October 27th, 2002 - San Sebastian Film Festival

Bob Hoskins Press Conference
Transcript by: Rafael CortÚs

[Bob Hoskins is being flashed with pictures waiting for the beginning of the press conference. He salutes a few journalists that interest about him saying "Hello, how are you?" He sits down and says loudly: "Right, should we get on with press conference?" Then a voice in the microphone announces the beginning: "The 2002 Donostia Award Bob Hoskins is ready and waiting to answer your questions". The press conference starts.]

Q: Hello, the first is in English so you can take your headphones off (he laughs). I was just wondering many Americans actually think you are American just because of your fantastic ability with accents on characters and so on. I wonder if, as good Eastend boy, do you regard it as a compliment?

A: Well, I've never come from the Eastend, I came from North London. But, see, why I always had an ear for American accents is because like everybody else in Europe I've brought up on American films, so it's much more difficult for the Americans to copy the English because there's not many English films that they've brought up on. That's all.

Q: Mr. Hoskins, there are two roles that you've played on your long career that interested me quite specially and I'd like you to talk about. One is the gangster in Mona Lisa and the other in Felicia's Journey, I'm not too sure about the name in English, but those two characters and the working with Jordan and Egoyan. Could you talk a bit about this?

A: Yes. First of all, Mona Lisa, I was... Originally I turned it down because Neil had originally written a tough guy, and I couldn't see that there was any story to just being a tough guy. And he went away and rewrote it as the guy that eventually was. This man was very damaged and very easily, and bit of a romantic, and fell in love with the wrong woman. That was the power of the film. But initially he was a tough guy, and I always found the tough guys pretty boring basically, and that's why I changed.

Mmmm, Felicia's Journey was... (laughing) how do you talk about Felicia's Journey? Felicia's Journey was a journey that I went into which... I'm not method at all, I don't believe in taking characters home and some others characters I've played, I think if I took them home to my wife and children I would find my bag packed on the doorstep very quickly. But with that one, after I finished the film and after about two weeks, my wife, Linda, said: "Bob, you do realise you're behaving very strangely at the moment?" (he laughs) And I started to realise that I've gone deeper into that part than I've should have done, but... It worked. Thank you.

Q: Hello, good afternoon. You participated in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. I would like to know about your experience with the special effects at that time and also the memories you have of being nominated to the Oscar. Thank you.

A: I wasn't nominated for an Oscar for Roger Rabbit.  That was for Mona Lisa. But... Roger Rabbit was... It was the greatest research. I love research, every actor does. But the research on that was, one morning, two enormous boxes turned up in the post full of cartoons and my kids were tiny, and we spent two weeks doing research on Roger Rabbit just watching cartoons. And to sit with two very young children watching what they reacted to, to a cartoon, I realised very early on that I would have to become partly cartoon. I would have to learn to bounce off the walls like the rabbit.

But the thing was... It was all animation, it was cartoons, it wasn't computers like it is now. So I had to be very aware of what I was looking at because they couldn't put anything there because they wouldn't be able to paint over it, you know? They wouldn't be able to cover it, so I had to learn to hallucinate without the benefit of drugs or booze, well I tried but it didn't work, but...

As my daughter had an invisible friend called Jeffrey and she... I spent weeks with Rosa playing with Jeffrey and eventually I saw him. What happens is when we are young the imagination is right in the front of the head. As we get older it goes further and further back, so we can't actually take it out and look at it. As a child we can, and as we get older, as we get really old, it comes back in a circle and you see old people talking to all dead relatives 'cause their imagination is back to the front of the head. And that's probably why I'm so childish, because (he laughs) my imagination is still here, and that's basically the way I did it. So, hallucinating. Do you want me to say anymore? Oh, you do (he laughs).

What was very difficult about Roger Rabbit because it was a cartoon, it had to be very, very precise, every single frame had to be painted. So I had to be in exactly the right position like... If I grabbed the rabbit from his throat like that (he makes the move of closing his fist grabbing the rabbit) I'd cost the company a hundred thousand dollars because they had to paint the rabbit through my fingers, so I had to care about that. And if I was turned a little bit too far they would have to paint the rabbit through my bald area sticking up in the top here (pointing his finger to his bald head). So there were times when people were actually underneath the stage with the hands at my back moving me into exactly the right position to...you know?

To act with the rabbit. There was Charlie Fleischer, who was insane. Charlie played the rabbit, but Charlie turned up on the first day and insisted on a costume. I said: Charlie, you're a voice. He said: Have I said anything about your performance? You know? I thought: But Charlie... But, no, everyday he would turn up and he would dress up as a rabbit, but the only problem was he would improvise. And I found myself improvising with this rabbit who was over there (he points his finger at his back), and I'm talking to him here (he points towards himself). It was crazy.

