Bob Hoskins © Perou/Camera Press
“I’m trying to retire. I’m not doing very well at it though!” confides actor Bob Hoskins, aged 69. “Every time I say ‘Nah I don’t want to do it.’ They say: ‘Bob I know you’re trying to retire but I’ve got a little swan song here, which is the business and I think ‘Oh Gawd!’ And I get talked into it. It’s a truism, the more you don’t want to work, the more work you get offered. But these days most projects I turn down. I’m really trying not to work so much. I want to be home with the wife. I want to be with my missus.”
“My perfect day is a totally appointment-less day. No dentist. No seeing the doctor. No seeing anybody. It’s lovely. I just potter about with Linda - although she’s usually busy. I read. I listen to music, and to the radio: I’m a big Radio 4 man. ”
We’ve met many times over the years, and Hoskins always refers to Linda, his second wife, as “the love of my life”. Does Mrs Hoskins ask you to turn the work down? I wonder “No she don’t want me to retire, she wants me out the house.” Hoskins guffaws.
Despite his protests to the contrary, Hoskins has recently been persuaded to act in several films. The first is “a little British gem” called Outside Bet (see trailer, right) about the print worker strikes in the Eighties. This is swiftly followed by his performance as Muir one of the seven dwarfs alongside fellow dwarfs Ray Winstone, Ian McShane and Toby Jones in a reimagining of the brothers Grimm’s classic titled Snow White & The Hunstman.
Outside Bet is a story close to Hoskins’ heart. Co-starring Jenny Agutter – “she’s a sweetheart” – it’s the story of a group of newly-redundant 80s print workers pooling their payoffs to buy Mumper, a race horse. Set against the true story of the Print workers unions being “done over by Murdoch” in the mid 80s, the subject matter, of the Unions, is one which Hoskins feels strongly about.
The Wapping Dispute was, along with the miner’s strikes, a turning point in the history of the trade unions. Over six thousand newspaper workers went on strike after negotiations with Murdoch’s News International failed. Unknown to the unions, News International had built, and secretly equipped, a new Wapping-based printing plant. When the print unions announced a strike it swiftly moved its operation to the new plant. “They just didn’t stand a chance,” says Hoskins with feeling.
The film has inadvertently become topical with the current fortunes of News International. “It was a big blow, the Unions thought they stood some sort of chance against Murdoch but they didn’t. He just moved the whole business, took it out from under them.” Shot before the closure of the News of The World, Hoskins says, quite genuinely, that “It came as a surprise that Rupert Murdoch could be so ruthless. “
“The print workers had been pulling strikes for years. It was an incredible job to have [in the Eighties]. It was very secure – a soft job.” So was Murdoch right to fight them? “You could see the era coming to an end. But no. He wasn’t right in the methods he used. There’ll always be a role for unions. There’s always got to be a voice of the people.”
Hoskins' empathy with the unions and civil rights – his previous film Made in Dagenham featured the fight for women to have equal pay – is certainly drawn from his working class childhood and the influence of his parents. Raised during the Fifties in Finsbury Park, Hoskins’ early memories were of poverty and avoiding gang violence.
“We never had any money. My dad was a clerk. My mother was a school cook. Everybody wishes they are rich but you just got on with it didn’t you?” He went to Stroud Green Secondary Modern. “I was a useless student. I just didn’t work hard. The teachers didn’t like me very much and I didn’t like them. There was a lot of crime in the area. "
What they lacked in money, the Hoskins family made up for in creativity during evenings spent in their one-bedroom flat that had a bath in the kitchen and a camp bed for Hoskins in the front room. Indeed, had their lives, or class, been different perhaps his parents might have ended up on the stage. “My dad used to tell me stories every night when I used to go to bed. But he never read them, he used to make them up off the top of his head… about little animals and adventure stories. He was very creative. He was also a good painter - he wasn’t any Picasso, - but he could paint straight stuff, animals, scenery, people. My mum used to make all her own dresses, they were very chic, she was immensely talented. When the grandchildren arrived, they used to make them Batman and Robin outfits and firemen outfits with little helmets out of papier mâché. They were great artists."
