Tom Hanks: I'm not always a nice guy

June 19, 2011

Tom Hanks won one of his two Oscars for paying the title role in the 1994 film "Forrest Gump," all about a sweet but less-than-brilliant guy who just happens to appear at many of the biggest events of our time. Hanks just happens to have starred in many of the best movies of our time. That's NOT a coincidence. Tracy Smith sat him down for some questions-and-answers:

There are few people more serious about movie making than Tom Hanks, but on the set of his new movie, it was hard to find anyone with a straight face.

The film is "Larry Crowne," co-written, starring and directed by Tom Hanks.

"What's it like directing Tom Hanks, two-time Academy Award-winner Tom Hanks?" Smith asked Hanks.

"Yeah, yeah ... long time ago! So long that the clips aren't even in high def, that's how long ago that was," he replied. "Well, he does show up to work on time. THAT'S a good thing."

It's his second turn as director, and his movie sets are happy by design.

"You wanna make it so that everybody is loose enough that they can follow their instincts and make something happen," he said.

It's a style leading lady Julia Roberts embraced.

"He takes it very seriously, to make sure everyone is enjoying their experience," she told Smith.

"You think you can still get a great performance out of that? 'Cause certainly there are people who think, you know, 'It has to be tough in order for it to be great,'" said Smith.

"Well, and I've worked for those people, and it sucks! A word I tell my kids they're not allowed to say," Roberts laughed, "but it's well-chosen, because it doesn't have to be madness and crazy torture to accomplish those goals. It just doesn't have to be. I have really seen the brutal side of that, and you just suffer. You still get a good result, but you suffer in the midst of it.

"You can get a good result and be joyous throughout," Roberts insisted.

But there's nothing particularly joyous about "Larry Crowne"'s subject: Hanks is a middle-aged Navy veteran who loses his job at a big-box store, and reinvents himself as a scooter-riding college student.

"The end result - what is interesting to me is because all of this stuff can really happen," Hanks said. "And that, if you can capture that in the glamorous form of a commercial motion picture that people might pay to go see, well then, you're flirting with a high country, and that interests me on all the creative fronts: Actor, writer, director."

It wasn't so long ago that Hanks would've been happy to be just one of those things.

Born in northern California in 1956, Thomas Jeffrey Hanks first took the stage in high school, and made his professional acting debut doing Shakespeare at the Great Lakes Theatre Festival in Cleveland. His first film role ever was as a cocky college student in the 1980 horror flick, "He Knows You're Alone."

"Did you know at that point, 'I'm going to be successful'?" asked Smith.

"Oh, hell, no, are you kidding?" Hanks said. "I was overjoyed to get the paycheck for 800 bucks. And no, I was just, I was hoping to make, you know, $8,000 a year. I was hoping to get, you know, have enough weeks of employee at a theater festival in order to collect the unemployment, which I did."

His next move was, well, a drag: He won a spot on the 1980 sitcom, "Bosom Buddies," playing one of two guys who dressed as girls so they could live in a cheap female-only hotel. The show sputtered after two seasons, but Hanks wasn't about to give up without a fight.

In a 1982 guest shot on "Happy Days," Hanks connected with actor/director Ron Howard, who went on to cast him as a man who loved a mermaid, in 1984's "Splash."

For Tom Hanks, "Splash" was the beginning of what would become a cinematic tidal wave. Thirty-plus feature films, two Academy Awards, and a reputation as one of the classiest acts in Hollywood.

"You know, you clearly are a guy who's well-liked," Smith said. "Everybody says how much they like Tom Hanks."

"Not everybody," he inferred.

"Not everybody? Who doesn't like you?"

"You dig a little deeper, you'll find some blood feuds out there," he said.

"Seriously, it's not true. Are you a guy that needs to be liked?" Smith asked.

"Well, I think in my younger days, I probably did. That's not necessary now!" he laughed.

"No, you don't need to be liked now?"

"No, no, no. You know, I am who I am, and I think I have a good nature, by and large. But if someone takes advantage of that good nature, well then, you know, I'm not that nice a guy."

"Do you get mad?"

"Yeah, sure. Yeah, if you get, absolutely, get mad and either work it out or write 'em off, you know? And look, one of the things you'd have to learn, there's people out there that you should write off, there are.

"I think 80 percent of the population are really great, caring people who will help you and tell you the truth. That's just the way it is. And I think 20 percent of the population are crooks and liars," he laughed. "It's just a fact. Am I wrong? What's that? That's about the math. I think that's what it is. So the truth is, the secret is, find out who the crooks and liars are."

"And stay away from them - that's how you stay so nice, you stay away from them?" Smith asked.

"I think so," Hanks said.

The people he chooses to spend time with now: His wife of 23 years - and "Larry Crowne" co-star - Rita Wilson, and his four kids (two from a previous marriage).

"I think I'm lucky that I had kids as spread out as much as I did, 'cause my son, my oldest, was born when i was 21. And my youngest is 15 now. He was born when I was 40, you know?"

What kind of dad is Hanks? "I am ... oblivious. I'm 'oblivious dad' to so much that goes on," he said. "Look, I want my kids to laugh every day, and if they're not doing it themselves, I'll try to make 'em do it. In some ways, I think that I'm an idiot who's never there when they need me, but other times, I think that I can ask the right questions and cut through a lot of nonsense and get down to just, you know, the bare essence of what their trajectory is going to be."

"Do you have that guilt that you're not there when they need you?" Smith asked.

"No, I don't, because I made a specific point to either apologize to the older kids for when I wasn't around, or specifically, to go after my kids and probably be around them more of than they want to."

At the moment, Hanks' newest baby is an aging, unemployed, scooter-riding optimist named Larry.

And if audiences find it even half as much fun as he did making it, Tom Hanks will have won again.

"I want to have a good time myself. I don't want to dread going to work no matter what the gig is," he said. "I think, selfishly, I will make sure that I have a good time, how about that? And if they don't, well - you know, tough beans." 

Source : CBS News