Up Close With Tom Hanks

September 08, 2004

Not so long ago, Tom Hanks made the following inventory of himself: “I’ve got kind of a bizarre body, a big ass, and fat thighs. I’ve got a goofy-looking nose, ears that hang down, eyes that look like I’m part Chinese and are a funny colour. I’ve got really small hands and feet, and a gut I’ve got to keep watching. My hair makes me look like a Talmudic scholar.”

If this is a self-esteem issue, it’s one he’s dealt with better than many. In the past decade he has earned more than $200 million; he has won two back-to-back Oscars (for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump) and there have even been fond rumours that he’ll run for Presidency of the US.

Hanks has descended for 24 hours in Venice to promote his latest film, The Terminal, which is directed by Steven Spielberg and in which Hanks plays an eastern European stranded without a passport in the international transit lounge of JFK airport.

More than 2,000 journalists have descended on the Excelsior Hotel in the hope of hearing Hanks discuss the role at a press conference. Dressed in black trousers and a rather livid striped shirt, he shows no hint of the “big ass and fat thighs” with which he credits himself.

But at the same time there is something almost dazzlingly ordinary-looking about him — an image exacerbated by his habit of raising his hand to his mouth and giggling explosively whenever anyone mentions his admirers. (“Steven Spielberg said I was the most moral man he’d met? Tee-hee-hee-hee!”)

In the past he has expressed an aversion to the idea of being a star, rather than an actor (as he once commented: “Look at Tom Cruise... the way he walks, the way he talks. He’s losing it as an actor. He’s becoming a movie star.”) but today, at the age of 48, Hanks appears largely reconciled to the idea.

“The fact is I am a movie star, and I guess there’s no denying that,” he says, settling back into a sofa before conscientiously shuffling sideways in order to be nearer to a journalist’s tape recorder. “There are ones who are threatening, I don’t think I’m that. There are some who are mysterious, and I don’t think I’m that. Maybe I’m just familiar, maybe I’m just a survivor, but I like to assume that I’m also surprising somewhere along the way.”

In his latest role as Viktor Navorski, an eastern European from the fictitious state of Krakhozia who arrives in America barely speaking any English, he is once again playing a genial everyman. Baffled by the bureaucracy of American customs, the bemused immigrant is as dazzled by the bright lights of Burger King as he is by a pretty air hostess (Catherine Zeta-Jones).And like many of Hanks' best-known roles — whether the likeable bumbling hero of Splash (1984), or the likeable bumbling hero of Forrest Gump (1984) — Navorski is a character of almost two-dimensional sweetness. Hanks, however, insists that his roles are more complex than they may appear. Though Hanks has defined such parts as representing “the sensibilities of my generation,” as an actor his image is sufficiently saccharine for one British newspaper to have been prompted to ask: “Does Tom Hanks symbolise something less than manly?”

That such a charge is one that Hanks might be sensitive to is perhaps indicated by the macho vigour of his response to the suggestion contained within a Ford advertising campaign that no truck-driving man would be caught dead watching Hanks’ 1998 romantic comedy You've Got Mail: “You know what? I could kick the butts of all those guys driving their trucks. Come by me, man, and I’ll tear you apart.”

Hanks has given generous financial support to the Democrats, and, six years ago, when asked by The New Yorker if he’d be interested in running for President, fuelled wild rumours by modestly replying that he’d “have to know more about law or economics”.

An e-mail he sent after the interview, elaborating his stance, does not appear designed to banish such thoughts: “My image is a really good one. I made a nice acceptance speech on TV a couple of times. I handle myself pretty well in the glare of the entertainment media. The actual ideology that anyone can glean as projected by my appearances on TV is that America is good because we are all so different, and respecting each other is not so hard a thing to do. Not a bad platform, I suppose, to run for some office.”So, will he or won't he? “Why? Why would I want to do that?” he says, firing off another machine-gun like splutter of mirth. “I have a very good job and now and... well, come on, I wouldn't vote for myself as President. I mean, really. If you were an American, would you?” Given the alternatives, I dare say I might.

Source : The Daily Telegraph