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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)

Photo of Demetrios Matheou By Demetrios Matheou | Thompson on Hollywood October 20, 2013 at 3:22PM

During his 33-year career Tom 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. “The first job I ever got was because I was louder and funnier than the others – or maybe just louder,” he said.
Forrest Gump
'Forrest Gump'

Finding Forrest Gump

Michael Humphreys [young Forrest] came from this part of Tennessee that is more Arkansas or Mississippi. He had this way of speaking, this weird cadence, so I would engage him in conversations with a tape recorder. We were riding in the car one day and he said, ‘Cahn ah tell you what my favorite movie of yours is?’ I said 'sure, what is it?' He said ‘Well, ah like all of your films, but my favorite is 'Drag-a-net.’ Everything of Forrest was based on him. 

Bottled lightening

I think 'Gump' is just a very special movie. Bob [Zemeckis] cracked some kind of amazing code that allows a generation to see on screen all that it had survived – and we realized we had been through a lot. Movies like that are bottled lightning. It will be with me forever.

Playing American heroes 

I am not a larger than life persona. I think I’m as charming as hell, but I don’t strike fear, there’s not a lot of mystery, you’re not worried about me being a criminal mastermind. The core of it, I guess, is the decisions to say yes to these roles. I always think that if I was a little more accomplished, I could be that guy. Jim Lovell, the commander of 'Apollo 13,' is a very good example. I’m a space geek and wanted to do it, but my worry was whether anyone would buy me as an astronaut. Then I met Jim Lovell and I thought, 'I’m exactly like him.' He’s funny, he’s a family man, he’s very proud, very competitive. The only difference is that he’s really good at flying jets. 

On directing "That Thing You Do"

Sean Penn told me that everyone should direct just to find out how hard that job is. I did some directing in television, just to get a sense of whether I had any instinctive ability for it. And I had this fever-pitched idea that I wrote when I was on the global push for 'Forrest Gump,' because I needed something to do other than talking about myself. One of my kids was born during the shoot, I had a bunch of old friends from the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival in it, there are probably three or four sections that are even better than I could have imagined. The rest is OK. I have great affection for it. 

On "Saving Private Ryan"

We were in the landing craft on the first day of shooting. The front goes down and there’s a collection of dummies in front of us that are blown to smithereens, and there’s pink mist in the air, pieces of fake blood and brain and skin and sinew have landed on us and you can’t hear because of the cacophony. I turn to look at this poor guy with me, a week out of drama school, and he’s literally in shock. It’s time to shoot the scene where we go over the side, and I say 'Hey man, time to get wet” And he says, 'Ah, I’m not too good in the water.' That film was an acting exercise that was void of theory, it was all practice. With Steven [Spielberg] you’ve got to be up to snuff, otherwise you’re doomed. 

Swatting for "The Da Vinci Code"

Those [Dan Brown] films are a substantial challenge to make as an actor, because they happen in real time, and you have to do research to understand what the heck you’re talking about. When I read the screenplays I’d do it with Google right next to me. It’s like taking a summer course in art history. 

On "Charlie Wilson’s War"

The crux of the movie is this amazing thing that happened between these two guys – Charlie Wilson, this wild, drunken, sex-crazed congressman, and Gust Avrakotos, this truly dark, CIA operative, a spook who loved killing communists in back alleys in Greece – who got together and said, 'How do we kill the most Russians?' The odd plus that came out of it is that Afghanistan brought about the end of the Soviet Empire. One guy in a place like Congress can either do something great, or fuck up the world. 

Check out a collection of Hanks videos below.

This article is related to: Tom Hanks, Tom Hanks, Tom Hanks, BFI London Film Festival, London Film Festival, Interviews, Interviews , Interviews , Festivals, Captain Phillips, Walt Disney Studio Motion Pictures, Walt Disney Pictures, Walt Disney, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Disney , Saving Mr. Banks

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.