When I heard the sad news that Bob Hoskins died today at age 71, it made me think of the first movie I saw him in.
I’d lived in London for less than a year when Neil Jordan’s Mona Lisa came out. It was a tough year for me. A new high school, much larger than the one I’d attended before. I was out of step with the kids in the cool cliques. I spent a lot of that rainy winter getting to know the city, hanging in record stores and comic shops. I went to see a lot of movies.
It was 1986, the Thatcher years. Tough times. London was nowhere near as cosmopolitan as it is now. The grubbier sides of the city fascinated me. Soho, now crowded with wine bars and boutiques, was then a warren of peep shows and porn shops.
Mona Lisa earned strong reviews when it came out in May that year. I remember Time Out magazine mentioning Michael Caine playing a man who looks like he “sweats horribly into his pyjamas“.
The movie was shot on streets I recognized. I knew those King’s Cross and Soho locales. There was a dramatic scene where Bob Hoskins’ driver George throws his charge, a high-priced prostitute named Simone (Cathy Tyson), out of the car. That was filmed right at Hyde Park Corner. I took the #9 and the #57 though there every day. I might not have known the people in the movie personally but I felt like I’d seen them loitering on street corners, in neon-lit doorways. It was the first time I’d seen a movie that had been made where I lived while I lived there. It was a crime drama, a noir, and from my lonely perspective it revealed some truth of what life was really like.
As George, Bob Hoskins was a guy who I could relate to. He was a romantic, but with a hard lesson to learn. This dark world was all too much, too complicated for a guy like him. I felt that kind of confusion in my own life, an awkward 15-year-old wandering the city streets. (Of course I couldn’t appreciate of how fortunate I actually was, but that’s how it rolls when you’re 15.)
Bob Hoskins sure didn’t look like a movie star. I liked that about him. He never seemed less than real. I liked how he did anger and frustration as well as remorse and fear. I could relate to that, too, and I saw it in his other roles in movies like The Long Good Friday, Brazil, and A Prayer for The Dying.
He was a great actor and an unlikely movie star. We could use more guys like him.