Hoskins’ dad worked for the removal firm Pickfords. Each year the couple would take their son to the annual dinner dance. “They were great dancers. There was an orchestra and each year they did the tango. My mum and dad would stand up and do the tango and everybody would watch. It was brilliant,” he says with feeling. “I was incredibly proud of them; my Dad was George Raft [an actor and dancing contemporary of Rudolph Valentino]!”
Hoskins still misses his parents. “Mum died 17 years before my dad. She was 73. My dad at 93. I was looking after him [financially] but the problem was after my mum died he developed dementia. He tried to stay in his house for as long as possible but he couldn’t cope so I put him in a small block of flats. I said dad you’re laughing here - all these old ladies - you’re going to score here! He said: ‘Do leave off - they’re all old!’ Hoskins laughs fondly as he recounts these stories. But it’s obvious that the experience of witnessing his father’s dementia saddened him. “You got the old stories from him but you never knew how real they were, because by that time he was into fantasy.”
When Hoskins first told his parents that he wanted to try his hand at acting, they cautioned him against the idea. “I was 25 when I said I was going to be an actor. They said ‘Are you sure, are you going to be able to get work and keep yourself? Because we can’t keep you!” I said: ‘We’ll see what happens. I can always get another job.’”
As events turned out he didn’t need to. After being spotted by an agent when he attended an audition in a pub with an aspiring actor friend in 1972, roles in television swiftly followed. A very young Hoskins appeared in household favourites like Crown Court, Softly Softly, Van Der Valk and Rock Follies. His career accelerated into film after his critically-acclaimed tv performance as the whimsical Arthur Parker, a sheet music salesman, in Dennis Potter’s Pennies From Heaven. Two of his best performances came as the ruthless and prosperous gangster Howard Shand in the Long Good Friday and in 1986 Oscar nominated and BAFTA-winning for his role of ex-con George who become driver to a high class call girl Simone in the Neil Jordan’s classic Mona Lisa.
While Hollywood came knocking, luring Hoskins into bigger budget films like the Peter Pan story Hook and Who Framed Roget Rabbit, (reportedly he earns £5 million per movie) Hoskins insists his day-to-day life changed very little. “I didn’t rush out and buy clothes,” he insists, “I just put it in the bank.”
This proved a wise move, when, just before he made Pennies From Heaven, his first marriage ended acrimoniously and the ensuing divorce left him financially ruined.
“None of us may know what we need and none of us may know what we want. But my first marriage was everything I didn’t want,” says Hoskins quietly. In what way? “Everything. In terms of behaviour with a partner; everything was wrong. I started to think marriage is not for me: kids are not for me. I’m not the type.”
Today, however, Hoskins and his second wife, Linda have been happily married for 30 years and have two children together and two from Hoskins’ first marriage. What is the secret of a happy marriage? “Linda’s a sweetheart, that’s why,” he chuckles. “My son Ross lives up the road. My oldest daughter lives in Cyprus at the moment.”
As he works less, he looks forward to having grandchildren. “I keep saying to my oldest kids from my first marriage if you don’t find someone soon, I’m coming out with you looking. Can you imagine me as a grand dad? I’d love it. I would absolutely adore it.
“Getting older is not for sissies,” he tells me quite seriously. “I have to take care of myself more because Linda has made me. I’m very healthy now. Diet, booze... I’ll have a couple of glasses of wine with dinner and that’s about it. I don’t like getting older: backache, leg ache, knee replacements. I’ve had to have all sorts of operations. But I’m okay now. I’m an atheist you know, so family is everything, I’ve got money, yeah, but it’s my family that I care about.”
Outside Bet is out on DVD now