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A lot of people will remember British actor Bob Hoskins for his role alongside cartoon characters in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit." Hoskins died last night of pneumonia at the age of 71.

Our critic Bob Mondello remembers Hoskins' other roles playing the tough guy with a soft heart.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Short, stocky, dyslexic, balding and with a cockney accent thick enough to spread on toast, Bob Hoskins was hardly conventional leading man material. But he sure got to play opposite some gorgeous co-stars: Kathleen Turner's Jessica Rabbit, of course; but also Cher, in "Mermaids"; Michelle Pfeiffer, in "Sweet Liberty"; and in "Mona Lisa," the film that brought him to international attention, opposite Cathy Tyson as a knockout call girl he chauffeured for, fell in love with, and wanted to protect.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "MONA LISA")

BOB HOSKINS: (As George) Who is he?

CATHY TYSON: (As Simone) What does it matter who it is? It's me and a piece of meat.

HOSKINS: (As George) Just tell me his name.

TYSON: (As Simone) Anderson.

HOSKINS: (As George) That's Anderson? Why am I doing this?

MONDELLO: Hoskins played a mostly passive character in "Mona Lisa" - not his usual thing, which may be why the role got him his only Oscar nomination. His usual thing was more blustery, from real-life figures like J. Edgar Hoover, Winston Churchill, Mussolini and Khrushchev; to gangsters and detectives, like the one who had to hold his own opposite an animated rabbit.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT?")

HOSKINS: (As Eddie Valiant) Do you mean to tell me that you could have taken your hand out of that cuff at any time?

CHARLES FLEISCHER: (As Roger Rabbit) No, not at any time. Only when it was funny.

MONDELLO: Hoskins was hired for "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" because the filmmakers knew he'd keep the story grounded, something the actor told interviewers he did in a decidedly ungrounded way, basically learning to hallucinate his costars.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT?")

HOSKINS: (As Eddie Valiant) Dolores...

MONDELLO: Hoskins got his first acting gig at 26, sort of accidentally. He went with a friend to an audition, just to keep him company, got a script shoved into his hand by someone who said you're next, and decided to give it a shot. He ended up getting the lead, with his friend as his understudy. At which point he also started getting terrible advice, as he told WHYY's FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED AUDIO)

HOSKINS: When I started, they said, you know, you've got to take elocution lessons, deportment classes; you know, learn to fence. You got to be, you know - I said, wait a minute, hang on. I'm going to learn to talk like I don't, be like I'm not, walk like I don't. Where am I in the middle of this? And so I didn't take any lessons at all.

MONDELLO: Which did not keep him from getting parts, at first onstage, then on TV, including his big break as a frustrated sheet-music salesman in "Pennies from Heaven."

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "PENNIES FROM HEAVEN")

HOSKINS: (As Arthur Parker) It's impossible to explain. It's just not the sort of thing that you can put into words.

MONDELLO: A frustrated but imaginative salesman, so his frustrations keep erupting into song.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "PENNIES FROM HEAVEN")

HOSKINS: (As Arthur Parker) (Singing) Yes, Yes. My baby said yes, yes...

MONDELLO: Hoskins' big-screen career didn't take off until casting directors decided he was a sort of British Edward G. Robinson - as the gangster in "The Long Good Friday," for instance, who made the mistake of ticking off the American mafia.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY")

HOSKINS: (As Harold Shand) We're used to a bit more vitality, imagination. You know what I mean? The days when Yanks could come over here and buy out Nelson's Column and a Harley Street surgeon and a couple of Windmill girls, are definitely over.

MONDELLO: After that, he alternated between big Hollywood movies and - more and more often - smaller, independent films. By the time he announced his retirement two years ago and also, his diagnosis with Parkinson's, the performance career that he'd begun as a fluke had seen Bob Hoskins growl and bluster his way through more than 100 roles onscreen; indelibly, pretty much every time.

I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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