Tom Hanks Interview

June 2011

Tom Hanks is renowned the world over for being a writer, director, actor and producer to over 100 different film and television titles. Simply starring in some, such as the Oscar winning Saving Private Ryan and the Toy Story trilogy, he is also famous for producing the likes of Band of Brothers, Mamma Mia!, My Big Fat Greek Wedding and The Polar Express. Combining his writing, directing and acting talents all in one for Larry Crowne, in which he co-stars with Julia Roberts, Tom Hanks was in London recently to talk about his long running film career, how long it takes to write a movie, and why he supports Aston Villa.

It's taken a long time for you to direct your second feature [after That Thing You Do]. What was the hold-up?
Well, it’s not my regular job. That’s one thing. Directing a feature, you have to be infected with a certain kind of Ecoli or something like that. It has to take over and you have to be like, ‘The only thing I can do now is direct this film. I’ve got to see it all the way through!’ Because it’s about two years of your life. And quite frankly being a movie star is a much better gig. Pays better. Less is expected of you. You don’t have to work as hard. They let you go home early … sometimes.

So it requires that personal investment of telling a story. It took about six years for Larry Crowne to come to pass, and I didn’t start really taking it seriously as something that I would want to spend this much time with, until I had finished my own draft and even that was close to three years ago.

The film speaks to the Baby Boomer generation. Do you think they’ve been well served by films these days or have they been left behind?
By films, I think by the market place, the stuff that’s completely put up in front of us over and over again … no! I think they moved onto wish fulfilment and fantasies. But storytelling as a whole - television has never been as good as it has been right now. I’ve been lucky to be able to examine a number of things, like Big Love. I love the stuff – Mad Men, Breaking Bad. There are so many truly great television series on there, that it’s actually taking the onus off motion pictures. Movies are very expensive to make. The studio only wants to make a certain type of movie. Anything else that comes out almost comes out by luck. And you also have to say the audiences are not quite there anymore. Only because we have so many other distractions that are available to us.

Take a decade like the Seventies, where you’re seeing the great Marty Scorsese films and Sidney Lumet was making movies, Paul Mazursky was making movies, Woody Allen was cranking them out like crazy. Those were adult films that adults went to see. Well, adults can be quite frankly dazzled by stuff that they can see at home right now. And the market place has been left open to the people who actually choose to go to movies. As opposed to just the folks who go to the movies just because it’s part of the social contract of being young or wanting to meet chicks. That make sense? I don’t know if it did or not.

Will this find an audience with people who have been laid off?
I don’t know anybody personally. But as an actor/artist, if I can make that claim, I can’t help but know, point blank, that the turn-down in the economy affects people personally. You don’t have to be a real-estate developer whose condo unit went belly-up - or somebody who is trying to buy and sell 19 houses at the same time and flipping for a profit – to understand that if you lose your job and you can’t make your mortgage on your job, it’s a personal crisis that you’re going through, not just something you read about on the business pages.

Now the trick is how can you possibly make a movie about that, that doesn’t turn out to be the most depressing film you have ever seen? We still wanted to make a movie that was going to be funny. That if not upbeat, is at least an example of how to fight cynicism, how to combat the depression that could go along with losing one’s job, and how to still have faith in one’s self, that as long as you make some pro-active motions to improve your life, things might get better.

The end result of our movie is that Larry Crowne can maybe look back and say, ‘The best thing that ever happened to me was losing my job. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have gone to college, I wouldn’t have got a scooter, I wouldn’t have met this magnificent woman.’ Now that’s the fantasy of a movie about it, as opposed to the reality of it. But you cannot deny, if somebody out there has lost it all, and says, ‘I’ve got nothing to do. I’m going to go back to college,’ and ends up falling in love with being a welder or something, it can happen.

I think rather than adhering to the fake version of how if you pursue things your dreams will come true, maybe it’s just that if you hang on long enough, things might work out for you. In reality, Larry lives in a worse apartment, in a worse neighbourhood, and he has a worse job than he had. But he’s actually a little bit better off than he was at the beginning, but that’s the magic of the movies. 

