Mrs. Henderson Presents
Which director would you like to work with that you haven’t before?? “There are a lot of good directors around. I just take what’s offered.”
How do actors balance commerce and art?? “There are some jobs where you say, ‘If you want me to do this in order to do you a favor, it’s basically a piece of crap, but the only reason I’ll do it is for the money.’ There are other jobs where you think, this is very interesting to do, and you wind up paying for it.”
Can’t you have both at once? “Not very often.”
Up next: “I’ve been offered a film in Louisiana but have only just started reading the script.”
Some London neighbors of Bob Hoskins have for years been researching the story of the Windmill Theater, the Soho venue that famously kept its nude revue and song-and-dance vaudevilles going throughout World War II. (And to which Hoskins was taken when he was about 5. “It was quite a family show,” he recalls. “There were a lot of comedians on as well.”)
“They said, ‘We’ve got this subject and we can’t get it off the ground.’ So I took it to (producer Norma Heyman), and immediately Norma took off on it,” says Hoskins, who has a producing credit on the finished product, “Mrs. Henderson Presents.”
Next came the task of finding a Mrs. Henderson, the determined widow who was the heart and soul of the Windmill — a part that went to Judi Dench. “We took Judi to lunch, and I leaned over and said, ‘You get to dress up as a polar bear and a Chinese lady.’ Judi’s always up for a laugh. She’s completely fearless,” says Hoskins.
Hoskins and Dench had only acted together once before — in a BBC radio version of “King Lear” in honor of John Gielgud’s 90th birthday. Dench played the wicked Goneril; Hoskins took the smallish part of Oswald.
But when Hoskins first floated “Henderson” to his star, it wasn’t in order to give himself a job. “I didn’t bring it along to put myself in it at all,” says the actor, who plays impresario Vivian Van Damm, whom Mrs. Henderson recruits to stage the Windmill shows. “I’d never seen myself as Van Damm, and then Norma turned around one day and said, ‘You look wonderful in a wig.’ ”
That, in turn, left very little time for research. “I hadn’t done any background work or anything and didn’t know what to do, so (director Stephen Frears) said, ‘If you’ve got any problems, just play me.’ So I did. Stephen gets immortalized.”
Now, says Hoskins, a project “we thought was a little film about a little theater when we first started has grown, and into a musical and a war film as well. It’s become much bigger than we all thought, and much better for it.”