My childhood is no joy story

July 12, 2010

At the heart of the Toy Story films is a happy, settled childhood - a far cry from the one experienced by its engaging star.

Tom Hanks has won the love of a generation of adults and kids as the voice of loyal, steady and faithful cowboy Woody.But these qualities seemed in short supply during Hanks' own early years.

His parents divorced when he was five. Tom and his older brother and sister went to live with their dad, Amos, while his younger brother stayed with their mum.

His father remarried twice but they were constantly on the move from town to town. It made for an unsettling, disruptive and often lonely upbringing. "When I was growing up we moved around an awful lot so we didn't have a lot of friends around us that we really knew well," he says. "We were always taking off. Our father was a cook who moved often, uprooting us. We saw our mother on holidays.

Altogether, I had three mothers, four fathers, five schools and 10 houses.

"My childhood wasn't a bed of roses, but it made me independent.

"I don't recall ever giving away any of my toys. They just disappeared into the cupboard of the house we were leaving at two o'clock in the morning with my dad annoyed at the woman he was married to. That's the sort of thing that happened."

Hanks recalls fending for himself and his siblings while their father went out to work late into the night.

When Amos married for a third time in 1966, his sister Sandra moved in with their mother, leaving Hanks and brother Larry to live by themselves in the basement.

The confusion and unrest still affects him. He says a lack of childhood friendships can make it difficult for him to form lasting bonds. "Since I moved around so much as a kid, I didn't have an awful lot of friends," he says. "I don't think it's part of my make-up to completely open up. I can pretend to be very good friends with people then not have anything to do with them for 18 months."

Not that his dysfunctional upbringing damaged his sense of fun - the 54-year-old unashamedly admits to playing with his teenage children's toys.

"I play with toys all the time," he says. "I play with the little goofy things my kids still have like cars and planes and I hold them up and imagine the same stories I did when I was a kid. I was watching TV the other night and one of my son's toy World War Two planes was on the coffee table and before I knew it, I was playing with it and zooming it through the air. I do it all the time.

"My own toys weren't collectibles - they went through hard use so any toy I had was eventually pounded out of existence or they broke. They went the best way any toys can - they were played with out of existence."

Next week sees the release of Toy Story 3, the latest chapter in what has become a worldwide phenomenon and a multi-billion pound franchise since the first movie in 1995.

Toy Story 3 has already broken box office records in America, becoming the biggest-opening film in Disney Pixar's history, taking an incredible £73million in its first weekend.

Hanks' Woody returns as does Buzz and all the old toys for an adventure in which a grownup Andy is preparing to go to college, leaving his loyal toys troubled about their uncertain future.

It's a dream job for boy-at-heart Hanks, father to 32-year-old Colin and 28-year-old Elizabeth from his first marriage to college sweetheart Samantha Lewes.

His children Chester, 19, and 14-yearold Truman are by his wife Rita Wilson, who he romanced on the set of Volunteers and married in 1988.

It's been 11 years since Toy Story 2 hit cinemas. And Hanks reveals it got that far only after pressure from him and Tim Allen, the voice of Buzz. The Walt Disney Company had planned to send it straight to DVD.

"Tim and I and everybody else connected with it wanted to know why," says Hanks.

"We said it should be released as a film because it was magnificent and as good as the first one. Usually sequels are pale imitations and are slapped on video but this was really great. Eventually they bowed to some brand of common sense, so now we have Toy Story 3 and will there be a fourth Toy Story? Why not?" He attributes their success to the fact the characters haven't evolved and very little has been tampered with.

"They're still exactly who they are," says Hanks. "Every movie begins with them waiting for Andy their owner to come into the room to play with them. That's what they live for."

But in Toy Story 3, Andy's departure sees them dumped in a day care centre where they are battered and abused by monstrous children.

With Woody leading the way, they manage a daring escape and eventually find a new home. Sentimental Hanks says: "The passage of time brings a lot of heartache but it also brings a lot of hope and here's an example where hearts are broken at the beginning and yet you're filled with hope at the end."

Hanks has stayed at the top of his game since his breakthrough in Splash, opposite Daryl Hannah in 1984. Although his father wanted him to go into the fast-food restaurant business, one of his drama teachers encouraged him and he made his professional debut on stage in The Taming of the Shrew in 1978.

In 1988, the movie Big won him his first Oscar nomination and, after a string of so-so comedies, he won a best-actor Oscar for portraying a gay lawyer who has Aids in Philadelphia in 1993.

He scooped another Oscar the following year for Forrest Gump and followed it with the role of astronaut Jim Lovell in Apollo 13. He's also flexed his muscles as a producer, most notably on Saving Private Ryan. Hanks stars in his latest project, Larry Crowne - which he also wrote, produced and directed - about a man returning to college after losing his job. His co-star is Julia Roberts, who he met on the set of Charlie Wilson's War.

Hanks says: "I called her up and asked her if she was interested in playing the part and if she could have faith in me as a director."

They have been filming the low-budget movie - £20m - on locations in the Los Angeles area. "Hopefully we'll make a decent movie," he said. "But it's no Toy Story 3, it's Larry Crowne 1!"

By John Hiscock

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