June 18, 2004

A Q&A with "Terminal" star Tom Hanks -- The actor, a favorite with both Oscar and America, talks about his new movie and his future (sorry -- it doesn't include politics)

Two-time Academy Award winner Tom Hanks is heading down the Oscar-bait campaign trail once again as Viktor Navorski, the refugee hero of Steven Spielberg's new comedy-drama-romance, "The Terminal." Picture a guy much like Robin Williams' Soviet defector in "Moscow on the Hudson," except he never makes it past customs to Bloomingdale's. Instead, poor Navorski gets stranded at New York City's JFK Airport -- a man without a country after a military coup voids all passports issued by his native land, Krakozhia. (No use fumbling for an atlas, since Krakozhia is a nonexistent, vaguely Balkan country; Navorski is only very loosely based on a real guy who's been benching it at France's Charles de Gaulle Airport for years.)We sat down with Hanks for the skinny on working with Spielberg, future plans with Meg Ryan, and why, despite whisperings over the years that the box office champ's a natural for elective office, he's no Arnold Schwarzenegger.

With airport delays so widespread now, do people want to spend two hours on "The Terminal", watching someone else wait?
It's funny, the whole movie in a lot of ways was at the mercy of the headlines. Originally, it didn't have anything to do with a post-9/11 world. [And] we finished it before airport[s] became part of the Homeland Security Agency, or whatever it is.

When's the last time you flew commercial?
I did fly to London to do [producing-directing on the HBO miniseries] "Band of Brothers", and was going through JFK. But in all honesty, not since then. Maybe on occasion here and there.

You were friends with Steven Spielberg long before he cast you in "Saving Private Ryan," "Catch Me if You Can," and now "The Terminal." Was it awkward melding that with a working relationship?
Oh, I never thought about that. We took care of that in one very easy conversation. Which was: Steven, you're the boss. You can't hurt my feelings. Tell me anything you think. And on the other hand, I will come to you with a gajillion ideas. If you don't like them, just say, That's nice, Tom, but I don't like that, and we'll move on. [But all] that wasn't nearly as difficult as getting over "I'm in a movie Steven Spielberg is directing." I just didn't want to screw up so much he'd [have to] come up and say, Listen, a terrible mistake has been made. You need to go home.

After "The Polar Express" in November, the trade papers say your next two starring roles will likely be "A Cold Case" [a retiring investigator tackles the unsolved murder of a friend 27 years earlier] and "The Risk Pool" [a screwup of a father has to raise his son after his estranged wife's mental collapse]. How green are those lights?
Well, the way it works is this: The ideas are definitely great. We've made the alliances with the people who are going to do [them]. But then the actual pages have to come in. And it's a matter of how good they come in. Bob Zemeckis is always talking about the binary aspect of movies. They're either ones or zeros. They work or they don't.

One report says Meg Ryan recently sent you a script.
Every now and again, we'll send something to each other and say, What do you think?

Is it a goal to do another romantic comedy, to carry on the line of "Joe Versus the Volcano," "Sleepless in Seattle," and "You've Got Mail"?
Let's take a look at this, okay? I'm 47. Meg is...29. [Laughter] You can only rob the cradle so many times. So it will have to be a new vision of what a romantic comedy is. "You've Got Mail" to me was a piece about desperate people not wanting to repeat the same mistakes. So it made total sense for these people to be the age they were. If something else came along like that, I wouldn't hesitate for a moment. But it has to be something recognizable as part of the real world. I can't play a kid in college, you know what I'm saying?

Would you ever say, After age X, I give up on romantic leads?
It really is a case-by-case basis. Look what Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton did. The thing is, most romantic comedies now are pretty much about teenagers getting laid, so I'm not going to do that.

Where did your well-documented WWII fixation get started?
It started when I became cognizant of the fact my father had a past. This would be about 1966. I was living in Alameda, a big Navy town. I lived on the naval-air-station end of it, so everybody was somehow connected with the military. All my friends had dads who were on the USS Ranger or the Coral Sea or the Enterprise. [And there'd be] a war movie on TV three or four times a week. In TV series, it was still celebrated, [like in] "Victory at Sea."

Didn't your dad serve in the Navy?
My dad was a machinist in the war. He was off somewhere in the South Pacific fixing hydraulic systems. He ended up kind of washed ashore in Hawaii, working in restaurants after the war. He loved the movie "The Last Detail," you know, with Nicholson. 'Cause he said, Those are exactly what every one of those c---sucking [Navy] sons of bitches was like. The foulest, meanest goddamn bastards.

You were involved with the fund-raising for the new World War II Memorial on the Mall in Washington. It's a pretty unassailable civic project to be allied with. Do people try to drag you into more partisan causes?
Yeah, there's a lot of that. While we were in D.C. around the time of "Apollo 13," it was like, Hey, will you come and appear before a congressional committee [to help support NASA programs]? I said, Look, I realize you'll get more coverage if I'm there. But I'm not going to be able to supply any better attention to the issues than I can by just being a guy in a movie or a producer of a miniseries. Not that I'm not political. I mean, I have dinner and discuss stuff openly along political lines. But celebrities are a dime a dozen when it comes to this kind of stuff. They cut to them now during the [nominating] conventions. They'll find them on the floor and they'll cut to them. It's like being at a basketball game.

But there you were in D.C. on Memorial Day weekend, sharing the same podium as President Bush and Tom Brokaw, dedicating the WWII Memorial. Would you ever think of running for political office? If Arnold can do it, why not you?
Yeah. [In a mock Al Franken-as-Stuart Smalley voice] Yeah, I'm a nice guy. And dammit, they vote for nice guys. [Back to normal] But no. Not at all. I know Arnold. He's a driven man. I think he's happier now than he's ever been, because he's not intimidated by any of this kind of stuff. He loves to mix it up politically. And he's got a very clear-cut vision of what he thinks needs to be done. But I've never had any type of political aspiration. I don't think I'd do a better job in politics of educating anybody, or enlightening anybody -- and certainly not of entertaining anybody. I just don't think it's my forte. I'm the guy who takes a look and spots out connections I think no one else can really see. Then I try to do something creative with that. I'm the observer. I'm the artist. 

Source : Entertainment Weekly