Tom, Dan and Da Vinci

May 19, 2006

Tom Hanks speaks about the high-octane film, based on the controversial book

What is so fascinating about the novel of the century?
Well, I was fascinated by the realistic pace that Dan Brown kept up. The book really just tears through and it’s really such a page-turner. The scavenger hunt aspect of it, the way it takes you from clue to clue to clue ? it’s a participatory book. The reader takes part in trying to figure out what each anagram means and what each clue could possibly mean. Then, when they’re all let in on the solution, people slap their heads and say, ‘Oh, wow! Why didn’t I see that?’ I think that’s one of the reasons why it is so popular. Da Vinci himself is.

He’s an enigma.
He is. We all are so familiar with so many of his works, and yet here he was, this man of blinding genius who could write backwards with both hands. I think that the title itself, just the fact that it includes Leonardo, has an awful lot to do with the attraction to it. We just love Leonardo Da Vinci. Everybody does.

He painted the Mona Lisa when he was 51. You are going to be 50.
I will soon be, yes, so I still have my Mona Lisa to come. Good to know. It’s nice to know.

It was the smile of his mother.
Well, you do a little bit of research. You find out these fascinating things about how he painted. I think people view him as some sort of diabolical genius simply because he was a genius, because he was just so creative and he hands us this magnificent output. And [we] lesser mortals try to figure out, ‘Well, he must have been up to something.’ But I actually think he just loved to paint, and loved to think, and loved to write things down, and that’s the way he lived.

Did you also meet Dan Brown?
I spoke to Dan Brown briefly on the phone well before we started actually working on it. Then we were together in London with the cast for initial meetings, going over the script and what not, three or four months before we started shooting. A lot of it was asking him, ‘Okay, explain the rationale of why this stuff is so important.’ I mean, part of it is the sacred feminine and part of it is the alchemy of going from man/woman all the way up to the Son and how that translates from the pure pseudo-science that it was, to the spiritual quest that the great heroes are on.
It was a continuously fascinating discussion because every time he would explain something, it would lead to another question that we had. His volume of knowledge about the character and about the Grail quest and what have you, goes back for centuries upon centuries so I think he was able to confirm for everybody, but particularly for me, why it is so important and so fascinating to Langdon, the guy who sees symbols everywhere. And Dan Brown has that knowledge.

Why do people love to go to the movies? Is it an escape or is it a passion?
That’s a good question. It’s all of those things. It’s not just one thing. Sometimes we have to go off and be with other people in a room, in a collective room and have our attention in one place. But you don’t have to go with somebody. You can go by yourself to the movies and feel that. I think sometimes you have to feel like you’re a part of something bigger than just yourself and certainly the cinema has always been able to do that. But so has a day in the park or a visit to a museum or going to a sporting event. That can make you feel as though you are connected to everybody else in the world.
Certainly, not all movies do that. Sometimes you go to the movies and you hate the time you wasted sitting at the movies. But movies are, at their core, both a participatory art in that you’re taking part in something much larger than yourself, and at the same time, a very, very particular, personal experience. I think it’s the human condition to seek that out periodically. I think you have to.I’m not saying you have to go to the movies periodically. You have to seek out that thing every now and again. You have to go to the cycle races or you have to go to the carnival or you have to go and sit in the cafe and have a conversation with somebody or you have to go to church. You have to do that. It’s what human beings do.

You have to dream.
You have to go off and be inspired. You have to ponder things and have things come into your head and say, ‘I’ve never thought of that before. I didn’t think about it until I saw this film or had this conversation or saw these two little kids playing in the sandbox.’

Do you have any advice for young people to succeed in life?
Avoid liars and jerks.

Were you able to meet President Chirac at the Louvre during the shooting?
No, not the President. We met the Minister of Culture who came and visited. But he has a very interesting philosophy about letting us shoot in the Louvre and letting other people utilise all of those treasured buildings throughout all of France, including ruins and castles, because otherwise they become just these dead, static buildings that people come and visit. Then they go away and they either make money or they don’t.
He wanted to make them alive and vibrant in some way that is not just ‘stop number five’ on their tour. France is rich with that. It will be very interesting to see how much more people are going to be able to start shooting in Versailles. Are they going to be able to shoot in Aix-en-Provence and places like that, which are still the cultural sites that people want to see?

Is the genius of Leonardo da Vinci central to the success of the book and the movie?
I think so. I think the unspoken character that exists in this is Da Vinci. He’s somewhere, constantly lingering off-camera, guiding from the grave so to speak.

How did you like working with Audrey Tautou? Did you fall in love with her?
Audrey is an artiste. She would do this funny thing. We would be at a table and we’d be talking, talking, talking, all in English. And I would just look over at her and she’d be going back over things, not paying any attention to what we were saying. It was going in one ear and out the other. Not getting any of our jokes. Then we’d think we were done with some scene or some page that we were discussing and then she would say, ‘Yes, but...’ and out would come this point that had completely passed us by or that could only come from the person who’s trying to make sense out of playing Sophie. They were ground-breaking questions or opinions.
She’s not a pushover. I’ve seen Amelie and A Very Long Engagement, and her characters were both very mysterious and very internal.... She’s intimidating in a lot of ways, but at the same time she’s an artiste of the cinema. I mean, she’s not enthralled by the power or the attention that comes along with it. She has work that she has to do. If she doesn’t have a chance to do it right, it’s not a good day for her.

What makes Brian Grazer stand out in Hollywood?
He’s a very aggressive producer. There are some people that become producers because they fall into it from other disciplines. And he is not that. He is a producer. He knows how to work the meetings and get the material and force it on through. He’s willing and able to make alliances for the sake of the project. That’s a very particular kind of beast because a true producer plays a very particular type of role in the evolution of a movie. That’s what he does. That’s what he’s born to do. That’s what he lives and breathes every day.

People have said you are a chameleon when it comes to acting. How do you achieve this quality?
I just think that my job is, as Shakespeare said a long time ago "to hold a mirror up to nature." I think that’s the only thing that I truly do bring to something. I say, ‘Well, what would really happen in a circumstance like this?’ Part of it is, what do you need for the story? And what is this particular scene about? I think I have to be a conductor for a role. Why make it up?

Source : The Daily Telegraph