How was it directing yourself, as there’s no-one on set to help you fine-tune your performance?
Oh, you’d be surprised at how many people on this movie came by and said, ‘Why don’t you do that again? Why don’t you try that again? Why don’t you give that another shot?’ So much of making a movie is about the communication that goes on. Naturally as an actor, all I have to do is do it. I don’t have to talk about it. I just have to put on the costume and show people what I’m thinking. I got to be able to take that conversation between an actor and a director and a writer out of the time frame because I wrote it, I knew what I would be willing to live with.

As the director, I knew what the tenor and the colour of the scenes would be. And as an actor, I had the ability to control the take, even just as we were doing it right now … so actually, I think we saved a little bit of time, because the director and the writer and the actor were the same person. That being said, about 4 o’clock in the afternoon, those three people got very tired, they got very cranky, and they needed to have a few moments to themselves and have a nice cup of tea and just enough scone in order to get through the day.

Who are your inspirations as a director?
Oh! Outside of everybody I’ve ever worked with, who got something good out of me, there is a type of ensemble atmosphere that I’ve actually heard that actors have … like Robert Altman. I understand that sometimes, when he was shooting, you wouldn’t even know that the camera was operating in this way. I grew up worshipping the movies of Stanley Kubrick. I’ve since worked with people who worked with Kubrick. And they said the crew was so small and the atmosphere was so relaxed, that even though the movies would take 288 days to shoot, it wasn’t expensive and there was no pressure. That’s like the antithesis of what you would expect of somebody like that.

I've had some pretty decent primers from people who directed – hard-charging, get the shots, let’s bang it out. As well as some people that said, ‘Let’s see what’s going to happen here. We got it once. Let’s move on.’ So I took a little bit from everybody, and just tried to always force myself not to leave until I heard it and saw it the way I imagined. And still had faith in the serendipity of whoever would bring along something different.

Are there any directors you'd still like to work with?
Oh, tonnes of them. Scorsese – come close a few times, but never had a … 8 million people that are now working. You see something like Carlos … jeez, I’d love to work with that guy [Olivier Assayas]. Mark Romanek, who did Never Let Me Go. Stuff like that. You just see so many people and you say, ‘How come I can’t make a movie like that? How come I can’t be in that? What’s that about?’

Well, you are about to work with the Wachowskis on Cloud Atlas ...
Yeah, and Tom Tykwer.

Have you had any conversations with them about it yet?
Many, yes. Tonnes. Boy, that’s going to be a beast. It’s going to be wild. Those guys are geniuses! I admire those guys’ films because they throw deep and long. Those are uncompromising movies that are forcing the audience to go on a very deep and different track. Very adult kind of journey. Quite frankly, I want to be tested like that.

Then you match it up with the material of Cloud Atlas, which is pretty spectacular. And the screenplay is off the scale! I just want to be part of something that is much, much bigger than showing up and hitting the marks. I’ve had good experiences of being the guy in a movie, and in huge pieces of commerce, like the Robert Langdon movies, and it’s part burden and part challenge. It’s part ‘Let’s just get the friggin’ thing done,’ as well as, 'How, as artists do we make sure this beat is about something?'

And that is a little bit about what the Wachowskis are going to demand from Cloud Atlas, of me, and plenty of other people. It’s a big ensemble – so it’s not a vehicle for any one of us that are in it.

What’s the attraction of tweeting and electric cars?
Oh, that! Well, I think tweeting is like sending out cool telegrams to your friends, once a week. If you send out tweets, and you read the tweets that people tweet back to you … they’re kinda gibberish. You can’t make sense of them. I’m not the kind of guy who says [stoner voice] ‘Just chillin’ at the house today!’ I don’t do that kind of stuff. I just try to compose a little hi-tech haiku that goes out to people. It’s a bit of a creative bash that’s fun.

And I’ve always been a fan of electric cars because I admire the technology, and living in Los Angeles, you’d be surprised at how long you can drive an electric car that only has a range of sixty miles. You can drive the thing almost all weekend, and not have to fill it up with gas. And not filling it up with gas means I’ve saved thousands of dollars! 

