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Back to His Roots

Bob Hoskins, who began his film career in edgy independent movies, stars as a tough guy with a heart in Shane Meadows' low-budget 'TwentyFourSeven.'

April 25, 1998|KRISTINE McKENNA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

With "TwentyFourSeven," a scruffy independent film set in the world of amateur boxing, which opened Friday, British actor Bob Hoskins comes full circle.

Hoskins, 55, launched his career two decades ago with incendiary performances in edgy, low-budget cult classics like "The Long Good Friday," and the BBC production of Dennis Potter's "Pennies From Heaven," then went on to star in more mainstream fare--"Who Framed Roger Rabbit," Oliver Stone's "Nixon" and "The Cotton Club."

Hoskins was willing to forgo the hefty paycheck he's grown used to, however, for director Shane Meadows' modestly budgeted study of a group of marginalized working-class blokes in England's industrial north. Why? Because he loved the part.

"The character I play is closer to me than anything I've ever done, and it's also different from anything I've played, so that perked my interest," says Hoskins of the fictional Alan Darcy, a solitary man who devotes himself to rehabilitating the misdirected young men in a shabby small town by setting up a boxing gym.

"The film is a study of loneliness and it centers on a man whose life revolves around caring for the people around him," says Meadows of "TwentyFourSeven." "As [co-writer] Paul Fraser and I were working on the script, I found myself visualizing Bob whenever I wrote dialogue for Darcy, and he was the only actor I could see in the part. So I was quite relieved when he agreed to do it!

"Darcy is a big part and an actor could easily go over the top with it, so my direction to Bob was to keep the performance simple," Meadows continues. "Darcy shouldn't come off as terribly complex. Bob turned in a beautifully modulated performance too--he has an intuitive understanding of when to hold back, and in watching the rushes I was amazed at his ability to anchor a scene."

Hoskins says he was drawn to the film because he saw it as being in the tradition of James Cagney's "Angels With Dirty Faces"; like Cagney, Hoskins brings an almost threatening physicality to the screen, despite his small stature.

"The most rewarding part of actually making the film, however, was working with all the young actors who made up the rest of the cast," says Hoskins over tea in a Westwood hotel. "I figured they'd see me as a right old fogy, but they totally accepted me. I wasn't expected to lead and I wasn't asked to follow--I was just one of the chaps. And at my age, to realize you've still got street credibility is very good for the old ego."

An only child born into a working-class family in 1942, Hoskins was a small child during the Nazi blitz. "I spent the first three years of my life under a kitchen table, which was how everyone spent their time then. The war really brought people together and the community feeling in England then was extraordinary.

"My childhood was happy, but I was a rebellious kid," he adds. "I was a teenager in the '60s, when pop culture and American rock 'n' roll were arriving in Britain in a big way, and I wanted to have a good time so I quit school when I was 15. My idea of a good time was sex and travel, so I bummed around the Middle East and wound up on a kibbutz in Israel. I lasted there until they told me I had to join the army."

In 1967 Hoskins married Jane Livesey, and the following year made his stage debut in a production of "The Feather Pluckers." He and Livesey had two children, but by the early '70s their marriage was unraveling. Professionally, however, Hoskins was finding his sea legs. "I always thought people like me eventually got put away, but the minute I got into acting I found out where we all end up," Hoskins says with a laugh. "Actors are crazy and I immediately felt at home with them."

In 1979 Hoskins starred in "Pennies From Heaven," the groundbreaking teleplay that launched the career of the late Dennis Potter. "While we were making 'Pennies From Heaven' nobody thought it would work," Hoskins recalls, "but I didn't care if it worked--I just loved working with all that music."

Surprisingly, the critically acclaimed teleplay failed to improve Hoskins' fortunes; in fact, he reports that "shortly after it aired, I got divorced and wound up living in my car. Then in 1980 I met Linda [Banwell], my second wife. I parked the car outside her house and said, 'Are you gonna leave me here?' " says Hoskins, who has two teenage children with his wife of 17 years.

In 1986 Hoskins starred in Neil Jordan's third film, "Mona Lisa," a bittersweet love story that netted him a slew of best actor awards. Then came Robert Zemeckis' "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," Hoskins' most commercially successful film to date.

"That one was hard because I was playing to nothing all the time," says Hoskins of the film's masterful blending of animation and live action. "I couldn't work for a year after it wrapped--I was so exhausted I had weasels coming out of the wall.

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