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Tom Hanks Talks His 'Life in Pictures,' Hair-Raising 'Captain Phillips' and Sugar-Coating Walt Disney at London Film Festival (CLIPS)

Interviews
by Demetrios Matheou
October 20, 2013 3:22 PM
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TomHanks
"Captain Phillips"
"Captain Phillips"

Who’d have thought in the Eighties that Tom Hanks, the fresh-faced, amiable sidekick to mermaids ("Splash") and hounds ("Turner & Hooch"), would become Tom Hanks the admired dramatic actor and two-time Oscar winner, who's in the running for a third for "Captain Phillips"? Not many, perhaps, least of all the self-effacing Hanks. 

Those back-to-back Oscars, for "Philadelphia" (1994) and "Forrest Gump" (1995), revealed his true mettle and an Everyman versatility that would lead him to play an astronaut ("Apollo 13"), a WWII army captain ("Saving Private Ryan"), a prison warden ("The Green Mile"), a mob enforcer ("Road to Perdition") and a U.S. Senator ("Charlie Wilson's War") without anyone raising an eyebrow. What those characters all have in common is a certain dignity, integrity and humor that brings assurance to audiences. 

During his 33-year career Hanks has branched into writing, directing and producing, both in film and television. But it was as an actor that he was in London this month, performing a rare double as his films "Captain Phillips" and "Saving Mr. Banks" opened and closed the London Film Festival, respectively. While in London Hanks discussed his craft and career at BAFTA’s latest “Life in Pictures” event, a series of onstage interviews whose subjects have included Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep. 

Saving Mr. Banks

“The first job I ever got was because I was louder and funnier than the others – or maybe just louder,” he told his interviewer, Francine Stock. In attempting to understand the subsequent development of his career, he admitted that “In the end I’m as confused as anyone by this inexplicable thing that’s happened.”

Sugar-coating Walt Disney, in "Saving Mr Banks"

Walt Disney died of lung cancer. He smoked three packs a day. But can we show someone smoking in a major motion picture these days? No way in hell. We literally had a negotiation about whether or not I could smoke a lit cigarette in a scene. Disney never did want anyone to see him smoking and pick up his bad habit. If you go back and see all those photos of him, he’s always pointing with two fingers. That’s because he had a cigarette in his hand, and they airbrushed it out. 

On finding realism in "Captain Phillips"

We did not meet the Somali actors before the shoot. Then the day came when we shot the hijacking and they came on board the bridge – roaring, pumped up, their veins sticking out, the skinniest, scariest human beings you’ve ever seen. There was bona fide hair-standing-up-on-the-back-of-your-neck fear, for the better part of 40 minutes. Then the scene’s over and we go up to each other and say, 'How you doing?' And Barkhad [Abdi] says, 'I can’t believe I'm in a movie with Forrest Gump.' 

On making a splash

'Splash' was my very first film job. I had been doing a comedy series on television that went off the air and I was desperate to be funny again. At the very first read-through of the screenplay I was trying to take the lines and get laughs at the table. And it was terrible. Ron Howard took me aside and said “Look, I know what you’re doing, you’re trying to be funny, you’re trying to score. That’s not your job in this movie. Your job is to love that girl.”

"Turner & Hooch"

It’s so long since anyone has shown a clip from 'Turner & Hooch' – the most important movie of this or any career. I’m delighted. I learnt a lot from that dog. 

Big
'Big'

Why he made so many comedies early in his career

I was in my twenties and they were asking me and that’s where I had the chops. There were a lot comedies being made then – imitation Bill Murray films, different versions of 'Animal House.' And that was right up my alley, man. 

Finding his inner child in "Big"

I had three or four months before we started shooting, and set out to get back in touch with that child’s sense of play. I had toy soldiers set up on the floor of my house, I’d do goofy stuff with my kids, just come up with any sort of game and sense of make believe.

The punchline of… "Punchline"

It was a treatise on the self-loathing lifestyle of stand-up comedians. I have never met a fully-rounded human being who was a stand-up at the same time. They’re all oddly scarred and over-burdened and kind of morose. 

Philadelphia
'Philadelphia'

On getting laid in "Sleepless in Seattle"

I was probably very cranky with Nora [Ephron] at the beginning. She wrote a scene where Sam didn’t go on a romantic weekend because his son didn’t like this woman. I told her, ‘That is such horseshit. I’ve got news for you, that kid’s going to the sitter and I’m going off to get laid.’ The drama has to be shaped by an irrefutable logic, which is recognized as true, human behavior. Otherwise you’re making an Abbott & Costello movie.

Why "Philadelphia" entered the zeitgeist 

Perhaps what was radical was that this wasn’t a small niche movie that was playing at Greenwich Village theatres to the choir, meaning the population that was dealing with this pandemic in the most tragic, frontline terms. It was going to be a mainstream motion picture competing in the marketplace with Arnold Schwarzenegger action films. Which means that we had to get an audience that believed that they didn’t know anybody who was gay and that AIDS hadn’t touched their lives. 

So this movie comes out and 'Turner & Hooch' here ends up being the guy who’s gay and has AIDS – and that made anybody who bought a ticket think again. That was a bit of the genius of Ron Nyswaner’s courtroom drama, and Jonathan Demme’s casting of it.

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