Interview about The Polar Express

December 01, 2004


In 1984 Tom Hanks emerged as a likeable light comedy leading man in Splash and the shamefully hilarious Bachelor Party. Who would have thought in the two decades since he would've developed into Hollywood's most dependable leading man and a double Oscar winner to boot? The 48-year-old gave a hint of his potential in Big, and followed it up with acclaimed performances in Sleepless In Seattle, Philadelphia, Forrest Gump, Apollo 13, Saving Private Ryan, The Green Mile, Cast Away and Road To Perdition. As well as all that he voiced Woody the cowboy in Toy Story and its sequel, directed That Thing You Do! and is currently linked to a string of new projects.

Isn't it true that you obtained the rights to Chris Van Allsburg's book The Polar Express and brought it to Robert Zemeckis with a view to turning it into a film?
That makes it sound like we're robber barons or something. Somebody in my office said "I just want to let you know that Chris Van Allsburg's book is available" and I said, "Well let's try to get the rights." That's the way it worked. Then about a year and a half later, after trying various formulas that were not working, I sent it along to Bob with a note that said, "What do you think?" Then Bob and I started talking about it and another year and half later we began making the movie.

How different was your performance in The Polar Express from voicing Woody in the Toy Story films?
Very different. Forgive me for blowing a secret here, but they are very boring things to do. Essentially you go on to a soundstage by yourself, and you end up reading the line in 17 different ways and they pick the one that they want, edit it together and out comes the performance. That's interesting to a degree and an art form in itself, but with this we got to be actors. It was very much like being in a rehearsal studio atmosphere, with no costumes or props. What we were working on was making the human interaction as real as we could.

Is this type of acting liberating for an actor?
Well of course you can play different roles in the traditional manner with different hair and make up. Peter Sellers has done it, Robin Williams has done it, Jerry Lewis has done it. But the fact that I played an eight-year-old kid here is a good example of the freedom and the possibility that the technology will allow. You will no longer be limited by your size, shape, skin colour, gender, none of that is going to matter. If you have the interpretation that the director wants for the role then you can play any role. I could play Florence Nightingale or Abraham Lincoln, and Meryl Streep could do the same thing. That can be very, very exciting for a number of actors who would never get the opportunity to play certain roles. This technology will allow that.

You seem to have an eye for successful movie properties, what with your various hits as both actor and director and producing credits like My Big Fat Greek Wedding. What is it that attracts you to a project?
It's mostly seeing something that's unique and off the beaten path, that in some way goes against the grain of standard business philosophy. My Big Fat Greek Wedding was a delightful enterprise that I thought was very funny, and I thought that if there was a way of doing it retaining that truthfulness and letting Nia Vardalos tell her story, then it had a shot. I can honestly say that I pursue the things that are interesting to me and me alone, and I'm always amazed when it turns out to be something that other people are attracted to as well. And that is a good thing.

One of the many roles you get to play in The Polar Express is Santa. Have you ever played this role before?
When I was 21-years-old I had a job playing Santa Claus in a shopping centre in Sacramento. I was rail thin so it's not like I was a traditional Santa Claus even then. I had a square stomach, that was the shape of the sofa cushion that I had stuffed into my pants. That was my first pass at the role and I was let go after two weeks as there just weren't that many visitors to Santa's little gingerbread house. I haven't done it since, so this might be the one chance I get.

By Anwar Brett

Source : BBC