Tom Hanks Returns to ‘The Pacific'

June 03, 2010

Following his starring role in “Saving Private Ryan” and his work on the HBO miniseries“Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific” (on which he is an executive producer with Gary Goetzman and Steven Spielberg), Tom Hanks was not quite finished chronicling the American experience in World War II. On Nov. 2, HBO Home Entertainment will release the 10-part “Pacific” series, which dramatized the stories of three Marines who fought against Japan, as a DVD box set. A special Blu-Ray box set, also to be released on Nov. 2, will include even more enhanced features than the standard DVD release.

With “The Pacific” – one of HBO’s most expensive productions ever – now at an end, ArtsBeat spoke with Mr. Hanks about his reflections on the project and the increasingly challenging environment in which it was made. We also tried to get him to explain the special Blu-Ray DVD features (hey, he’s an actor, not a salesman at Best Buy) and even squeezed a few details from him about a possible film version of “American Idiot.” These are excerpts from that conversation.

Does it feel like “The Pacific” represented a last hurrah for this kind of epic miniseries storytelling?
Sometimes I would say, What themes are left that can withstand the scrutiny of 10 hours? There might not be. Every time we have done this with HBO, with “From the Earth to the Moon,” to “Band of Brothers,” even“John Adams,” they’ve always said, Look we’ll never do this again. It doesn’t make enough sense. They have all these business reasons why it’s not really profitable. But when we can, we go to them with an idea and say, “Maybe this’ll be the last one.”

As much as the narrative, don’t you also need names like yours and Steven Spielberg’s to command the resources that you need to tell that story?
Well, it certainly doesn’t hurt. If other people that are not, say, high up on the – what’s the word? – the celebrity-meter call up and say, hey, we would like an exorbitant amount of money to do 10 hours on this, it might not get too far. That’s to both of our advantage: We get 10 hours, in order to tell our story. For HBO, they do get an awful lot of attention for a period of time, and they do get to create some brand of perennial that people can go back to again and again.

Does it also have to play around the world? Did I just read that “The Pacific” is about to have its debut in India?
I don’t know! They have a tendency to sell them right off the bat. We ran into this with “John Adams,” when we were trying to get them to do as many as 13 or 10 episodes. They say the problem is this stuff won’t sell overseas, not like “Band of Brothers” did. We said, Don’t be afraid of tri-cornered hats and guys with walking sticks. If this is really compelling stuff, they will see it in France. Certainly, it’s going to play in Japan, and it might be more controversial in some ways: The savagery of what we have in “The Pacific,” as well as how our characters take the news of the dropping of the atomic bomb. They didn’t see it as anything other than, O.K., well, that’s just a few more of them dead. That can be very powerful stuff when seen by a Japanese audience.

So it will be shown in Japan, too?
[away from phone] Hey, has “The Pacific” been shown in Japan yet?[back on phone] I’m being told soon. They were one of the first to buy foreign, I am told. But don’t ask me. Let me see if it’s in my talking points. It has nothing about it.

Would there even have been “The Pacific” without the DVD success of “Band of Brothers”?
Without a doubt, “Band of Brothers” on DVD took everybody by absolute, total, flabbergasted surprise. As opposed to something that just comes out that is No. 1 for a while, it just keeps churning right along because people keep buying it every Veterans Day, every Christmas, every D-Day, and for a lot of birthdays. As opposed to all seven or eight seasons of an individual television series that can run into a lot of money and an awful lot of time that you have to spend, 10 hours plus of “The Pacific,” you can put your head around that pretty good.

So what do you include on “The Pacific” to make it more enticing as a DVD box set?
With Blu-Ray, and all the menus and information that you can put on it, you have all the makings-of. You have all the profiles of the guys themselves. You’ll be able to punch into maps and interactive field guides. So you’ll be able to get a lot more information on, say, Peleliu or Guadalcanal. You’ll also get a lot of excerpts of the four books we used. It will actually touch on stuff that we did not put into the series because of time or money. All hail Blu-Ray for making that possible.

You can access these things in real time, as an episode is playing?
[away from phone] Hey, on the Blu-Ray, can you actually, like, while the episode is playing, click on something? [back on phone] Yeah. You know how it works. You have a thing in your hand, you say, “Wait, I want to see what’s added.” You press a button and the next thing you know, you know how much the sweater costs that the guy is wearing. And you can buy it at Abercrombie and Fitch. Isn’t that the Holy Grail?

At the same time that you’re launching “The Pacific” on DVD, you’re also about to start promoting “Toy Story 3.” How do you reconcile these sides of yourself, as a family entertainer and as people’s avatar for the war experience?
Well, do you have kids? [Not yet.] O.K., all right – I have four kids. And on any given day, I will have to go have a teachers’ conference for one kid, drive another kid to the dentist, pick up another kid at the airport. And be on the phone to walk some other kid through some complicated process that they’re doing. You pick it up, you put it down, you’re intimately involved in all these things. When I go out on these things, I’m really just talking about the job: here’s our life, here’s what we’re invested in. Here’s what I remember about it. That’s not that hard to do.

But because you are so connected to World War II, whether it’s through “Saving Private Ryan” or these miniseries, do you have to take that seriously as a responsibility?
The word is exactly that – it is a responsibility, and you cannot take that responsibility lightly. For me, “Saving Private Ryan” was really a profound, personal experience. The many guys in the movie could say the same thing. Some jobs you have and they are very memorable because the time was great, the people were funny and you did good work. Other experiences, you went off and did them, and you received a type of education that’s equal to a master’s a degree, or you become a doctor of divinity – you go through a spiritual experience. The projects that I’ve done were not just professional experiences – they were very tangible. I remember how cold it was or how much I hurt. I remember learning things that honestly kept me awake at night, and I still think about now. That’s not hard to share with people. When they come across me, I’m the representative of that experience, and you don’t take that lightly. That’s a real serious thing.

It’s been reported that your Playtone production company is looking to make a film version of the “American Idiot” musical. Is that something you’re pursuing?
Oh, yes, we are. Whenever it’s done being a smash hit on Broadway, we go to them and say, “Hey, if you guys ever want to make a movie about this, let us help you.” It’s probably going to be a long time before that happens. This is all in tandem with the people who brought that thing up from the ground. I would imagine they want to see how it plays out around the world, and then they’ll approach the next artistic phase of it. If it’s a motion picture, hopefully, we’re going to be there helping them. And I hope to play the drums.

By Dave Itzkoff

Source : The New York Times