Why Bob Hoskins Got Paid For Not Playing Al Capone In The Untouchables

Casting movie stars can be a tricky proposition, especially if you're making a big-budget film with unproven talent. In 1987, that's exactly what Kevin Costner was. He'd appeared in three box-office bombs in 1985 ("American Flyers," "Silverado," and "Fandango"), and, prior to this, had been cut out of Lawrence Kasdan's Baby Boomer smash "The Big Chill." But after missing out on the more established Don Johnson (who was red hot at the time thanks to "Miami Vice"), Costner wound up being Brian De Palma's Eliot Ness in the hit-hungry director's big-screen rendition of "The Untouchables." And while De Palma had a bit of movie star insurance in Sean Connery as the veteran beat cop Malone, David Mamet's masterful screenplay screamed for a larger-than-life Al Capone.

De Palma only had eyes for Robert De Niro, and he had a history with the actor, having worked with him in the counterculture comedies "Greetings" and "Hi, Mom!" But the timing was lousy. De Niro was committed to an extraordinarily rare Broadway appearance in "Cuba & His Teddy Bear." The Stella Adler-trained actor wanted to pack on 30 pounds to play the infamous gangster, and he wasn't sure he'd have time to do so between the end of the play's run and the start of principal photography. This left De Palma scrambling for options. Big-time names like Gene Hackman and even Marlon Brando were floated, but De Palma ultimately targeted Bob Hoskins. And he paid for it.

Pay to not play

Hoskins wasn't a box office draw in the U.S., but his portrayal of London mobster Harold Shand in John Mackenzie's "The Long Good Friday" transformed him into director catnip. After scoring an Academy Award nomination for "Mona Lisa," everyone wanted a piece of him, including De Palma. Unfortunately, Hoskins wasn't going to move the needle marketing-wise for "The Untouchables," so when the director sent the actor the screenplay, he was incredibly candid about the tentativeness of the offer.

In a 1998 interview with Conan O'Brien, Hoskins explained that, after reading the script, he met with De Palma at a bar where the latter explained his conundrum. De Niro was the director's first choice, but he was being squirrely. If he didn't commit, would Hoskins be willing to take the role? "I said, 'Yeah, if I'm free, yeah,'" said Hoskins. "I'm leaving myself open, you know?"

A while later, Hoskins read in the paper that De Niro had agreed to play Capone. That, it would seem, was that. Only it wasn't. As he told O'Brien:

"Linda [Hoskins' wife] and me are sitting out having breakfast one morning, and Linda's opening the [mail]. She said, 'Oh, what's this?' It was a check for $200,000. It said, 'Thanks for your time. Love, Brian.' I phoned him up, and I said, 'Brian, listen, you got any films you don't want me to be in, babe, I'm there for you any day!'"

The greatest performance we never saw

Paramount might've justifiably wanted more star power for a pricey film like "The Untouchables," but Hoskins would've absolutely slayed in the role. If you've seen "The Long Good Friday," you don't need much of an imagination to see him musing over "enthusiasms" before bashing in an underling's skull with a baseball bat. De Niro got the job done, but Hoskins would've brought a more visceral sense of danger to the character. When Costner's Ness challenges Capone to a fight in the lobby of the Lexington Hotel, you would've legitimately feared for the G-man's life. If you wanted a piece of Hoskins in gangster mode, you harbored a death wish.

Sadly, Hoskins and De Palma never hooked up before the actor's death in 2014. The actor succumbed to pneumonia in 2014 after being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. He was only 71. Had his health held out, he would've been a lion in his 70s. We were robbed of a fiery final act from one of the only actors you'd pay 200 grand out of respect for taking a meeting.