The day Bob Hoskins visited the BFI

Somebody had compared Bob Hoskins to the great French actor Jean Gabin; Hoskins wanted to know what they were ‘on about’. Curator Nigel Algar shares an anecdote about welcoming the Mona Lisa star to the BFI to explain all. 

Nigel Algar

Mona Lisa (1986)

Mona Lisa (1986)

Bob Hoskins visited the BFI just before Mona Lisa opened in 1986. I was working in BFI Distribution at the time and we had got to know producer Stephen Woolley and director Neil Jordan from having distributed their first feature Angel (1982). Someone had compared Hoskins to Jean Gabin and he was interested to see what they were “on about”. He was shown a few reels of Le Quai des brumes (1938) and, as far as can be recalled, said something along the lines of “Jesus, he’s great. Why don’t I know his movies?” He was duly impressed by Gabin and both flattered and humbled by the comparison: “I’m not in the same class.” 

Jean Gabin in Le Quai des brumes (1938)

Jean Gabin in Le Quai des brumes (1938)

The comparison is not unmerited if you consider the strangely affecting blend of cockiness and vulnerability that characterised his performance in Pennies from Heaven (1978) and that of Gabin in Le Quai des brumes.

Another memory, not personal, is how he was phoned by Francis Ford Coppola in the middle of the night to offer him a role in the ill-starred The Cotton Club (1984). He assumed that the call was a hoax and offered some sound advice to the caller. It needed several more calls from Coppola before he was convinced.

As has been stated in the many obituaries and tributes to Bob Hoskins, he was the least ‘actorly’ of actors and remained solidly grounded throughout his career. His self-deprecation in a profession susceptible to vanity was one of his most attractive features – as well as his immense talent.

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