Your character in the film has his mid-life crisis forced on him. Did you change around middle age?
No I don't think so. I kept having these repeated age things - so I had my first kid when I was in my early 20s and my second kids when I was in my mid 30s, so I always seemed to be in my child-bearing years, no matter what. The biggest thing that happened was my 15-year-old decided to go to boarding school so Rita and I were suddenly empty nesters. Hoo-Ya. That's not a crisis, that's a celebration. The standard thing about a mid-life crisis is they wake up one morning and realise they are unhappy, even though they have everything. I don't know what that is. I might wake up tired in the morning but I don't wake up unhappy.

You're an Aston Villa fan. Why?
You know the goofy guy who fires me – Bob Stevenson – in the movie? He is a huge Aston Villa fan as well. I kept asking him, ‘How did you get into Aston Villa?’ And he said, ‘I don’t know – I just love them!’ His wife is a big Chelsea fan, so they have fights over that. But they’re both Americans. I fell in love with Aston Villa because I thought the name sounded like a lovely island off Sardinia! What a lovely place to go on vacation! I’m going to go to Aston Villa – take a kid, play on the beach, get a lovely cabana overlooking the football field. I try to pay attention to how they do … and they do just OK.

Any thoughts about the new manager?
Is Brian Clough still around? Could he take over? Is he still alive? Ah, I’m sorry …

You have a reputation for playing everyman roles. Are you ever tempted to explore the dark side?
I don’t need to explore the dark side just for the sake of it because that ends up meaning you play a role where you have lines like, ‘Before I kill you Mr Bond, perhaps you’d like a tour of our installation!’ But this is who I am, and I think I get to explore an awful lot of really great themes that I think are recognisable to everybody. Even so, I made Road to Perdition or Green Mile, which were pretty dark movies in a lot of ways and all the press said, ‘Ah, but you’re still such a nice guy!’ How can you say that? I shot guys in the head! ‘Yeah, but you did it in a nice way!’

You don't fancy going down the superhero comic book route?
Normally, I would say, ‘Ah, that would be boring. How much fun would that be?’ But then you see Anthony Hopkins in Thor and he’s like a 70-year-old guy, with one eye, killing people. And I’m thinking, ‘Maybe it’s a good gig.’ Well, Cloud Atlas is going to be a completely different sort of thing. So, I’m not interested in an inorganic choice. People offer me all the time - 'Would you like to play the bad guy in this thing?' And I read it and I say, ‘This is not about anything! It doesn’t really explore anything.’ So I'm not interested. So I’ve got no reason to do it.

Robert Langdon [from The Da Vinci Code] had a super brain, of course...
Yeah, exactly.

Will you play him again?
Tom HanksI think there is a desire, to try and figure out a way to do that. But I must say even the studio is willing to say, ‘We have to grow the character in the circumstances farther than it is.’ Look, those movies, by and large, are just huge pieces of movie-making commerce. And if they don’t do well, the studios shoot themselves in the head and commit suicide, because they might lose their jobs, because they didn’t market the movie right.

But they still end up being about this thing that you get to explore. Like the first one was about history versus fact, and what really happened to Christ and did he have a grandma. And the second one was all about science versus faith, which is something that you can hang onto, that will warrant the running through the streets and the scavenger hunt. And we don’t know if the next one can honestly be about that, and if it’s not, then what’s the point in doing it? It’ll be three times as expensive and only make half as much money, and after that, even the studio doesn’t want to work that hard.

You wrote this with Nia Vardalos, but you get the starring role, and she got the voice of the Sat-Nav. How come?
Ah, well – she’s done plenty of other things! We started working on this about six years ago. Nia did the first three drafts. We all knew that this wasn’t the movie it was going to be. And very quickly we realised the strength was my male version of it was going to be accurate, her female version of it was going to be accurate too. How many times have you seen movies written by men in which the women say, ‘When are you coming home?’ They don’t really have a role. They’re just the chick of the piece. And she was always able to make sure that you can’t have Mercy do that, that’s not how women think. And I got to do the other side of it too.

But after a while, she went off, and I took it under my wing. But she was at every read-through, and on the set almost every day. And she was always coming by with a tweak or an idea that would keep us grounded in an authenticity that we were going for. And there weren’t any roles for her. The best she could do was the voice of the Map Genie – but I think she did a really good job!

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