Q: It's quite curious that you've mentioned Roger Rabbit which is a film directed by Robert Zemeckis, but Steven Spielberg was behind him. Perhaps that's when you got in touch and that childish mentality enabled you to get into the role of Smee in Spielberg's film Hook. Could you tell us about that experience and whether Spielberg told you to bear in mind Captain Hook or Smee in Disney or you just made up your own Smee, your own character? Could you tell us a bit about that...That was a super production by Hollywood as were done in the past with big sets and enormous amounts of money and special effects and... if you know what I'm saying. Could you tell us a bit about that experience and how do you approached that role and whether it had anything to do with your childish memories?

A: No. The first thing that Spielberg said to me was: This has nothing to do with Roger Rabbit, right? I don't want any rabbits, I don't want any cartoons, you're working with Dustin Hoffman (he laughs). Ok? But the thing was when Steven and I were working together we started to act like a couple of vulgar comedians and it was very funny, a lot, it was very rude. And unfortunately (laughing) a lot of it was cut out 'cause Disney wouldn't allow it, you know what I mean? It was just going too far.

But... And... suddenly Dustin was on his own being himself Hook and he had to do those very long speeches without me and we'd all fall asleep, you know what I mean? But I remember there was one thing that I had all these hooks in a box, and one of them had a ring on the end, and there was a scene where Smee puts Captain Hook to bed. And I took off his hook and I screwed on the ring. Everybody looked at this and suddenly there was a guy at the back, "No, no! We can't! What are you doing? What is he gonna do with it? Is he gonna masturbate with that ring? We can't have a ring right in the bed! Get the ring off his hand!" So, we couldn't have the ring. Nobody wanted to see (laughing), nobody wanted to see Captain Hook masturbating (all the press room's laughing). Anything else?

Q: Mmm... You directed The Raggedy Rawney in 1989, but I found that you haven't returned to directing films, forgive me if that's wrong, but if it's not, why not? And, can we see you directing again?

A: Mmm... Yes, I've done it a few times, but if.... (he laughs) The Raggedy Rawney was one of the strangest productions I've ever known because the line producer was determined to get money back to the company, and we'd all turned up on the set to do a scene about a tank, and there was no tank, the scene is about the tank, but we couldn't afford the tank. Ah, so he said: Maybe you could rewrite the scene to do the tank. And by the time we came to the end of the film he gave back half the money to the company, and we were ending up a film that nobody could understand (laughing). And... yes, I've done a few things since then, and... I quite enjoy it, and I've been asked to do another one. I've just written a script and it's... mmm... We'll see. We'll see how it goes. Thank you for asking.

Q: I would like to ask you when an actor doesn't have the classic aspect of a very good-looking, tall guy, beautiful, blue eyes, if you know what I'm saying... is difficult to advance in your career or you just simply have to find the suit of role suitable to you. What type of characters when you select your scripts, the ones that you were going to perform, how have you done it when you choose the characters on the scripts you're given? How do you adapt yourself because you're not a tall, good-looking guy, if you know what I'm saying.

A: I've never... I haven't got the faintest idea what I look like. I know what you look like 'cause I can see you, but I only see myself when I shave in the morning and it's only my chin. The rest of it I don't know. But, how I choose the scripts is I take it to the toilet in the morning. It turns up in the post and I take it to the toilet, and if I'm still reading that script and I realise I've got a very cold behind it's not a bad script (people start laughing at the back) and usually the rest of my family are knocking on the door saying: you still in there!? And if I still am it's a good script and I usually decide to do it. It's called The Cold Bum Test (journalists are laughing at the same time). Yes. Anybody else? Ah, go my dear, go (to a female journalist).

Q: I would like to know whether you have any projects in mind of going back to the theatre, doing any theatre working Great Britain.

A: Emmm...  I did a stage show a couple of years ago and I enjoyed it but... The thing about the theatre is: the first night is terrifying, the second night is disappointing, the third night is exhilarating because you're back again, the fourth night is.. good, the fifth night is... we're doing this again, and the sixth night is usually Saturday night and I'm stuck in a theatre, you know? So, this, six months a year... eighteen months of doing one show is not really that appealing. And I am really being offered sort of...Everybody always offers me a theatre role that I've just played on a film and... I'm not gonna repeat myself, it's boring. Ok? You're ok?

Q: You're one of those actors who works well in dramatic roles as well as in comedy. What do you prefer if you prefer any of the two? What do you feel more comfortable and, if so, why?

