Bob Hoskins had the look of a character actor, and the range and authority of a leading man. A relative latecomer to acting, Hoskins tried his hand at a number of trades until—according to an anecdote he loved to tell—he stumbled by accident into an audition for a play and got the part, at age 26. That was in 1969. A little over a decade later, in 1980, after years of steady employment on stage, on television (including a memorable turn as the star of the Dennis Potter miniseries Pennies From Heaven), and as a character actor in movies, Hoskins really broke through in The Long Good Friday, playing a mob boss who dreams big, but lacks resources. Hoskins would build off the success of The Long Good Friday, giving a succession of stellar performances throughout the 1980s in films like Mona Lisa and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, excelling at playing outwardly tough guys with a core of sweetness and vulnerability.
Hoskins died on Tuesday of pneumonia at age 71, after spending much of the last several years battling Parkinson’s disease. He leaves behind a long and varied filmography, dotted with broad comedies, sensitive dramas, and straight genre pictures. Hoskins pivoted easily—and egolessly—from playing the hero to filling out an ensemble, and just when it seemed like he’d settled back into a career of supporting roles in movies like Hook, Nixon, and Maid In Manhattan, Hoskins would turn back up as the star of a Twenty Four Seven, a Felicia’s Journey, or a Mrs. Henderson Presents, and he’d remind moviegoers why he was so special.
Like a lot of English actors of Hoskins’ generation, he worked so much that not every movie or TV show is one he’d want put in the vault for posterity. (The less said about Super Mario Bros., the better.) But Hoskins’ willingness to take the jobs offered to him—large or small—means that he became a familiar and welcome screen presence over the course of his 40-plus-year career. Hoskins’ fireplug build, rounded face, heavy eyebrows, beady eyes, and gravelly voice made it seem at first glance that his characters were ready to punch out anyone who crossed them. But all it took was one smile to transform him from a potential threat to a kindly uncle. Hoskins’ ability to modulate those two modes of performance—creating empathy for villains and bringing substance to lighter comedies—will be greatly missed.