Tom Hanks, Catch Me If You Can Interview

December 2002

We've done enough press junkets to know that most of the big magazines and newspapers don't exactly spend the biggest bucks on their basic staffing needs. To wit, the paper which sent an interviewer to the press day for Catch Me If You Can who asked Tom Hanks if his role as FBI agent Carl Hanratty was "the most villainous role you've ever played?" Hanks responded, "you mean, excepting the guy who killed like a dozen people in The Road To Perdition?" The moment was almost enough to make us put down our heads and sigh. Hanks, as we all know, first caught the public's eye because he wore a dress -- on teevee sitcom Bosom Buddies -- and has since gone on to become one honkin' movie star, both behind and in front of the camera. With double Oscar® wins (both as Best Actor, in Philadelphia and Forrest Gump) and critical acclaim for writing (That Thing You Do!) and production duties (From the Earth to the Moon for HBO and this year's mega-indie smash, My Big Fat Greek Wedding), Hanks is far past the stage where he needs to sit for us general press gumps, eight or ten at a time in roundtable format. In Catch Me If You Can, Hanks plays an FBI agent on the trail of a check forger Frank Abignale, played by Leonardo DiCaprio. Steven Spielberg directs and click either highlighted name for more StarTalk. Of course, that roundtable format is responsible for where that first dumb question came from. We tried to look the other way, but then came number two...

We sympathize with Leo's character. Could people see you as a villain?
To a degree, maybe. I don't think this is one of those movies where there's a protagonist/antagonist kind of thing. I think you see everyone's perspective. When I first read the screenplay I wanted Frank to get away and I wanted Carl to catch him. There is no real Carl. There is a guy who was his main contact but there were a lot of FBI agents that helped catch him. I purposefully didn't read the book because I knew there was very little on my side of. To me there was enough of an amalgam of authenticity. There was no bona fide record of who Carl Hanratty was so I made it all up.

When a project comes across your desk how does your mind work, sorting acting job from production gig?
They really speak for themselves.The material itself says it. Usually, when I'm reading something they want me to do, it's very far along and you can see exactly what the theme is and how they're going to go about capturing it. It's either fascinating or it's not. It's really not much more different than that. The germ of an idea and how it's handled is a produce-orial task. You read something and think there's a great idea here that's not realized or here's a book that could be a magnificent story if you can get the right people to write it. To visualize it. The material itself always speaks for itself. In this case I read this as a writing sample of Jeff Nathanson's work. I knew that Leo was connected to it. I just read it to see who this Jeff Nathanson guy was and I could see the movie when I was reading it. I said 'This is going to be a great movie. Is anybody playing Carl Hanratty? Has anyone been cast?' And they said 'No.' and I said (meekly) 'When the time comes will you think of me?' And that was that.

Did you and Leo hang out on set?
We didn't work together that much. We weren't on the set at the same time and he had a lot of makeup. I put on my glasses and that was that. We were working so fast that you had to get ready and get on the set as soon as possible. We didn't sit onthe set and play cards in the trailer like John Wayne did -- we didn't have time to play cards. We would have, otherwise. Steven likes to shoot fast and part of it is the thematic element, it is a chase and you can get bogged down. There is no reason to linger. Steven said 'I'm going to shoot it fast.' Steven would have shot it in 47 days if he had the opportunity. I think he is chromosone-ically unable now to shoot anything above 65 days unless it's got robots in it. It was all a matter of stay close to the ground and go, go, go.

Have you decided to pick up the pace for your own work? It used to seem like you'd do one a year. Now we're back to two (The Road to Perdition and Catch Me If You Can)?
Well, the double whammy of doing castaway for as long as castaway took and having it take as much out of me as it did; it fatigued me. It was a physiological conk on the head so to speak so that it coincided with the finishing up of band of brothers which was a substantial in-house post kind of concern. I utilized that as a essentially a time off. This movie was shot so quickly and I was in and out; I would work for a week at a time but it wasn't as time consuming as Road to Perdition was. That was five months in Siberia. I did specifically take the time off and slow down enough to pay attention to those specific projects. Now I've had some time off. It's not that I'm refreshed but there's other things that are coming off the pike and I haven't gone off and had to service the beast quite so much over the course of the last couple of years.

Before you came in to the room we were all talking about Oscar. You've already got a pair of statues so you can distance yourself from all that...
You'd think so, wouldn't you? [laughter]

It would be tacky to ask you to pick one of the two you've done this year so that's off the table. The question is: when you look at the nomination form that you fill out as an actor to nominate other actors and you come across someone like Leo, who also has two movies up this year, how to you weigh a "light" movie against a "heavy" movie. I guess I don't understand the nomination process.
Well the way it actually works is that you get this list of every movie that's been made and the people in it and I think the academy members themselves have to be hip as to who is being offered in what capacity. Who's supporting and who's leading. A lot of times they're not. So you go through that entire list and remember the movies that you've seen, or go off to see the movies tat you haven't and I truly don't pay attention to a quote serious movie because I've made both and I know that they're very hard to do and I don't care what the subheading of the movie is. Is it a drama with a "D" or a comedy with a "C" or high concept, what have you. You end up voting for the things you thought were the most truly affecting movies that you'd seen. I'm in the actors branch so I vote for the four actors and everyone votes for best picture.

Do you vote for yourself?
(in a very exaggerated voice he says...) Oh, that would be so gauche. Of course I don't. No way do I vote for myself. Are you nuts? I don't think that's allowed under Academy bylaws [all laugh]

What do you think the success of My Big Fat Greek Wedding has done for independent film?
Well that'll be interesting to see, won't it? That was a delightful surprise. The great thing about it is its proven that nobody knows anything. That's a lesson that's proven over and over again. The good news is that it presents an economic model for the big movie companies to follow should they want to. The feeling right now is you gotta have big movie stars in a movie you have to open on 34000 screens you have to have a huge marketing campaign to capture the attention of the populace for a while. You've got to follow it up and if it opens big you can follow this mathematical formula to tell you on Saturday morning what your movie is going to make through its whole history and its all determined by who went to th movies the night before. My Big Fat Greek Wedding came up and broke every single one of those rules and the people still came up and showed it that it proved that the best production campaign is word o f mouth and it may mean that, look, not meaning to crow but we took that movie to every one of the major studios when it was done so they could see it and they all passed because they didn't want to put in a small amount of money on a movie that was going to make a small amount of money if anything because that was their economic model that they follow. So we said OK we'll just cobble together 115 theaters the first couple of weeks and we'll get Nia and John out on the road. No one would take Nia on the shows. They didn't want her until the movie was making big money five months later. It just goes to show that all of that stuff is still possible. You can open a small movie on a few screens and people will go see it and talk about it with absolutely a minimum amount of national exposure and it can still become something of a cultural phenomenon.

Is there one film, of all the work you've done, that's special to you?
That's like asking to pick my favorite kid. They've all been adventures one way or another and I don't look at them afterwards once I see 'em once I know how they end. They don't change. So there's no reason to watch them again.

Is Steven like a big brother now?
Yeah, Steven is like, actually, I feel like I'm in a rock band with Steven. I've been playing the drums and he's lead guitar and every once in a while he looks and we communicate with a kind of gestalt thing and we laugh on the plane a lot.

How did they pitch you to do the Secrets bits for Conan O'Brien?
If you're going to do Conan, they ask if you'll come in an hour early and do this thing. And I said OK. You go in and they say here's the deal and you can do anything you want to do

Do you have a favorite one?
I don't. Who's up late at night? I don't see Conan O'Brien when I'm on Conan O'Brien. 

By Chuck Schwartz

Source : Cranky Critic® StarTalk