The death of Bob Hoskins reminds us of just how underrated of an actor he always was in the countless movies he made over the last 30 years. While some are better known than others, and with Hoskins generally considered a character actor, his performance as Eddie Valiant in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” is one that everyone will forever think of first. If perhaps unfair compared to other performances he gave, we forget just how masterful his performance of Valiant really was. He may have created a timeless template for how to believably interact with animated characters when other actors can’t do it with half the aplomb.
Let’s not forget that when he acted in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”, it was still a number of years before CGI dominated film technology. Motion-capture actors also didn’t exist, so Hoskins’ interactions with all the characters were the result of acting with nothing. How he managed to do that so well might have been slightly influenced from one musical star from decades earlier, though ultimately influencing all human-animation interactions in the future.
Did Hoskins Study Gene Kelly in “Anchors Aweigh?”
Prior to “Roger Rabbit”, the dancing sequence between Gene Kelly and Jerry the Mouse in 1945’s “Anchors Aweigh” was arguably the greatest known scene between a human actor and an animated character. Even though there wasn’t much physical contact as used in “Roger Rabbit”, the synchronizing between Kelly’s dancing and Jerry the Mouse still dazzles considering the era it was made. Anybody who interacted with animation later probably studied that to see how Kelly managed to create the suspension of disbelief.
No doubt Hoskins studied everything he could, despite having to create an all-new path himself due to the direct physical interactions with his co-star animated characters. His challenge was one of timing both in dialogue and body actions that seemed to require many takes based on the behind-the-scenes footage available of “Roger Rabbit’s” filming. It’s a process that will never happen again in the age of CGI, while still leaving a bit of a template on how to interact with animated characters so it’s believable.
What Lessons Can Actors Learn from Bob Hoskins’ Eddie Valiant?
If you watch “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” again, you’ll probably notice that his interactions were done in a natural way as if talking to a real human being. You need a good imagination to do this when talking to nothing or a motion-capture artist without losing your concentration in forming something real. We’ll never know what reservoir of knowledge he used to make this happen, but it might have related to Hoskins’ perfect ability to take on American accents.
Had you never seen Bob Hoskins in a movie before “Roger Rabbit” in 1988, you wouldn’t have ever guessed he was as British as the King of England. His New York accent in the film was spot on and added a lot to the authenticity of the character. That rugged private detective persona made him able to place a true personality into the interactions so he didn’t have to talk in his own voice.
If that was really the secret, it may be a lesson on how to interact with animated characters when actors have to do it again. While you don’t see many actors interact with traditionally drawn animated characters any more, actors frequently have to interact with fantasy creatures or other entities that resemble humans. Motion-capture artists might even be able to utter lines back to the actor, yet you can see a potential imbalance in getting the tone of dialogue going this way.
Adding a colorful accent can help get an actor in the right frame of mind for this type of acting without giving a stiff reading back. Hoskins managed to do this without having to act like a cartoon character himself in order to make it workable. And we all know nobody has topped it since, not even Michael Jordan who somehow acted as himself opposite more personality-laden Looney Tunes characters in “Space Jam.”
It’s not often when you have an actor who can be an equal with the characters rather than be inferior to them. Hoskins was perhaps the only actor in history other than Gene Kelly (and Dick Van Dyke in “Mary Poppins”) who left behind an elusive rulebook on how to do it properly.