Sad news today about Bob Hoskins, who has been diagnosed with having Parkinson’s Disease and has therefore decided to retire from acting.
I’ve been privileged to have interviewed Bob a number times over the years and, in addition to being a very fine actor, I always found him to be very straightforward – and good fun.
With his shiny bald pate, lived-in face and gruff cockney accent, Bob certainly had the credentials to play tough guys – and he was cast as a hard-nut plenty of times. But away from the cameras I always found him to be genial and friendly. There are no airs and graces with Bob. He’s always been a breath of fresh air in that he says what he actually thinks, which isn’t always the case with actors.
I first met him in 2001 when he starred in a BBC drama called The Lost World, based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s book. Filmed in New Zealand, it was the first TV major drama to blend the computer generated dinosaurs from the BBC’s then recent hit Walking With Dinosaurs, with live action acting. Bob played scientist Professor Challenger and the cast also included James Fox, Elaine Cassidy, Matthew Rhys – plus Columbo actor Peter Falk.
The show was the highlight of the BBC’s Christmas schedules and cost a small fortunate to film. Locations all over New Zealand were used – and the large film unit became a bit like a travelling circus. I was out there to cover the drama for a bunch of magazines and to write the BBC’s press kit – and it was just one of the most remarkable filming location trips I’ve been on. When the unit arrived in a small town, there was rarely enough space to accommodate everyone – and we often found ourselves staying in a rough and ready backpackers dorms and even private homes. I didn’t care – I just felt lucky to be there. There was a relaxed atmosphere on set, perhaps because, despite the pressure of filming, everyone realised that spending two months working in one of the world’s beautiful countries was a quite a result (sadly for me I was only there for about two weeks of that, but hey – I was still very lucky!)
The thing that struck me most about Bob Hoskins – other than him being steadfastly normal and down-to-earth despite all his Hollywood roles – was how devoted he was – and no doubt still is – to his family. He and his wife Linda’s daughter Rosa was doing her A Levels at the time and so they couldn’t come out for filming but Bob spoke to them on the phone every morning and evening. Even so, he admitted he had spells of homesickness.
He also did some of his own stunts. New Zealand is well-known for its white water rapids and Bob had to film a scene for the opening few minutes of The Lost World where Challenger was seen travelling through a raging torrent in a canoe – from which he is eventually thrown out.
“Our director Stuart Orme said we could get a stuntman to film it but there was no way you could do it and make it look as if it was me as Challenger in the water without filming it from miles away,” he told me. “So I said: ‘Sod it – I’ll do it!’ So we did it. I was in one boat and the camera crew and the stunt arranger were in a rubber dingy. We went over the rapids, fell out of the boat and I then swam to shore. It was pretty hairy and the water was absolutely freezing cold but I’m not a bad swimmer and they had these guys in kayaks nearby and a couple of frogmen in the water in case I got into difficulty.”
Last time I interviewed Bob was three year’s ago when he was filming Jimmy McGovern’s drama The Street (for which he won a Best Actor Emmy) in Manchester. He was on very good form – and in addition to talking about the drama, we talked about his early days as an actor – and some of the jobs he did when he didn’t have any acting work. He’s always been a great story teller – and on this occasion told me about his attempt once to work as a plumber. “I tried to be plumber once,” he recalled. “The plumber was up the ladder and I was footing it and holding his blow torch. A girl I knew walked by and I was talking to her and accidently set fire to his boot. I gave up after that…”
I wish Bob a long and happy retirement.
(c) Steve Clark 2012