"You get to my fucking age, and when you realize you still have street cred and can still run with a gang, that's great!"
Bob Hoskins is best known in America as the non-cartoon detective in 1988's Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but he has had a remarkably diverse acting career. Hoskins has played characters ranging from Smee the Pirate (in Steven Spielberg's Hook) to J. Edgar Hoover (in Oliver Stone's Nixon) to Iago (in the BBC production of Othello), and he was nominated for an Academy Award for Neil Jordan's Mona Lisa. That role ultimately led Hoskins to his new film TwentyFourSeven, a blue-collar boxing movie strikingly directed by newcomer Shane Meadows. For his powerful role as a boxing coach and proxy father figure, Hoskins won Best Actor at the European Film Awards. The Onion recently spoke to Hoskins about circus work, accents, his street cred, and The Spice Girls.
The Onion: Is it true that you used to breathe fire in the circus?
Bob Hoskins: Yeah! A friend of mine who was working with a circus group saw me and asked, you know, "Do you want to do a season in the circus?" So I said, "Yeah, I'll try that." I learned to do a fire act; I was a clown and a ringmaster, and I used to do an escape act, as well.
O: Were these skills that you could later use?
BH: Well, fire-eating never really came in much.
O: I don't think American audiences can distinguish among all the different English dialects. How easy is it to match the subtleties of different regional accents?
BH: Imagine the United States with all its different accents and then crush it down to the size of England, and that's about the situation. You've got just as many accents [in the U.S.], but the territory is bigger. All the accents that you've got, we've got. You've got to remember that most of your accents came from us in the first place.
O: But was it difficult to adopt the Midlands accent?
BH: What's difficult is that Nottingham is a town with people from all over, a moving population—a lot of project housing and stuff like that. When I got there, I thought I'd try to get a Nottingham accent together, but then everyone I met had a different accent! I went into a pub, and this old guy swore to me that he had been born in Nottingham and his was a true Nottingham accent—and if I treated him to a few drinks, he would teach me his accent. Well, he used to go home drunk every night, and I still don't know if he came from Nottingham or not.
O: Are there stereotypes attached to the different accents?
BH: Yeah, just like [the U.S.], where there's the stereotypical New York taxi driver, the stereotypical Texan, the Alabama redneck. They're all stereotypes, but how many people do you know who actually fit these stereotypes? Not many. I mean, you can have a redneck who has some brains, you know?
O: Do you think TwentyFourSeven is a fair representation of England under Thatcher? Was it really as bleak as Shane Meadows presents it?
BH: It was bleaker. At least in the film, there's hope. At least those kids get something together and make lives for themselves. You've got your own problems here; you can see where it is. When all the public services run down, it takes time to recover. That fucking "me" generation… We're not in this world just to take from it; we're here to add to it, as well.
O: What was it like to learn that Meadows had written his script with you in mind?
BH: Oh, shit! When I got the script, I was just astonished. This kid, from his background—and he was just 21 when he wrote it—had this amount of compassion and insight and poetry. And then I met him, and he was five-foot-six with a shaved head! I thought, "Hey, hey, that's my boy!" [Laughs.] Another cueball!
O: I understand a lot of the cast was made up of Meadows' old friends. How hard was it to ingratiate yourself into his crew?
BH: I was terrified! There was no one over 25. I thought, "Jesus Christ, they're going to eat me alive!" But they didn't. I went in there and I was amazed. They weren't impressed with me, and they didn't try to impress me. They didn't expect me to lead, and they didn't ask me to follow. I was just one of the chaps. I tell you, you get to my fucking age, and when you realize you still have street cred and can still run with a gang, that's great!
O: Do you think they learned anything from working with you?
BH: I don't know, because what you see on the screen is what they are off the screen. That's them. There was no chance for fancy footwork or bullshit acting. So like I said, no one was coming to me, you know? If I tried to give them advice, they would have been, like, "Whoa, what the fuck's he doing?"
O: There seems to be a wave of films studying the British working class. Why do you think these life-on-the-dole movies are suddenly popping up?
BH: I think English culture had been suppressed for so long. The art and drama in England, Thatcher would go out of her way to cheat. Now it's changed; we've got a new government… And I'm not saying this government is helping, but it isn't getting in the way. The first thing filmmakers are saying [under this new system] is, "Fuck you, we're unemployed!" And that explains this spate of movies. And when they all settle down, hopefully we won't go back to period pictures.
O: How did you end up in Spiceworld?
BH: My daughter answered the phone and said, "Dad, you're in The Spice Girls' movie!" What do you mean I'm in the fucking Spice Girls movie? There was no way I could turn it down [because of my daughter], but when I met them, they were great. I had a great time.