Decoding Tom Hanks

May 07, 2009

NOT only does he have a slew of blockbuster hits to his name (Big, Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail, Apollo 13, to name a few), but Tom Hanks also has bragging rights to five Oscar Best Actor nominations—thus far—with two wins (for 1994’s Philadelphia and 1995’s Forrest Gump).

These days, however, you get the sense that down the line, Hanks’s brilliantly mercurial career might be regarded through the prism not of his Oscar-winning turns but of what could very well be his most famous role: Robert Langdon, the Harvard University professor of religious iconology and symbology. In fact, so famous is this character—the hero of several blockbuster novels by Dan Brown—that he has earned his own Wikipedia entry.

Hanks’s first outing as Langdon was 2006’s The Da Vinci Code, based on Brown’s 2003’s monster bestseller of the same title. The film may have earned the ire of the Catholic Church and the drubbing of film critics, but it nonetheless went on to earn at the box office a staggering $750 million-plus worldwide.

Three years later, and now we are mere days away from the global release of Angels & Demons. Based on Brown’s 2000 blockbuster with Da Vinci’s Ron Howard once more directing, Angels & Demons tells of a terrifying discovery that has the Vatican turning to Robert Langdon, the man who cracked history’s most controversial code, for help?

When Langdon discovers evidence of the resurgence of an ancient secret brotherhood known as the Illuminati—the most powerful underground organization in history—he also faces a deadly threat to the existence of the secret organization’s most despised enemy: the Catholic Church. Upon learning that the clock is ticking on an unstoppable Illuminati time bomb, Langdon travels to Rome, embarking on a nonstop, action-packed hunt through sealed crypts, dangerous catacombs, deserted cathedrals, and even to the heart of the most secretive vault on earth.

Here, the Oscar-winning actor talks about his famous onscreen alter ego and the challenges that come with it.

Opening across the Philippines on May 15, Angels & Demons is distributed by Columbia Pictures, the local office of Sony Pictures Releasing International.

What’s the hardest thing about playing Robert Langdon?
Figuring out how his mind works; how he leaps from one conclusion to next so deftly. He’s a symbologist with an encyclopedic knowledge of codes, riddles, symbols, games, puzzles—and history—who can connect each in context. He is, perhaps, the only man in the world with such a job and such expertise. Without authenticity, Langdon may as well be speaking phonetically.

Is the film faithful to the book?
The book was written when there were rudimentary computers, fewer media outlets and no Internet. Dan wrote that the selection of a new Pope was a nonstory, covered by skeleton crews of a few TV networks. Now, the choice of the new Pope is a mass-media event. The book has modernized culture. And no one jumps out a helicopter without a parachute.

What did you like...what appealed to you about the story?
The purity of the argument—the Big Bang vs. Genesis—neither of which impacts our daily existence but speak to our spiritual selves. Faith vs. Science requires work and passion on both sides—unless you toss up your hands and say, “Who cares?” Each argument does something sublime by honoring the Mystery.

Is it fair to say that the story plays into two very modern paranoia—terrorism and a belief that there’s more going on behind the scenes than we know?
Everyone has seen the results of terrorism, and conspiracy theories are tagged to just about everything that happens in the world. The two often go hand in hand, and in the case of Angels & Demons, the goal is not riches but influence.

Did you visit the Vatican as a tourist before filming started? Had you been there before?
I’ve been to Rome many times and, of course, visited the Vatican. The first time, I was on our honeymoon and had to carry long pants to put over my cargo shorts. No admittance otherwise. Good thing we had read our Fodor’s Guide.

Did you research the Illuminati? If so, what’s your view of the organization? What’s fact and what’s fiction?
I did research on the era of the Illuminati—rereading William Manchester’s A World Lit Only By Fire and a ton of other material. I read history all the time, so it was a pleasure. The material I responded to took the steam out of the conspiracy aspects of Angels & Demons but added to the creepiness of the murders. Langdon had a ton of facts to extrapolate.

[Producer] Brian Grazer said that The Da Vinci Code was more of a puzzle movie and that Angels & Demons was more of an action movie. Do you agree?
The Da Vinci Code is a scavenger hunt through antiquity—fascinating to be a contestant. Angels & Demons is a horserace through modern Rome, and you’re riding a foaming quarter horse in the thick of the pack.

You’ve played Langdon before. Is it easier/harder to play a character for the second time? I believe that’s the first time in your career—apart from Woody in Toy Story, of course—that you’ve returned to the same character. Why?
Nothing is easy—be it the first time or the 21st. Each moment is brand new. Each idea has to be connected to a reality. Each beat has to be created fresh. A familiarity may help you—the audience has knowledge of Langdon’s past and carries his experience from the first film—but still, Langdon begins Angels & Demons at square one.

In broad terms, the book and the film deals with an issue that’s as topical as ever—Creationism vs. Darwinism (science). What do you think that this will add to the debate? Indeed, should it be seen as adding to the debate or should the film be regarded purely and simply as entertainment?
The debate has long been defined and has gone beyond the realm of argument into one of personal belief. No film will ever push the debate over the edge for either side.

Did author Dan Brown come on set? If not, did you have any contact with him preshoot or during filming?
Dan was around much more on The Da Vinci Code—as we had so many questions and so many elements to translate from his book onto the screen. He was in Rome for the beginning of filming of Angels & Demons, and visited the set throughout the shoot. I think he and Ron talked with each other constantly over long distance.

You’ve worked with Ron several times before. Has the relationship changed since Splash and Apollo 13? If so, in what way?
Ron treats me the same way as he did on Splash. He wants me to show up prepared and to have ideas. Then, as now, he never stops asking me (and the rest of the cast), “What do you make of this scene?”

You’ve said before that you’re very interested in history and Rome is a treasure-trove of historic sites and monuments. Did you get the chance to explore during your time off there?
Better than exploring Rome, I was able to experience the city. We lived there for a month, working almost every day in postcard settings surrounded by layers of history. Walking for an espresso and watching a Euro Cup match in some small café were times to treasure. A few moments in between takes meant we could take in the street, the building, the view. We were smack in the middle of Ancient Rome, The Holy Roman Empire and World War II.

It’s reported that you helped a bride access the Pantheon Church when you were filming there, holding up the train of her wedding dress and escorting her down the aisle. What happened?
Who knew the Pantheon was available for weddings? We had two scenes and one day to get them in front of one of the most famous public buildings in the world. That bride and her father deserved a grand entrance no matter that some movie was shooting. Her limo couldn’t deliver her to the door, so I offered my arm so she could get hitched. It was a nice moment for all of us on the movie—we’ll all remember that wedding day. She was beautiful and a great sport. The groom’s a lucky man. The wedding went on and we made our day.

Ron said he’s not a big puzzle solver. Are you? Do you like that aspect of the story?
Like Langdon, I love a game of logic that can only be solved with a combination of lateral thinking and a knowledge of the facts. Like Langdon, I always want to win. Unlike Langdon, I’m usually in third or fourth place. 

Source : Business Mirror