A: Any role is about creating feelings and most roles, comedy or tragedy, are about pain. Comedy is about using the pain to make people laugh and tragedy is about using the pain to make people cry, but the trick is making people do both,...of both things.

Q: How about biographic roles? You've played Winston Churchill, Manuel Noriega...How do you address this political roles, how do you assume them, how do you see them and how do you interpret them?

A: I love historical roles because, first of all, is research, you have to do a lot of research. And I love that, is like going back to university, you know what I mean? You got to read all the books about and you gotta watch all the videos... And, eventually, the big decision is not to listen to history like..if...Mmmm, a simple example: if I was asked to play Adolf Eichmann I would have to play the fact that he was a monster who planned the killing of six million Jews, but he was also an impossible romantic who used to take his wife flowers every night and cry over silly poems. And I would have to play both. As an actor my job is not to judge the person, my job is to play the person for what he was, and sometimes it's not in the script, sometimes that becomes quite a big confrontation between me and the director and the writer and everybody else (laughing), but I insist that we must show the full man, and it's up to the audience to make their decision about this man's life, ok?

Q: I'd like to go back to one of your more commercial films, perhaps it's not your favourite, but I would like to know what attracted you Mario Bros.? Because it was going to open the doors to others possibly or you just liked the idea of the film itself? I'm sure I've said the name incorrectly but I'm sure you know what film I am referring to.

A: You're talking about Super Mario Brothers. Super Mario Brothers had a husband and wife directing team whose arrogance convinced everybody of their genius, but I'm afraid the genius wasn't there, and we watch this completely lost. It started off a very good script, but the first day they threw the script away, and they said: we'll do this our way. And when they're gone over ten million dollars their own agents threw them off the set, then we said: we've got to finish this film ourselves. The editor came down and said: I don't know what we are gonna do, we haven't one single finished scene. So basically in a week, in two weeks, we had to cobble together the film and what could have been a very, very interesting film went up... rubbish, complete rubbish. My attraction was the money in the first place (little laughter in the room).

Q: After Gosford Park Robert Altman said that he loved working with British actors. I'm not too sure what's the difference between American and British actors, if you believe there is a difference between British and American actors.

A: Make up (all the room start laughing and he gets a round). Yes.

Q: When I asked you about Roger Rabbit that was my first question. The second question was your memories and anecdotes of having been nominated for an Oscar obviously for Mona Lisa. What did they mean to you, being nominated for an Oscar and being part of the show in the United States? What are your memories of that and your anecdotes?

A: My wife and I, Linda, went to America to do the Oscars, she bought a dress, you know? She had the thing, I had the suit, we did the business, you know? And we got in a limousine that was as long as this room and we sat for three hours in this limousine waiting to get to the thing 'cause there was a line of limousines. Eventually we got to the place and we got out of the limousine and there was a place where the celebrities had to go up on this platform and be screamed at.

So Linda and I got up on this platform and went upon the stairs going to the queue and eventually I was at the front of the queue and, obviously, the guy was announcing the names didn't have the faintest idea who I was and he announced the fella behind me (people laughs again), so... (he laughs). I thought: "Jesus Linda we're in the wrong place", you know? So, eventually someone told him: "That's Bob Hoskins" and he said: "Right, everybody, this is Booob Hoooskins!" and he was like: "Yeaaahh! Who the fuck is that!?" (the whole room laughs).

So (he laughs too) everybody was screaming, anyway we went downstairs and we went into this place where... it was ridiculous (people laugh again), everything was guided to television, it wasn't a show because it was all guided to the cameras, everything's guided to the cameras, and I sat there for an hour really bored and I said: "I'm going to the bar," and Linda said: "Listen, don't get drunk", I said: "I'm going to the bar." Anyway, I got up and I saw a guy was sitting on my seat (he makes the face he got when he saw it, a surprised one and people are laughing non-stop). I thought he was trying to get off on my missus and I got up and said: "What the fuck are you doing!?" He said: "No, no, no, I gotta fill your seat, if the camera sees it.. we cannot have any empty seats, I'm a seat filler". Oh (he gets a surprised face again and the room are still laughing a lot, even the translators).

So I went to the bar. I walked into the bar and the nominations were: James Woods, William Hurt, Dexter Gordon, me and Paul Newman. Paul Newman wasn't there. The other three, James Woods, William Hurt and Dexter, were sitting in the bar (people laughs) with a magnum of champagne, and they said: "Bob, sit down. He's to Paul Newman." I said: "What are you talking about here's to Paul Newman? I'm gonna win this!" He said: "Think about it, just think about it. You've given an Oscar winning performance", I said: "yes", he said "I've given an Oscar winning performance", I said: "yes", he said: "he's given an Oscar winning performance", I said: "yes", he said: "and so's Dexter", I said: "yes", he said: "has Paul Newman?", I said: "no", he said: "here's to Paul Newman". Paul Newman won. By that time we were so drunk we went hysteric, so that was all my anecdotes of the Oscars, you know what I mean? (laughing, and people are still laughing too). It was crazy, you know?

