Co-starring with a volleyball in 'Cast Away'

December 20, 2000


LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- One of the few people in Hollywood who is not suggesting Tom Hanks will be considered for an Academy Award nomination for his role in "Cast Away" is Tom Hanks himself. After winning back-to-back best actor awards for "Philadelphia" (1993) and "Forrest Gump" (1994) he is refreshingly casual, even dismissive of his Oscar prospects.

With his clout, He can have just about any role in any script that comes out of any word processor in Hollywood, just by expressing the slightest interest. His 20th Century-Fox release "Cast Away" came out of something that interested him: a television interview with a real castaway.A quintessential "nice guy," Hanks -- personable, quick-witted and playful -- recently spoke with CNN.

This script was created at your suggestion. What was the inspiration?
I remember seeing somebody on television. He had been shipwrecked during the war; he had to cling to some coral atoll for a few days and he thought he was going to die. He was on television, being interviewed, and the interviewer couldn't get past the idea that this must have been an adventure somehow.
The person said, "No, it was not an adventure, it was a harrowing experience, and I thought I was going to die." And she asked, "Do you ever want to go back and visit the place?" "No, I never wanted to see that island again."So here was this dichotomy of what it should be and what it really was in real life, and I thought, well, now that's interesting. I've never seen that. The idea of Swiss Family Robinson ... always makes it seem as if humankind, on an island like this, can do a few simple things and survive and even flourish and enjoy it.
...What would it do to a human being to have all connection to all humanity removed? What is that going to do to the human psyche? And then, what's going to happen when it's suddenly all over, gone in the wink of an eye? It turned into something more complex and sophisticated than I thought it was going to be.

The reality of the situation was what caught your interest.
We wanted everything that Chuck (the central character) went through to be free of the artifice of standard cinematic storytelling. He's not Superman. When you're hanging a big chunk of the movie on the idea that it's really hard to make fire you're out there on the line. You better be able to deliver the goods.

It's great that, when the second half of the film starts -- four years after your arrival on the island -- you don't have a little hut with clotheslines and some kind of improvised, primitive refrigerator.
Yeah! "Weren't you able to develop some kind of bamboo bicycle that could power a generator, or have rope swings all over the place so you could get around quicker?" Well, no. ...And the scary thing about that is, isn't that what people want? Shouldn't we deliver some of that, somehow?
That's where you have to get into some pretty tough enforcement of the philosophical credo of the movie. The other issue is, nobody else shows up. It would be nice if the pirate ship came into the middle of the lagoon somewhere, or the seaplane with the Sports Illustrated swimsuit models (arrives), but that doesn't happen, either.

Your co-star turns out instead to be "Wilson," a volleyball. That must be one of the most brilliant and unique product placements in the history of films.
They (Wilson, manufacturer of the volleyball) didn't give us a dime!

Wilson becomes your only companion. It's clear the script had to give the character an excuse to talk, but it could have very easily failed to work. How did you make that relationship with Wilson work?
Bob (Director Robert Zemeckis) and I would sit down before (shooting) scenes that included him. ...He has the best lines in the movie. Nobody ever hears them but me, but we all knew exactly what the conversation was. ...He asks questions and I ask questions. He answers back and I answer back to him. You just don't hear them, but that doesn't make them any less palpable, the lines and the ideas he expressed.

The line that may stick with viewers is when you say to him, "Why are you bringing that up again?" It was a wonderful moment.
I like that the first line in the second half is "Shut up!' That was an obtuse thing. Is that great?

[In order to show the effects of time and malnutrition on Hanks' character, the film was shot in two parts. Hanks and Zemeckis shot the first half, then took a hiatus. Zemeckis went off to shoot this year's "What Lies Beneath" with Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfieffer, and Hanks lost a dramatic amount of weight and grew a beard before resuming.]

A lot of people fastened on the weight-loss issue and how you grew a beard. Was that an annoyance for you?
It was frustrating for a while because it was ... the only thing anybody cared about. You have to address it. ...Losing the weight was just time and discipline; it wasn't as if I were living on bacon and grapefruit for eight months. I was just watching what ate, and working out with a very specific task at hand, which couldn't be avoided no matter how much I wanted to rest.

You're doing a kind of noir drama next, playing a hitman.
That's "The Road to Perdition" with Sam Mendes directing. I start that in February or March.

We're looking forward to seeing you in a period film.
I'm glad to be in a film, period. 

By Dennis Michael

Source : CNN