Personal and Profound

January 18, 2001


Cast Away is Tom Hanks’ most personal film to date, he tells Jenny Cooney Carrillo; but had he made it earlier, it would have been a less profound film, possibly with Elle MacPherson arriving on the deserted island to do a swimsuit shoot.

Tom Hanks is not afraid of a challenge. This is, after all, the man who played the village idiot in Forrest Gump, the gay lover dying of AIDS in Philadelphia and famous astronaut Jim Lovell in the blockbuster Apollo 13 – winning two Oscars and a nomination respectively for his efforts.But Cast Away provided challenges not even imagined by the 44-year-old superstar. Not only does Hanks spend almost a third of the movie alone on-screen as Chuck, a systems analyst for a world courier company whose plane crashes and strands him on a desert island for four years. Hanks also had to gain and then lose 53 pounds and take almost a year off between the first and the second half of the film, a brave and unprecedented move by director Robert Zemeckis and Tom Hanks - as producer. But one that Tom Hanks the actor almost lived to regret.

How tough was it to not only make a movie with a year off in between each half, but to also gain and lose 50 pounds for it?
It was really a lot of time and discipline, two things which I usually don’t have but because that was what the whole job was, I had to suck it up and make sure that I was adhering to it. The desire that we wanted to communicate was that four precious years can go by in the wink of an eye and that’s inherent but the demands that it put on me were enormous. When Bob Zemeckis said to me, ‘if we had any guts, we’d make this movie like this; ‘you’d get really heavy, we make the first half, we take a year off and you’d lose all that weight’ and at first I said, ‘oh let’s do that’. That’s a real easy thing to say but when September comes around and I know I’m going back to work in February and I’ve got to lose the weight, I had to treat it as a mission. I felt like I was training for the Olympics or something and it required a complete negating of how much it hurt or how uncomfortable it was or how tired I was or how hungry I was because it was just not my job, it was my responsibility to live up to. But there’s no secret to it. Anybody can do it if you just eat the right food and get the right amount of exercise.

Did it make you unbearable to live with?
I’m sure it did at some point. When all my kids are having French fries in the drive-through, man, it’s really hard just to keep your eye on the road. I must say that the whole family has seen me go through it before and they do help out. But that didn’t mean that I didn’t sneak a couple of swigs from their chocolate milk container late at night!

Did all that time on the island in Fiji help you appreciate the finer things of life when it was over?
You couldn’t help but appreciate a number of not just creature comforts but things like a cup of coffee or a bowl of salsa. These are the things that bring variety to your life otherwise it would go on with mind-numbing sameness without anything. I think the idea is very attractive, to go off and not have any other worries except how do I catch a fish today and how do I make a fire tonight. But I think it only stays attractive for about four days and then you want somebody to talk to and preferably a room service waiter who can bring up a club sandwich.

What are your survival skills and how would you survive on a desert island?
I just rely on the hundreds of people who have been brought to the island to ply me with sandwiches and build huts for me and give me bottles of water and umbrellas any time I need them, which is so great it’s almost cruel! It’s almost unfair that the camera never swung around from me all alone to see all these people on the island working much harder than I did. As a matter of fact, a female camera assistant was lugging two magazines full of film back from the village back down to the location and she collapsed and had to be helicoptered off the island because she suffered from sunstroke, so I get all the credit and I did work hard but, in fact, so did everybody else.

What is the most difficult part about being a castaway?
We discovered in the course of developing the story and the screenplay and talking to people who’d been through similar experiences that you might be able to conquer the elements long enough to get found. You might be able to just escape the vagaries of Mother Nature but the thing that can truly kill you is giving into despair and falling over the edge of loneliness. You’re so disconnected from the world that you give up because there’s no reason to live. In our research we went through the logs and diaries of people who’d been lost and disappeared without a trace because they gave up. And how do you get past that on a desert island – or in the middle of Los Angeles, for that matter. If we could figure out the trick, we’d all be millionaires.

But could you really relate to that struggle with loneliness when you’re so popular personally and professionally?
I’m forty-four and I know that in those years I’ve experienced the same kind of crippling loneliness it seems that anybody does and it can be much more painful when you’re surrounded by all the distractions in the world and yet you still feel some brand of emptiness. If this movie truly reaches a broad audience, it does so because it communicates something that everybody has experienced, no matter what gender or nationality. Why do I feel so alone in the midst of all of this? If there is any sort of message of this movie it is as simple as no matter how alone you feel, just keep breathing because the sun is going to come up tomorrow.

Would this movie have been a different film earlier in your life?
Yes, I probably would have had Elle MacPherson show up to shoot a Swimsuit calendar and rescue me! It would have been a lot less profound and lighter, I think. The original kernel of the idea I had was this concept of a guy on an island and that was it. We looked at the standard cinematic narrative of a movie that somebody else had to show up otherwise he doesn’t get rescued. But when Bob Zemeckis came on board the movie and I’d been working on it for four years, he said the problem we had was that Chuck was just waiting for something to happen and we had to let him turn a philosophical corner in the story and have him help himself get off the island. How profound the movie is is completely in the eye of the beholder but for me it’s the most personal film I’ve ever made because my name is on it in more than one place and the thing that we were trying to communicate by that still has to be something that can withstand the scrutiny of having this big movie made about it.

How does Tom Hanks get away from it all when you’re surrounded by people all the time?
I think it’s very important to lose all trappings of this at every conceivable opportunity and not necessarily be off solitarily by myself but to be off with my family and friends and have nothing to do with the business. Otherwise you feel like Elvis Presley, man. You’d just go nuts after a while and you don’t want to be in the compound. I think I do a pretty good job of adhering to my professional responsibilities when I have a film coming out and then at other times just shutting down and adhering to only my personal responsibilities.

And how do you deal with yourself when you don’t have anyone there?
There’s no trick to it. You just do your own laundry. I know I do this for a living and it’s very glamorous but I don’t rely on it in order to make me feel better about myself. But sometimes it does make a day go by a little better because I have a staff that can get me those CDs I think I’m going to need because I’m going off to the desert island! I just live and be a regular guy.

Source : Urban Cinefil