Q: I know that many actors don't like to talk about this but I would like to know whether, during your career, you've been able to share and you've worked with very important actors, names that we all know, whether there's been any actor or actress, shall we say, that really impressed you more than what you expected from the beginning and then you said: "Yep, this actor is who he is and what he is and he's earned it" because many times an actor is a legend but then when you work he is just one other guy. Is there any actor that has caused a greater impression of what you expected initially?

A: No, I've never had any heroes, they're actors but no heroes, they're acting being heroic but they're not heroes. But, I think one of the most... funny and impressive people I've ever work with was John Gielgud, very, very early on in my career, when I just started, I was a bit in the business about two years. And I suddenly went up on stage with John Gielgud and it was a twenty minutes scene and I had all the lines and... he was amazing. I had a line which I felt... I'm getting a laugh but I'm getting more and I said to him, you know?: How can I get more of this line? (he speaks like John with an older voice) "When you come to the line step back two paces, count two and then say it".

I was like: you must be joking. He said: "No, no, try it". And that night I came to the line and he was sitting up on a box in the scene (he acts like John whispering at him) "Step back two paces and count two" and I did, and I got a round, the audience went crazy. I was like: "What is he doing?" (looking back at John believing he was doing something people were laughing at, and he laughs when he remembers it) and every night I stepped back two paces, counted two and got I round, even if the show wasn't going very well I always got a round! Ever since, everything I've ever done it's been a line where I stepped back two paces, counted two and got absolutely nothing, it's never worked again (people laughs), it was just that particular thing and that is a stage craft that has died. I loved him, he was a lovely old man, I really loved him.

Q: Bob, which award, and you received many, have meant most to you, apart obviously from the one you're gonna get here in San Sebastian and, also, where do you continue to drive your creative satisfaction?

A: I've achieved a cupboard full of awards but I can't really say that I actually understand what they mean, like...This is entertainment, this is culture, this is... How can anybody say there is...like a race, ok? There is a winner? How can anybody say there's a winner? Like one film might be great and another film, to someone else it's the most boring thing they've ever seen in their lives, you know? I've never really understood, I got them but I don't know what to do with them. When you're given a lifetime's achievement award as this... this one probably means more to me than anything else because it's sort of saying: Well thank you for being here. And I'm: Wow, yes, I appreciate that, you know? I'm not a winner, I've just been there (laughing), I've just survived.

Mmmm... my experience of the business is not about awards, is not about the press... the joy of this business is doing it, I love it, and the greatest thrill of this business is working with talent, like it's like.. it's very difficult to explain but the closest I can say is it's like jazz, you got a script, ok? You got a song: let's play the song, ah, even we can take it this way or maybe we can take it this way or maybe... you know? And then you see the director's wetting himself in the corner and the cameramen are just: Wow! And that is the joy of the business, for me it's doing it, like... ok, you're all very nice and I love very much but, for me, this has got nothing to do with the business, it's got to do with your business which is great, you know what I mean? It's got to do with selling the business and keeping the business going, which is brilliant, but my connection with it is I don't really know what I'm doing here. Do you understand? You're ok?

Q: Mr. Hoskins, earlier this week Jessica Lange was here and she was saying that at this point in her career she's not being presented with projects in Hollywood that she likes, she prefers working in Europe because it's coming across more interesting projects here. Is that true in your case also?

A: Well, making movies is an extremely expensive way of telling stories and Hollywood is very good, is quite brilliant, at making expensive movies, but they seem to be running out of stories and this is why we're seeing so many repeats. It's like Europe, eastern Europe especially, what has been going on in the world is there are so many stories to be told and that's where people should be investing their money, those stories must be told. Ok, they will be written in books and then we'll have to go to translations and all the rest of it.., but a film.. if you...ok, we can't compete with the grandeur of Hollywood, but we can compete with the stories, I think, like we stand in the middle of the Basque Country. Telling a story... It'd be much easier to understand to the public when your talking about it in a film than it was some politician or somebody using a bomb, when someone watches a film they understand what they're looking at, it is universal. And I think Hollywood has lost it's purpose basically. Sorry, am I getting heavy?

[Nobody seems to have any other question so the translator says: Thanks very much Mr. Hoskins, it's been a pleasure. Bob salutes everybody with his hand and poses for the photographers.]

 

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