack Higgins and co-starring Mickey Rourke and Alan Bates.
The actor, who enjoys science fiction-"I like all the old classics: Isaac Asimov and Philip K. Dick."-made his only other major genre film appearance to date in director Terry Gilliam's Brazil (STARLOG #102). "As usual with me, I was in a bar," Hoskins recalls. "It was in New York, and Terry Gilliam came up and said, 'Do you want to play a plumber, you and Robert De Niro?' and I knew De Niro. He was the good plumber, and I was the bad plumber. It was great." Hoskins' demise-"drowning in shit. That wasn't a stuntman. That was me, kiddo!" - helped to make the production "one of the merrier do's" for him.
Due to other assignments, however, he was unable to appear in Gilliam's latest film. "He wanted me to, but I just didn't have any time," the actor says. "I would have loved to have done The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. I love Terry's work. He's a good friend of mine."
Hoskins did renew his connection with Robert De Niro in a bizarre, indirect way with The Untouchables. "That was amazing, that was incredible. Talk about getting a face in Hollywood," Hoskins says. "I was in L.A., doing a bit of publicity, and got a phone call from [director] Brian De Palma: 'Do you want to meet me at the Beverly Wilshire to have a drink?' And he sent me The Untouchables script, and he said, look at Al Capone. I looked at it, and I thought, 'Good part.'
"I met him, and he said, 'Now look, I really want Robert De Niro to do this; I don't think he's going to do it, but if he won't do it, will you do it?' So, I said, 'Yeah, I'll do it.' He said, 'I'll pay you well, I'll do the business, and I'll look after you, and it will be a real favor to me if I'm covered.' I said yes, I'll do it, a couple of weeks' work, terrific.
"Anyway, I never heard anything else; next thing I see, De Niro's going to play it. So, I said, 'Oh, right, De Palma got him.' But he [De Palma] had no contract with me, nothing was signed, there was no agreement, or anything, and I got this check for $200,000 as a thank you! 'Oh shit, you've got to be kidding!' " Nonetheless, the check was in the bank, Hoskins affirms, "quick as a flash, before they realized they had made a mistake." Ponders the actor: "I wonder if there's anything else De Niro's thinking about doing..."
Since making Roger Rabbit, Hoskins has made his directorial debut with The Raggedy Rawney. "It's set vaguely in the 20th century, and it's in the middle of a war, but not a specific war," he explains. "It's a country at war, and has been at war for years, far too long. There's a band of gypsies trying to avoid it, and this young soldier, who sort of deserts, who is basically suffering from shellshock. It's about avoiding war, and how war eats everything up.
"The Raggedy Rawney is the title of a very old gypsy legend, and the legend is that during the 100 Years War, or one of those wars, it had just gone on too long. Everybody was deserting, and if you deserted, they would hunt you down, and if they caught you with anybody, they would kill you and them as well - wipe out a whole village, just for one deserter. So, a deserter had nowhere to go.
"This young soldier went on the run, and he met up with a group of gypsies. He stayed with them for a while, until they found out that he was a deserter, and they said, 'Look, sorry, mate, you have to go.' "A few weeks later," he explains, "this mad woman walked into the camp, and one of the young girls took her in, and she looked after this mad woman for 20 years. She had two kids as well, and nobody could figure out where these kids were coming from.
"Eventually, the army went through, and the mad woman - they called her the raggedy rawney-was run over. And it turned out it was this soldier, and nobody knew. They had lived this lie for 20 years, and this guy had kept this up all that time, pretending he was mad, even in front of his own kids. That's the basis of the film."
Shot on location in Czechoslovakia, The Raggedy Rawney was not only directed by Hoskins, but co-scripted by him (with Nicole De Wilde) as well. Hoskins, who has previously written plays under the name of Robert Williams, also co-starred. "The young girl who takes him in, I play her father."
Regarding the experience of directing, Hoskins says, "I ain't giving up me day job.
"It's like being picked to death by a thousand pigeons, because everybody asks you questions. It has wonderful moments, when things happen, but God, it's hard work. It takes so long, and you get so completely obsessed with it, you're thinking about the film all the time.
"It was a very uplifting experience, but I've come out the other side and realized that my wife has been stuck with this idiot talking about this film for the past year, and she has had enough."
The completed movie, Hoskins says, "is a better film than I thought of. It's a wonderful film. It's extraordinary, the work that has gone in to it from everybody, I couldn't believe it. You see it on the screen, and I'm really proud of it, because everybody has grafted their asses off on it."
Hoskins' motivation for making the film was "working with my mates, basically. I'm completely for nepotism, and nearly everybody - most of the cast, most of the crew - are all very old friends of mine. I think they all came out to make sure I didn't screw it up.
"And it did pay off, in the actual work that's on the screen. When you have this nucleus of people who are very close friends, and they're in there trying to do it, and then other people [join in], it gets bigger and bigger and bigger. Everybody who got involved with the film became a Rawney-ite.
"In post-production as well, when I brought the film home: Alan Jones, the editor, bought a caravan, and he used to sleep outside the editing room with lumps of the film under his pillow. And we had Jim Roddan, a brilliant sound editor, and he got into this world, and then we turned it to Bill Rowe, the dubber, and all these people fiddling about: 'Hang on, hang on, give me a little bit,' Ean Wood's doing the footsteps, you know, 'Make that slap of that fish a little wetter.' And you think, 'Jesus!' But it's all there on the screen. It's all these people's work."
Directly after Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Hoskins appeared in The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, based on a 1955 novel by Brian Moore about an Irish Catholic woman's despair. "For me, that was therapy," the actor says. "To work with cartoons all that time, I then actually needed to get back and work very closely with an actor or an actress, and Maggie Smith - you know, who better? Jack Clayton [Something Wicked This Way Comes, STARLOG #71], is a wonderful director. And it just - I was back on the rails. I was fine. What's wonderful about Maggie is that she's not like one of your big stars, just stand back and she'll do it. It wasn't like that at all, she actually demands work out of you. She's great, I liked her."
Married with two children (and two from his first marriage), Hoskins' future career is not mapped out any further than Roger Rabbit and The Raggedy Rawney. "I haven't got any plans at all: No ambitions, no plans, just going to relax," he says. "There's a load of offers, but I don't even want to look at them. I've worked my ass off recently - four films, back to back. I'm a husk."
Still, the actor would consider appearing in a sequel to Roger Rabbit - if he is still physically capable of being bounced off the walls. "They'll have to get to it soon," he says, "or I'm going to be too old!" But despite the months of live-action bruises and animated hallucinations, Bob Hoskins is pleased to have taken part in unraveling the framing of Roger Rabbit. "It's cinematic history, it has never been done before," he says. "It's great to be a part of history, you know what I mean?"