"I saw white powder on red fingernails passing in front of my face..."

January 2008


Charlie Wilson's War is a hugely entertaining slice of politics that could be described as pointed satire if it wasn't so closely based on a true story. Director Mike Nichols and star Tom Hanks made a whistlestop visit to London last week and, despite the best efforts of London Underground, Screenjabber's Neil Davey caught up with them in a very nice hotel room to discuss womanising, cocaine and the rules of movie making. But mostly womanising and cocaine...

Is it difficult making a film that's not only so close to the actual events but involves real people?
Mike Nichols :
It is, yes. Because the things you can and cannot make up are entirely changed. In a normal plot, you can change things any time you want. When real people are involved you can't. I saw an interview with Aaron Sorkin [the West Wing scribe who wrote the script for Charlie Wilson's War] and he was talking about being in some awe of these characters and events and then he said to himself well, I just have to plunge in and start making up what they say. And I realised that was indeed what he had to do, to make up the insides.The structure was set but the way it happened, what they said to each other, how they felt... that's our territory. And as you start to work on a piece, you realise just that, that the behaviour, the emotions, the ways of dealing with one another, you have to make up because they're ephemeral and not recorded. Or remembered.
Tom Hanks : Not even by the people who did it.
Mike Nichols : Senator Bill Bradley was a great Senator, he was here for all of this. He called my wife and said 'this is fantastic, this is what happened, they really got it right!' That said to me that what we made up as alive enough to animate the things that actually happened.

Have you had any feedback from the real Charlie Wilson?
Tom Hanks :
Oh my god, yes!
Mike Nichols : The real Charlie Wilson has seen it and seen it and seen it.Tom Hanks : He loves it.

What was it like meeting Charlie for the first time?
Tom Hanks :
Intimidating, off the bat. He's much taller than I am, he's 6' 4", and has this incredibly deep voice and this incredibly square jaw, although he does wear his braces under his epaulettes and wears purple cowboy boots so it's an odd mixture. He's so charming that all the women in the office were saying oh, oh, he's got something... And I said can you please explain what it is so I can have a little bit of it? And they looked at me and said sorry Tom, you're never going to have what Charlie Wilson's got...
The thing is that instantly attracts about Charlie is he's not hypocritical about who he is and what he did. That scene in the hot tub: I said 'Charlie, did you do the drugs in Vegas?' and he said 'Here's how it is Tom. I saw white powder on red fingernails passing in front of my face. I don't recall ever breathing in.' His willingness to let us assume and depict the worst of him is the least of his concerns

Do you think the audience would have been uncomfortable seeing Tom Hanks cocaine?
Mike Nichols :
Aaron says that there is something in our unconscious that will forgive drinking as much as you like but cannot forgive a character doing coke. In some way, we write that person off. And I think that's right on the nose. A movie has certain rules. We can get a headache and not have a terminal illness ten days later! But in the movies nobody gets a headache without that happening. And in the same way, nobody can do coke in a movie without being eternally damned.
Tom Hanks : If Charlie had snorted coke in the first act of our movie, the final act would have had him shooting a machine gun saying: "say hello to me leetle frien'" because that's the law of doing coke in movies. He drank Chivas Regal like it was water, all day long. He didn't take demure little sips, he took chugs through the course of the day. He never went to bed sober. For some reason, that's quirky, that's a salty little character. But if you do the other things... He said to me 'Tom, if you could smoke it, drink it, snort it...' He did everything but shoot it, and he's quite honest about that.

He may not have gone to bed sober but, judging by the film, he rarely went to bed alone either...
Tom Hanks :
Oh noooo !
Mike Nichols : Almost never!

Tom, your relationships in movies have been rather more romantic. Now that the sexier side of Tom Hanks has been revealed, will we see more of it?
Tom Hanks :
Well, every job requires a certain riding of a horse... You know, what's interesting, we don't really show anything. It's not a horror movie, you don't need to see me frolicking, although the crew wouldn't have minded a little more during the Emily Blunt scenes. It's funny how you can literally say... it's like the Fonzie rule. You say he's the toughest guy in Milwaukee and everyone's afraid of him. We say Charlie's a womaniser, you get me on the balcony trying to make moves on Emily Blunt and boom, womaniser, just like that. That's all that's required. It's down to Aaron's screenwriting.

Do you have a favourite politcal film yourself?
Tom Hanks :
I'd say All The President's Men. Because that seemed like a documentary, and it was about guys on the phone asking questions. Usually crusading reporters are shown kicking down doors of slums. In reality, crusading reporters sit at their desk and make a lot of phone calls. I loved in that film you never saw who was on the other end of the phone and they didn't get to the end of it. At the end of the movie, they were still writing the story that brought down the President of the United States. You combine that with Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman and Jason Robards ... I felt that the film was showing how it was.

Source : Screen Jabber