Bob Hoskins and the making of the Arkansas-set 'White River Kid' | Rock Candy

Bob Hoskins and the making of the Arkansas-set 'White River Kid'

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I never actually met Bob Hoskins in the sense of sitting down and exchanging life stories with him, but the actor, who died last week, was extremely cordial in greeting several of us stand-ins and extras during the filming of “The White River Kid” in Arkansas some 16 years ago.

“Hey fellows,” said the bald and stocky but diminutive Englishman (I’m barely 5-9 and I towered over him) as he looked up at a handful of us dressed as cops — me as a Arkansas state trooper, in fact. We were waiting for a short scene to be filmed in downtown Sheridan. This particular shot would involve Hoskins, Antonio Banderas and country singer-turned-actor Randy Travis. Banderas and Hoskins were playing traveling con men in a silly story that did nothing to abate the international stereotype of Arkansans, and Travis was heading up the police force in chase of the pair.

That Hoskins would be on the bad side of the law in a movie wasn’t surprising. He made his movie-acting bones and established what star status he had in the critically acclaimed “The Long Good Friday,” a 1980 British mob movie in which he ruthlessly took control of a gang. Having been wowed by it, I moved Hoskins up to my two or three favorite actors of the time, and in his follow-up roles he never disappointed. I privately rooted for “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” simply because Hoskins, playing a private dick forever in a foul mood, starred as the one non-cartoon character in the eventually well-received Robert Zemeckis film. 

So, the chance to be an extra in a moving being filmed in Arkansas and featuring Bob Hoskins and other big names was what drew me to a local casting call, and I still owe a debt of gratitude to The Agency’s Sarah Tackett for getting me called back, not only to interact however distantly with a great like Hoskins, but to eventually write a feature story about the movie making process surrounding “The White River Kid.”

Unfortunately for Hoskins, me and everybody else involved, we happened to be attached to one of the two or three worst films ever made in Arkansas. Lucky for me, my short scene (which took all day to film) ended up on the cutting room floor. I would later be asked back to Sheridan to again portray a cop in another scene that took all day to film, but I never saw that particular shot make the finished product either.

As for my big moment with Bob, I was officially a stunt double. Basically, I made $37.50 for a day’s work so the filmmakers wouldn't have to pay $600 for the stunt man to also stand in place all day in the background next to Randy Travis.

Of course I would be easy to eventually trim from the completed movie. However, the filmmakers, who were working on a tight budget already, weren’t going let that $600 stuntman go to waste: So, seemingly out of nowhere for anyone watching the film, in a scene in which Banderas and Hoskins are driving their van down some highway after a run-in with Travis, a state policeman on a  motorcycle roars up beside them and starts doing odd acrobatics on the bike a la “Easy Rider.”

It made no sense, just as the other 98 minutes made no sense to anyone who had the misfortune to see “The White River Kid.”

I was told that after the editing was completed, the low-budget film was screened in Hollywood for its backers. A lot of the film’s big names — Hoskins, Banderas, Beau Bridges, Swoosie Kurtz, Ellen Barkin, even Sherwood-native Wes Bentley, right at about the time he had become an overnight sensation in “American Beauty" — signed up for it because of the reputation of its director, Arne Glimcher, who had previously featured Banderas in “The Mambo Kings.” Arkansas state film department people were on hand for this screening. By the time the last frames rolled, the financiers were in tears, and they weren’t tears of joy. Banderas supposedly frantically told the distraught backers that he’d film some extra scenes that could tie the movie together and perhaps salvage it. So, tacked on to a ridiculous story filmed in Sheridan and Hot Springs is another five minutes of nuttiness in — where else? — Las Vegas.

It says it all that the film went on to premiere first in Bulgaria. When somebody finally decided the American public could stomach it — a reach, I know — at least via DVD, it was re-titled “White River,” and though the kid was still in the picture, Bentley (The Kid) and his people didn't want any association with it.

I'd love to have had a real visit with Hoskins these past 16 years just to ask him what he thought of the finished work. I feel certain, though, that he would have just laughed it off. .
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